The Hateful Eight and its 70mm Roadshow, a more civilized affair
Like actors whose careers are dead and buried, no film format or old technology is safe from Tarantino’s resurrecting sorcery.
With his newest film, The Hateful Eight, Tarantino has brought back not only filming on 70mm stock, itself an all too rare process these days, but also projecting actual film in the theaters. And if both of these were not accomplishments enough, he also shot the film in Ultra Panavision 70, a format that plays in the freakishly wide aspect ratio of 2.76:1, which hasn’t been used since the film Khartoum# in 1966.
The movie also happens to be presented (in select theaters, for a limited run) in vintage “Roadshow” fashion, which includes an overture, intermission, and limited edition program:
Clearly Tarantino has gone to great lengths to show his film exactly the way he thinks will be best, the implication being that the typical way theaters show movies today is insufficient.
However, not all of us are as well-versed in the finer points of cinematography as Mr. Tarantino.
So, random aspiring film nerd, here’s a breakdown of what all those fancy words and numbers mean, why they actually make a difference, and why you should take advantage of seeing them put to use in all their glory…
Film as an artform is called that because, for nearly all of its history, it was made using film. In the full scope of its more than one hundred years of existence, the conversion to all digital (i.e. digital filming and digital projection) is a very recent event. While digital recording has advanced as pixel counts have grown, eventually birthing “high-definition” photography, analog film’s process is more natural and immediate: Light enters the camera through the lens and strikes the film, causing it to react and duplicate the image the light is carrying.
This means there is no pixel count to quantify the quality of the image, or rather the only possible count would be the number of photons that struck the film.
While this number is impossibly huge in any circumstance, it can be increased by increasing the area of the surface that the light contacts. This is what leads to the distinctions made between film size: Super 8 film is eight millimeters in width, 35mm means thirty-five millimeter, and so on for 70mm, the widest used for shooting movies and therefore the one capturing the most light, leading it to produce the images of highest clarity#.
There are also fundamental differences between projecting digital and projecting film.
Movies play at twenty-four frames per second; twenty-four still images played that quickly create the illusion of movement. When this happens with real film, there are slight spaces between the frames as the film moves from one to the next, creating a flickering effect. However, because there are not the same moving parts in digital projection, the spaces between frames do not need to exist. While this seems like a minor, perhaps imperceptible difference, it does change our reaction to what we are seeing, which is why a digital projection appears less real to our eyes than one produced physically, flaws and all.
The 2.76:1 ratio
While 70mm film is quite large, its use tells us nothing about the shape of the frame.
Film can be shot in a variety of frame shapes, a difference usually expressed in an aspect ratio comparing the width of the image to its height. Old movies often do not fit on modern televisions properly because they were shot in the “Academy Ratio” of 1.375:1, a very square image, while widescreen televisions are made to support the much wider, rectangular ratio 1.77:1, often called 16:9.
The most common ratio seen in a modern movie theater is 1.85:1, wide but not as much as the common “Imax” format of 2.35:1.
Yet Tarantino wanted an even wider frame than that.
He went to great lengths, procuring and refurbishing lenses not used in fifty years, fitting them to modern cameras, testing their durability under the harsh conditions of the The Hateful Eight shoot, all for the sake of achieving a ratio of 2.76:1, the Ultra Panavision 70 frame, used only a handful of times and not since the ‘60s in the great epics like Ben-Hur.
A frame this wide, which can capture so much, seems more suited to photography of vast landscapes or of huge crowds that it almost seems like a joke that Tarantino would shoot in this format for a movie about eight people locked in a single room together. However, the effort is absolutely worth it; every shot in the film is so rich because it can show so much.
While one character can be the main focus of a shot, the frame continues so far beyond them that another character is often in the background doing something noteworthy; perhaps not contributing to the plot but contributing to the feeling of the film, to the sense that this cabin is a real, lived-in place with more to its existence than just what we see or focus on. This, in turn, prompts Tarantino to be even more deliberate and thoughtful with his camera-work, as he must account even more for what we see and what we don’t, like in one critical sequence where it turns out — no spoilers ahead — that he has denied us this background scenery for reasons that prove deadly to some characters.
The last aspect of The Hateful Eight’s special showings is the “Roadshow” presentation; the inclusion of an overture, intermission, and a limited edition program about the film.
This again was a common practice in the 50s and 60s, when theater-going was more of a spectacle in itself:
I have to admit, the overture is fantastic. It sets the tone for the film and eases you into the experience. Not to mention, Ennio Morricone’s score# is one of the best parts of an already very strong film, so being allowed to listen to it for several minutes undistracted by plot or character on a sound system of theater quality is a real treat. The intermission, likewise, provides a unique moment mid-film (as opposed to post-film) to mull over the themes and symbolism established in the first half so their development in the second really makes sense. Ultimately, it makes normal screenings feel so much less civilized in comparison.
Tarantino has made a film of tremendous power with The Hateful Eight and is so versed in film and its technology that he’s able to show it, however briefly, in a way that enhances it and reminds us what a powerful experience going to the movies can be.
Click here to see if it’s showing in your area. You won’t regret it.
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