Art and Experience: The comeback of motion picture film will get its biggest boost yet with the Ultra Panavision 70 release of celluloid defender Quentin Tarantino’s post-Civil War Western “The Hateful Eight.”
Shot on 65mm film with classic Panavision lenses in the widest aspect ratio of 2.76:1, this marks the first anamorphic 70mm theatrical release in nearly 50 years. The two-week roadshow engagement—they’re aiming for 100 theaters with the Cinerama Dome in contention for LA, of course—would be the best holiday gift for cinephiles.
“The Hateful Eight” also pits three-time Oscar-winning cinematographer Robert Richardson (“Hugo,” “The Aviator,” “JFK”) in a shoot-out with Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki, who’s going for a third Oscar in a row for his own frozen wilderness adventure, “The Revenant,” from “Birdman” director Alejandro G. Iñárritu. (Both films are racing to the editorial finish line for a Christmas Day release.)
Richardson proclaimed that Ultra Panavision 70 more than reinforces the notion that film can coexist with digital: it provides such unparalleled scope, resolution and beauty that everyone should be using it. “When we saw Sam Jackson in a closeup — or anyone — it just aided the skin. It’s remarkable. We never used diffusion, the only filters we ever did were outside. It was stunning.”
According to Dern, Tarantino “has the greatest attention to detail on a set as any director who ever lived, his only rival would be Luchino Visconti. He creates an atmosphere for all of us not to do our greatest work necessarily, but to get better.”
The last Ultra Panavision 70 release was “Khartoum” (1966), the biopic with Charlton Heston as British Gen. Charles Gordon. The list also includes “Ben-Hur,” “Mutiny on the Bounty,” “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World,” “The Fall of the Roman Empire,” “The Greatest Story Ever Told,” and “The Battle of the Bulge.”
In fact, Panavision took Tarantino into a screening room and surprised him with the chariot race from “Ben-Hur,” starting with the sides at the normal width and then spread out to expose the full frame — and the film nerd was totally hooked on Ultra Panavision 70.
But this all began accidentally: “We went in thinking we were going to shoot standard format for 65mm and one day I was with Gregor Tavenner, my first camera assistant, and Dan Sasaki [Panavision VP of optical engineering] was showing us standard Panavision lenses for 65mm and while looking at them, I slipped behind the curtain and saw this shelf filled with odd-shaped lenses [triangular with prisms]. They were Ultra Panavision lenses,” Richardson said.
The team brought a very analogue approach to shooting in Telluride (with few blizzards and rare overcast days) and onstage at LA’s Red Studios, where they lowered the temperature to 30 degrees. They screened dailies in 70mm, with no digital intermediate, and the film is being color-timed photochemically, the old-school way, by FotoKem.
Theaters will be retrofitted with anamorphic lenses for 70mm projectors. Yes, there will be a digital release from TWC on January 8, 2016, which will continue to show the film in 70mm as well.
With two cameras at his disposal, and Tarantino operating a couple of shots himself, Richardson had to get used to certain anomalies: slight color alterations when shooting actors’ faces after switching lenses — ranging from the triangular ones that provide a bronze look to more user-friendly cylindrical shapes — or odd flaring caused by light bouncing indirectly off the prism when shooting two characters in front of a fireplace.
“The most complex thing for me was that the set was primarily this one building where they arrive in this stagecoach,” Richardson explained. “But if you shoot a medium shot with the lenses, anywhere you’re seeing two-thirds or more of the room, depending on where the character is, because it’s such a wide frame. You’re lighting the entire set and other characters are constantly in your frame. Quentin first looked at ‘Mad, Mad World’. Part of what happened in that film is that you had a medium shot with all the characters in the frame. It was an adjustment for all of us.”
“The Hateful Eight” will be in theaters from 8 December.