The Secret of Film

Dunkirk movie posterA few weeks ago, I went to see the new Christopher Nolan movie Dunkirk. I knew the movie had been shot entirely on film, both Imax and 65mm. (large, large formats – much better resolution than standard 35mm film). The IMAX digital theater in our local town is a pale reflection of what I’d seen years ago when IMAX was a film-projected format. Let me digress a moment…

IMAX was invented as a huge film-projected format way back in the 1970s when dinosaurs roamed the earth. The film that ran through the camera was 65mm wide, but it was flipped on its side for maximum image area. The biggest problem was designing cameras and projectors that could run these enormous gobs of film at 24 frames per second without literally exploding celluloid into the atmosphere. The cameras were heavy, didn’t hold much film (also really heavy) and were difficult to make silent while moving that much film. Not being one who uses superlatives gratuitously, the images were stunning, with a depth and resolution unlike anything I’d seen before or since. (Think 4K magnified by at least 4). When you went to see an IMAX film back then, that’s what you got. The down side was that most IMAX theaters were in museums or other science/touristy locations. The films were almost all documentary based and ran around 30-40 minutes. That was then.

Now, IMAX has exploded into a worldwide brand. There are hundreds of IMAX theaters across the globe, many showing feature films on an astonishingly large, bright screen. The downside of this explosion? The dilution of the IMAX brand itself. Many new theaters dispensed with those pesky, unwieldly rolls of films and went with slick, totally digital projection. Many in fact (like the IMAX theater near me) project films in only 2K resolution, barely sharper than your HDTV at home. Sure, the picture is bright, the sound is overwhelming, and 3D movies work well, but the image itself is severely compromised. At the 2K IMAX theater near me you can actually see the individual pixels of the image if you sit halfway down the theater.

Okay, enough ranting…

Going to see “Dunkirk” at the UA King of Prussia theater, I wasn’t expecting much more from IMAX than what I got at home. Boy, was I wrong. The lights went down, the film started. My God, it’s real film. Real IMAX! Giant, crystal clear images filling my field of vision. The slight flicker of real film projection. I could feel the suspension of disbelief kicking in, enhanced tenfold by the true IMAX picture and sound experience. My brain entered a trance-like state that I haven’t experienced since the demise of theatrical film projection. Oh yeah, I forgot, this is the secret of film. A secret that seems to be finding a way back to a screen near you.

Comments

  1. Sharon Gabriel says:

    Totally agree!

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