Assembled by Gary Meyer
Film critic Scott Foundas explained for the Film Society Lincoln Center.
“The ancestor of IMAX, 70mm refers to a high-resolution film stock twice the width of ordinary 35mm film; 65mm of the 70mm area is allocated for picture recording and the remaining 5mm for the high-fidelity, six-track magnetic soundtrack (replaced, on newer 70mm prints, by digital sound encoding). While experiments with large-format motion-picture stocks date back to the late 19th century, Hollywood first became interested in the late 1920s, when Fox Film Corporation (the forerunner of 20th Century Fox) introduced a short-lived 70mm film process known as ‘Grandeur,’ used most notably by Raoul Walsh for his 1930 Western The Big Trail. (A 35mm version of the film was shot simultaneously.)
But the Great Depression and strong resistance from theater owners still in the process of upgrading to sound doomed Grandeur from the start, and it would be another 25 years before 70mm returned with a vengeance.
Beginning with Oklahoma! In 1955, a variety of new 70mm processes began to proliferate, including producer Mike Todd’s signature Todd-AO format (which employed a frame rate of 30 frames per second instead of the standard 24).
Ultra Panavision (which used a combination of 70mm stock and anamorphic lenses to create an extra-wide 2.76:1 aspect ratio, was used for It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, Around the World in 80 Days, My Fair Lady, Ben-Hur, Cleopatra, Lawrence of Arabia, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Patton, to name a few. The expense of making prints and equipping theaters with proper projection equipment kept 70mm restricted to premiere or “Roadshow” engagements in major cities — with 35mm “reduction” prints created for general release. But the format remained in active use for big-budget studio prestige pictures throughout the 1960s, and was used for several decades after that to create “blowup” prints of 35mm movies for special engagements.”
Ironically, only three Westerns took advantage of the giant-screen images of 70mm. The Alamo (1960), Cheyenne Autumn (1964) and The Hallelujah Trail (1965) were all mediocre films and that didn’t encourage the studios. While most of How the West Was Won (1962) was shot in the 3-strip Cinerama process, some action scenes and shots requiring rear projection were filmed in Ultra Panavision and optically converted for Cinerama.
And now Quentin Tarantino has made his newest film, The Hateful Eight, in Ultra Panavision 70mm and will present it in a Roadshow format. A complete list of theaters and show times can be found here.
Samuel L. Jackson explains the process.
Very few theaters still have 70mm projectors. Most have converted to digital and gotten rid of the equipment taking up space in their projection booths.
Tarantino and his longtime distributor Harvey Weinstein set out to equip 100 theaters to play the format. The story of how Chapin Cutler and his Boston Light and Sound team handled this is quite a journey and you can read it here.
And listen to a radio interview here.
“The Hateful Eight Costume Display” is currently at The Autry, a museum in Los Angeles created by cowboy star Gene Autry to celebrate all aspects of the West.
Here are Eight of Tarantino’s Favorite Westerns.
And trailers for more:
To learn more about 70mm, visit In70mm.com, with detailed articles about The Hateful Eight and many other movies.
EatDrinkFilms has written about Immersive Cinema and the experiences of Interstellar on film versus digital. Take a look at the visually rich articles.