70mm Proof That Ideas and Experiences Still Rule.

Written By on December 29, 2015

If you haven’t heard, there’s a blockbuster in the theaters right now that is truly out of this world. Nope, I’m not talking about Star Wars. I’m referring to Quinton Tarantino’s 8th feature film, The Hateful Eight. It is a raunchy, violent, graphic bloodfest in classic Tarantino style. Even if that’s not your thing (it’s not really mine); you should try to see the 70mm roadshow engagement version now in theaters before they switch over to the digital version. It’s nothing short of movie magic.

Here’s the technical, film-nerdery stuff: The Hateful Eight is only the 11th film to be shot using Ultra Panavision 70. Panavision went back and refurbished original anamorphic lenses and adapted contemporary cameras for the project that capture images at an aspect ratio of 2.76.1, compared to the more common ratios of the day; 1.85:1 or 2.39:1. The result is a wonderfully wider and detailed shot. To complete the experience, the film is being released in vintage roadshow style using restored projectors at only 100 theaters across the country. This is something the world hasn’t experienced since 1966’s Khartoum, the last motion picture that used Ultra Panavision.

On Set with DP Rob Richardson:

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If you can catch the roadshow version, you’ll be treated to a behind-the-scenes film program (movies used to have programs?!?), a short musical overture, a surprisingly enjoyable intermission, the subtle sound of 3-inch wide film flickering at 24 frames per second, and about ten minutes of additional material. Even the musical score is legitimately cool, as it’s scored by Ennio Morricone of The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly fame. He hasn’t scored a film since 1981! Suffice it to say, you should go while you can. At least if you are okay with Tarantino-style films.

The Hateful Eight 2015 Roadshow Program:

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Admittedly I’m a little biased since I have met and collaborated with the Panavision folks a bit during my agency travels. But that’s also why I knew I had to see this for myself. I found the Panavision guys and gals to be wizards with lenses and equipment, and they are as much a part of Hollywood as the directors, actors and studios. (Most of their lenses are hand-crafted on site in their Woodland Hills, CA location.) While my interest was piqued, I was also fairly educated about why seeing a film shot (in 65mm) and projected (in 70mm) was something not to be missed.

But would the film live up to the enormous effort that went into bringing lenses, cameras, projectors; and a few theaters back from the dead? Could reviving technology that is more than 50 years old possibly produce a show that is somehow superior to the pixelized projections we are now accustomed to? Did the 70mm approach make a movie that is in any way better than it would have been shot conventionally? I definitely think so.

Any Creative Takeaways?

What really interests me as an agency owner, is my long-held notion that a great idea and experience can beat a trendy digital utility any day of the week. (Not that you can’t produce a digital platform that has an idea, it’s just that most simply do not get made that way.) Digital is just a format and is worthless in itself, and analog still has its uses. Remember, we humans are still analog beings, right? What this film roadshow event reminded me is that if you put the audience first—and let the idea direct everything else—the result is a cohesive powerful experience. This film was conceived grandly from the beginning of the script and it was executed flawlessly. Every detail honored the original conception and was then actualized. A perfect roadmap for we in the ad business too.

Giving the audience a memorable experience is worth a little extra effort. In moving making. And in advertising.

Yes, it would have been easier not to include an overture, an intermission or to project it with vintage Cinerama projectors — but doing so brought a rare and authentic event that got this Star Wars fan to purchase tickets to this movie first. (We’ve just had a newborn and time to go to the movies is at a premium. Heck, time for anything is a premium, but I digress.) It would have been easier to use modern lenses and shoot in standard widescreen format, but I think Tarantino wanted to go down a different and more difficult path to bring back a better product. Somehow, he even sold this idea into penny-pinching executives.

Tarantino had an idea, wrote it down, and despite the difficulty, stuck to it:

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This weekend I had the opportunity to step back in time, and see a film the way Ben-Hur was shot. I had the chance to see a film presented in the same way as Lawrence of Arabia. And because someone had an idea and was convicted enough to see it through; I had the chance to not just watch a movie but to have an authentic, original cinematic experience. (That’s beyond some of the fun bits mentioned below.) If only more agencies spent the time and resources to dig deep for an idea. If only more creatives stayed convicted enough to see their ideas through the gauntlet of production. If only more agency owners created an environment where that can happen. I think advertising could be magical again. Since I make decisions at Magnetry there is no reason we can’t do more of it. I have no excuse not to do so, at least.

If we worry more about the idea and subjugate format and medium under its rule, advertising could be magical again.

Okay, Now for Some Film Critic Nerdery.

To be honest and as a result of the trailers and content shared online, I was expecting a LOT of wide widescreen landscape beauty in The Hateful Eight. That’s what a 70mm production is good at! The patient, slow camera tracking shot covering the opening titles definitely delivered on that (see topof post), but most of the film was shot in two places. INSIDE a stagecoach and INSIDE a cabin. Not exactly fodder for grand panoramics. Here’s the thing, it was still epic. 70mm in Tarantino’s hand turned faces into landscapes. Walls formed facades. Gestures shifted on topographic scale. Nuance became monumental. It worked. It really worked for me.

Faces as landscapes:

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The Two Main Sets. INTERIORS of a Stagecoach and a Cabin.

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A few amazing things happen when you shoot interior shots with this equipment. Slow dolly moves exaggerate the panoramic aspect of a shot even further. See how looong the cabin looks when the move is spliced together below. This technique creates an amazing sense of space in a small environment. Another thing that was utilized within the cinematography was depth of field. There were several times when the DP would rack focus between something in the foreground and background, and when in 70mm, it literally felt like the theater seat was shifting forward 10 feet, then back, then forward again.

An Ultra Panavision Panoramic Dolly:

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In 70mm You’ll Swear You Are Moving.

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For this filmgoer, I think the unique framework in which the film was shown is worth the price of the higher ticket price alone. The film itself is really enjoyable even if the gore and vulgarity get in the way of appreciating the craft, which is my one gripe. I think if the violence, blood and obscenities would have been handled with more subtlety, more people who aren’t necessarily Tarantino fans would be able to appreciate the movie for what it is – a beautiful, audacious whodunit shot in glorious Ultra Panavision 70mm.