As soon as the brand new lenses arrived in the mail there was a rush of excitement. Then came the anxiety. Hollywood Theatre head programmer Dan Halsted, already a near-mythological Portland celluloid purveyor, has been through this before. The theater’s brave, forward-thinking decision years ago to install 70mm film protection capabilities in its large downstairs screen, despite the format being near-death after the seismic industry shift to digital, has already borne three separate successful exhibitions with “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Vertigo” and, just recently, “The Wild Bunch.” Even still, Halsted is nervous for the Hollywood’s upcoming two-week exclusive early run of Quentin Tarantino’s latest opus, “The Hateful Eight.” For starters, he needs to test out those new lenses.
To accommodate the unique release and specific technical specifications to show the film properly, Boston Light & Sound made new lenses for every theater showing it on 70mm. Known as Ultra Panavision 70, and constructed for a unique look—the widest standard aspect ratio used today is known as scope, or 2.39:1; ‘Hateful Eight’ will be shown in 2.76:1, making the image significantly wider than it is tall—they were used occasionally in the ’50s and ’60s, on films like “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” and “Ben Hur,” but had to be made new because parts are more difficult to come by now. The lenses arrived at the Hollywood just last week. The film itself, one of some 100 prints struck anew on 70mm (the widest release on that format in more than 20 years), is not yet there. While Halsted and co. eagerly await its arrival, some other prep can begin.
To make use of the glorious large format (a subject that I’ve written about for OAW here and here), the Hollywood expanded its screen more than a year ago. All the better to make use of the high resolution, immersive depth, and gorgeously grainy imagery the format yields onscreen. But it will be re-formatted specifically to fit ‘Hateful Eight’s extreme wide picture, which, based on footage from trailers, Tarantino and regular DP Robert Richardson look to have taken advantage of its capabilities. Maybe even more impressive than the imagery, though, is the dynamic and layered sound found on 70mm presentations. The Hollywood will be the screening the film exactly as Tarantino intended, which can’t be said for most theaters in town in an era where multiplexes rarely even staff projectionists.
The ever chatty and controversial director (who’s been in the news of late attracting some cop hate for attending a rally where he spoke out against police brutality) essentially used his clout and ever-increasing box office success (his last two films, “Inglourious Basterds” and “Django Unchained” were box office behemoths) to convince the Weinstein Company to release his latest on 70mm. Tarantino’s long been a proponent for shooting and projecting on celluloid, and the inspiration to release “The Hateful Eight” in this manner came from Paul Thomas Anderson’s and Christopher Nolan’s resuscitating of the format for “The Master” and “Interstellar,” respectively. These directors are film fetishists to be sure, but the way they’ve used their individual and collective power in the industry to keep it alive is to be commended. We should be so lucky as moviegoers to see more specialized presentations like this that remind why cinema is at its best in a big, dark room shown on a giant screen with the sound cranked up. Much as I’ve really come around on DCP projection, 70mm film projection is still the gold standard, no-doubt-about-it best way to watch a movie.
“The Hateful Eight” is another Western from Tarantino. He’s assembled a dynamic cast, most of them a who’s who of Tarantino regulars (Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Michael Madsen, Tim Roth, Zoe Bell, Bruce Dern, Walton Goggins) and a few newbies (Jennifer Jason Leigh, Demian Bichir, Channing Tatum). Not much is known yet about the finished film beyond some enticing details: the run time will be about three hours, with an overture and intermission (the 70mm version of the film will also have 6 additional minutes of footage); genius Italian composer Ennio Morricone, who scored “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly” (Tarantino’s favorite film of all time), made a new original score for the film; it’s set in one location, a haberdashery, where most the action takes place. It appears to be a nice bridge between the indie sensibilities of his early work like “Reservoir Dogs” and the big budget size and epic scope of his more modern work.
Any time Quentin Tarantino releases a new film it’s cause for celebration. But this special 70mm engagement, which will run two full weeks before opening wide in theaters across the county (mostly projected on digital by then), really gets to what he’s about as a filmmaker. Deeply nostalgic for bygone, lost eras of cinema—a time when people used to go out to the movies for their evenings, not just use it to kill two hours before moving on to the next thing—it’s exciting to see him double down on a near-dormant technology with the hope of giving it a life. It’s a risky proposition for him and theaters like the Hollywood to invest in a technology that’s been passed by and almost left for dead. Especially in this era of simplified, faster and cheaper digital presentations.
But that’s why going to the Hollywood is really the only place you should see “The Hateful Eight” come Christmas time. Why see it any other way? We’re lucky enough here in Portland to have that option, and to see it there well before most the country gets a chance. Take advantage of it, and see what all the fuss is about. If “The Hateful Eight” is a success (Halsted hopes to keep the print at the theater after its run, to revive through the years and continue showing the way it was meant to be seen and heard), maybe this long thought dead way of showing films can come back, even in a niche way.
Or maybe it’s already happening? King Vidor’s “Solomon And Sheba” was the first 70mm presentation screened at The Hollywood Theatre back in 1959. Thankfully, “The Hateful Eight” will not be the last. 2016 will be the Hollywood’s 90th anniversary, so the plan is to show many more classics on 70mm. “Baraka,” a visual nonfiction work from 1992 that’s a stone-cold masterpiece, will screen there in April. And look out for much more next year: Halsted is hoping for new restorations to happen, but also plans to show “The Sound of Music,” “Lawrence Of Arabia,” “West Side Story”—he’s even looking for “Die Hard,” which would just be amazing.
This is why it matters where you decide to see a movie. If you see “The Hateful Eight” this Christmas, choose wisely.