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The glory of 70mm

A still from The Hateful Eight.

A still from The Hateful Eight.  

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Only a handful of Hollywood films still remain loyal to 70mm. The writer wishes there were more.

A passing remark by a fellow columnist in these pages set me off on the topic of 70mm film. The first thing it brought to mind was my dearly departed commerce lecturer (may he rest in peace) after he had corrected our mid-term exam papers. I had pulled an all-nighter before the exam, but not to study. Also, as I was not in the habit of attending most classes, the commerce question paper could as well have been in Aramaic. While handing out the answer papers, my commerce lecturer displayed mine for all to see. He had drawn a curved cinema screen on top and within was emblazoned the words ‘70mm cinemascope reel’ and he had generously awarded me zero out of hundred.

Zero, incidentally, is the number of films made in 70mm in India these days. The last one to my knowledge was Ram Gopal Varma’s Raat (1992). In the rest of the world, the format is alive, but not in rude health. Most 70mm films are shot on 65mm stock and projected in 70mm. Quentin Tarantino’s upcoming The Hateful Eight is the most high-profile film in the format to look forward to. Other recent examples include Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master (2012), Ron Fricke’s stunning documentary Samsara (2011) that ad agencies around the world use as a reference point, and Marc Windon’s As Wonderland Goes By (2011). Then there are the films that are partially shot on 65mm or on Panavision 70, where the frame magically expands during those scenes when you are watching the film on the big screen. Recent examples include Interstellar (2014), Irrfan Khan-starrer Jurassic World that is releasing in June, Gravity (2013) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012).

Russia had its own version of 70mm — of course it would — that was called Sovscope 70. If Hollywood presented its 70mm films in Cinerama, the Russian answer to it was Kinopanorama. The format flourished in Russia, producing many more films than its Hollywood brethren. If I’m not mentioning any Russian titles, it is because I cannot think of a single memorable Russian 70mm film. Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris (1972) was, of course, printed and projected on 70 mm, but was shot on 35 mm and therefore does not qualify.

So what exactly is this 70mm I’m talking about? Simply put, these are films shot on large cameras with twice the resolution of 35mm. The height of the frame is exactly the same as 35mm but the width is double. And if you are wondering what happens to the rogue 5mm on 65mm films, that is where the sound goes. But all this is perhaps moot because the vast majority of films these days are shot and projected digitally. To shoot on 70 mm is an expensive business and there are very few filmmakers like Tarantino who adhere to it. Whatever magic digital can do, the joy of watching a film in glorious 70mm is nonpareil.

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Printable version | Jun 22, 2018 2:58:29 PM | http://www.thehindu.com/features/cinema/the-glory-of-70mm/article7238860.ece