To Leicester Square, where I gave up a chunk of my day to sit and watch the new Quentin Tarantino western, The Hateful Eight. Why would I drag my sorry ass all the way to That London, when I have two perfectly good cinemas within easy travelling distance showing the same movie?
Well, they weren’t. The Odeon Leicester Square is one of the few movie houses in the country that’s able to show the Roadshow Presentation of The Hateful Eight, in glorious 70mm. If you’re a film geek, this is the gig to get to.
I can’t remember the last time I saw a film projected from a print. This is a shocking admission from someone that used to work for a film lab, but there it is. The vast majority of UK cinemas no longer have the capability to throw light over film, urged on by distributors that prefer the control they can exert over digital files, as well as the drop in costs that come from not having to ship boxes of print around the country.
Let’s not be overly romantic here. Film print is bulky, expensive, difficult to set up and, if poorly treated, liable to damage. I’ve seen enough chewed-up rolls in my time to see why distributors and cinema chains were happy enough to drop the format in favour of a package that could be set up and run by relatively untrained, inexpensive staff. And 4K projection of DCP (Digital Cinema Projection) files gives a nice clean damage-free result. Win win, right?
Well, yes, but. A well-prepped print using modern stock is much less prone to bumps, digs and scratches, and has better resolution and contrast range than even 4K projection. In short, it makes for a better all-round viewing experience. And that’s just 35mm.
70mm projection ups the game significantly in terms of colour reproduction, sharpness and all-round immersiveness–a term that, I’ll admit is a little tougher to quantify. Nevertheless, the fact that Tarantino has effectively persuaded the notoriously hard-nosed Harvey Weinstein into bankrolling his own little cottage industry around resurrecting 70mm proves that there’s something there, and it’s something that people would pay a premium to see.
Make no mistake, this is not a cheap night out. The Odeon is charging £20 a ticket. For that, though, you get an event that’s described as a “presentation”, complete with a glossy programme, an overture and an honest-to-god intermission–a civilised solution to the dilemma that faces any small-bladdered cineaste. These extra flourishes make the whole experience that little bit more special.
So how was that experience? Well, for the first five minutes, a bit disorientating. Tarantino and his DoP Robert Richardson shot The Hateful Eight in Super Panavision, which provides a huge, wide image. It’s wall-to-wall, providing a good 10% of extra play left to right. The sheer size of the image takes a little getting used to–although it’s less of a headache-starter than Imax, with which I’ve never had a comfortable experience).
Also, film projection flickers. It’s not a compressed video file. It’s a long strip of pictures running past a furiously bright light source at 24 frames a second. It’s a subtle fluctuation, but if you’re used to the smoothness of video, you need to allow your eyes to key into it. The advantage? Well, it helps the film to look like film. Combined with the crisp clean imagery on display, The Hateful Eight is never less than beautiful to look at–detailed, rich and colourful.
A note on Robert Richardson’s work on the film. The decision to shoot on 70mm meant that he worked closely with Panavision to bring a set of lenses out of retirement that could handle the format. They hadn’t been used in anger since the filming of Khartoum in 1966. This glass is something else. The lenses deal with highlights in a remarkably soft, diffuse manner and help to dig into the blacks in a way I haven’t seen in a very long time. In short, the images on screen aren’t flat or thin. They have a bold depth of contrast that makes the whole thing seem almost 3D. Richardson should be a lock for the Oscar this year (although I’ll note that I haven’t seen what Emmanuel Lubitzki has done with The Revanent yet–I’m willing to be persuaded).
I’m not going to spend any time reviewing The Hateful Eight–there’s plenty of opinion either hailing it as a masterpiece or Tarantino’s worst. I don’t need to add to that chatter. If you’re inclined, watch it and make up your own mind. However, I would say that I’m in agreement with film critic Anne Billson, with whom I had a short conversation earlier in the work via Twitter. She summed up the situation quite neatly, while bemoaning the fact that there were no 70mm film screenings in Belgium, where she now lives:
And there’s the thing. 70mm is a great projection medium, and there are plenty of movies that still exist in large print format that are infinitely more worthy of the Big Throw than Hateful Eight*. In some ways, I’d urge you to make the effort to grab a 70mm presentation just to make the point that people are prepared to see movies from print. How about a revival season of some favourites? Anyone here willing to drop a score for Aliens in 70mm?
*OK, allow me to contradict myself and offer two cents of opinion. Hateful Eight is sporadically very good, but painfully slow to get going. A chamber piece with some great performances, but not a patch on Tarantino’s two best films (Jackie Brown and Death Proof, as you’re asking). The usual problem: he tells stories about fundamentally unlikable people with whom we can’t connect.
Goddam, Jennifer Jason Leigh, though. MVP by thirty yards and a touchdown.