Can we talk about projection for a minute? You see I recently saw The Master (it’s ace by the way) projected in 70mm and since then I have become increasingly convinced that the format represents the future of Hollywood.
You’ve probably realised by now that the existence of celluloid film as a physical format is in serious danger of extinction. You’ve probably even seen articles saying 35mm projection will be entirely replaced by digital in 2015 or some such arbitrary year. And to be honest, there’s a lot to like about the rise of digital. It’s cheap, which means distributors can get less mainstream stuff out there at minimum financial risk (meaning more variety for viewers), and the simpler projection makes things easier for understaffed cinemas. Remember the last few years of celluloid projection where you would see an out of focus film in the wrong aspect ratio with unreliable sound? That’s now (mostly) a thing of the past.
But I and many others will miss 35mm. There’s warmth to it; texture, grain and scratches which prove its analogue existence and fragility; and for my money it conveys depth of field much better than a ‘flat’ digital image does. There’s a reason cineastes like myself flocked to the ICA recently to catch the only subtitled 35mm print of Tabu that was made. It felt like an event. A nostalgic rarity from the past.
And the same event status has now been given to The Master. Released exclusively in the UK at the Odeon West End for two weeks, it’s showing not only on film… but on 70mm film. Now this is special. The Odeon West End even had a huge 70mm projector installed specifically for the purpose. Previously 70mm has been reserved for huge visual epics like Lawrence of Arabia or 2001: A Space Odyssey, not arty Scientology parables.
And you know what? It’s bloody fantastic. 70mm is not only much higher definition that the highest definition digital around, but it also contains the endearing qualities of analogue projection. You want super clear crisp detail? Got it. You want background depth. Got it. Grain and texture? Yep.
Just for point of comparison, a 4k digital projector is roughly equivalent to the fidelity of 35mm film, but most digital cinema screens currently run a 2k projector. 70mm is doubling that 35mm (or 4k format) again… so you can see the gap between the formats is quite wide.
And that’s why I think 70mm is the future of Hollwyood. It’s like with music, where the majority of the market consists of compressed mp3s but a sizeable minority embrace the higher fidelity and analogue charm of vinyl. There’s room for two, and the film industry can – and should – offer both options.
As cinemas adopt digital projection and high definition content becomes more commonplace in homes, the two are beginning to merge. I think we’re getting closer and closer to a point where new films are released on multiple formats (download, blu-ray, and cinema) simultaneously: the two-tier release window is now dated and same day releases could reduce piracy.
When that happens cinema is going to be catering to a different crowd, one that’s after best experience possible and willing to pay a price for it. Comfortable seating and a licensed bar will go some way to appeasing them, but the film on screen needs to be looking its absolute best and be providing audiences with something they can’t get at home. 70mm can do that.
So come on Hollywood, how about taking Paul Thomas Anderson and the Weinstein’s lead and start shooting and distributing more films on 70mm? The future will very appreciative.