Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Reel Facts & Opinions: The Curious Case of INTERSTELLAR

In the late 1990’s, STAR WARS director and creator George Lucas turned the cinema world upside down when he and his LucasFilm rolled out the latest STAR WARS film in a digital format. It would be the first shot in a revolution which would change the way we view movies in a theatre forever. Gone to the graveyard would be the old film projectors with their rollers, reels, platters, gates, and wheels…and enter the age of massive hard-drives and billions of gigabytes. The digital revolution not only infiltrated our theatres, but it also invaded the way movies were shot on set. Film cameras were replaced with digital, and while many filmmakers are still holding out on shooting on film, it’s been a slow decline for the old 35mm format.
This year, director Christopher Nolan (THE DARK KNIGHT, INCEPTION), is flaring up a revolution of a different sort. The technical-savvy director is having his way with his upcoming, highly anticipated film INTERSTELLAR. In October, Paramount and Warner Bros. announced that theatres that could still project 35mm and 70mm film would receive prints of INTERSTELLAR two days early, on November 5th, which includes all 41 true IMAX locations. In short, if your local theatre still has an old film projector in service, you can see INTERSTELLAR two days early.

Many theatre owners are not pleased with the move. Most theatres across the country have spent millions of dollars to upgrade their facilities to digital, and many have scrapped or stowed their old 35mm projectors. For those who want to dust off the old equipment, it’s a logistical and technical nightmare. For others who have to wait two days before they get their digital prints, it’s a loss of income. Much like Lucas did in 1999, Nolan has turned the industry upside-down.
It’s difficult to figure out exactly what Nolan’s angle is with this move. He and other directors such as Quentin Tarantino and Paul Thomas Anderson have been advocating shooting on film for years. It is their contention, and the contention of many others, that film is the superior format and digital cannot touch the clarity, resolution, or that special stylized “cinema-look” that most of us grew up watching for decades. But it is fair to say, that digital always has room to evolve, while film does not.

But the real issue here is the presentation. Shooting on film and projecting film are two different issues galaxies apart. A movie shot on film and presented digitally looks absolutely gorgeous. A movie shot digitally and presented digitally looks clean and crisp…and maybe a little cold to the eye (a common complaint). But what it all comes down to is quality. Film projectors, with their many moving parts touching physical film, always run the risk of breakage, scratches, dust, and a soft-looking picture. Digital, with no moving parts have no such issues, and apart from an occasional hard-drive failure (a rarity), will always present a clean-looking picture devoid of any defects that film was always susceptible to. So what is Nolan trying to prove? It seems the man is getting caught up on principle. Admirable, but in the long run he’s turning a shoulder on the technology we have to give us a perfect presentation. By all means, keep shooting on film, but don't forget that the final presentation, what we see in the what ultimately counts. Even the most beautiful movie can be ruined by a single scratch on opening night.
This Blogger worked as a film projectionist for many years, and will always have that old love for film. But not all old lovers are worth revisiting. This Blogger will never forget having his final HARRY POTTER film ruined by a scratched-to-death print on opening night, and that was the day the old lover got kicked out of bed. Cheers to Nolan for giving us the options to view his new movie, but be sure to choose wisely.

INTERSTELLAR arrives in select film-equipped theatres on November 5th, and wide-release on November 7th 

1 comment:

  1. Looks like the Dietrich Theater in Tunkhannock will give us our first look regionally at this new feature. While equipped
    with Digital technology the theater has preserved the ability to screen 35mm film as well! Great, especially for the Classics!


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