We boomer movie fans have long lamented the decline in the quality of
the theatrical moviegoing experience over the last forty years. Of
course the production-distribution end of the industry no longer really
cares about exhibition, viewing it as a high priced publicity venue for
the ultimate home video release. But exhibition doesn't really seem to
care about providing older potential moviegoers especially with a
desirable alternative to the home video setups owned by those who can
afford them. While they finally seem to have gotten out of the shoebox
theater mindset, their current goal seems to be making the theater
experience more like the home situation rather than something special
and unique; the question of why people other than hype influenced
trendoids would be willing to go out and pay $10-20 for an experience
they can have at home for free doesn't seem to have occurred to them.
Weisgerber has an extensive practical background in both production and exhibition and knew that the success of this format would be based on
its easy adaptability to existing equipment and production and
exhibition situations. Standard Panavision and Arriflex 65 cameras are used in photography as is existing technology in modifying projectors
and platters for that end of the process, with DTS' special venue technology for the sound system, all designed for easy installation and
removal from standard large auditorium booths. (See attached photo.)
Unfortunately, although the process has gotten an enthusiastic reaction
from those who have seen it, including members of the American Society
of Cinematographers, Weisgerber has been unable to get production or
exhibition executive decision makers to view it.
With Digital Cinema an inevitability, Weisgerber saw the potential of using 48 fps technology to bring images of 70mm comparable quality to those venues. Working with Digital Jungle in Hollywood, a proprietary DI process was developed not only for 48 frame 2K digital projection, but also for 35mm 48 fps production using essentially the old 2 perf Techniscope format for photography to allow for the standard 1000' loads, but resulting in medium shots and closeups of comparable quality to 65mm, in which ideally the wide shots would be made, in the digital cinema version, and ideally in a 35mm anamorphic filmout as well. (Though film tests apparently haven't been done yet, having seen John Kirk's spectacular photochemical restoration of the Techniscope shot "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" using the state-of-the-art Super 35 technology of a decade ago, the results of a 24 fps from 48 fps 35mm version should look very good whether done photochemically or digitally, but I know I'll get arguments from both the grain and pixel sides on that.)
On October 25 and 27, the first public demonstrations of this new process, called Dimensional Movie Xperience, was held at the National Theater in Los Angeles' Westwood district, one of the last old fashioned movie palaces built in the city and now threatened with destruction. The
program started with a new print of the Super Dimension 70 presentation film to establish a standard for the program. This was followed by a 35mm anamorphic presentation of the same film, then the DMX conversion from an 8K scan of a 65mm IP (all of Weisgerber's scans are done at 6 to 8K) by 2K digital projection. Allowing for the fact that the digital image was brighter than the film image, often a problem in such presentations, the results appeared to be quite favorable. This was followed by 2K presentations of the "Techniscope" tests. These looked as good as the conversion from 65mm/48 fps.
Robert Weisberger and partner Barrie O'Brien introducing the demonstration at the National. Image by Rich GreenhalghAnd in that regard, though presented at 1.85:1, "The Searchers" clips demonstrate the impact that both these processes can have on dramatic films properly shot to exploit them. And while a great story is a necessity for selling the process, it would be a mistake to follow the attempt to revive 70mm in the Nineties with sober, overly serious period spectacles like "Far and Away" and especially "Hamlet", whose production was clearly inspired by Robert A. Harris and James C. Katz successful restoration of "Lawrence of Arabia", generally considered the ultimate example of the Fifties-Sixties roadshow presentation. However, this type of film is associated in the minds of average contemporary moviegoers with Merchant-Ivory arthouse films and tv's "Masterpiece Theater" As much as critics and cultural snobs abhor it, selling these processes will depend on more "cinematic" material, though it doesn't have to be as intellectually vacuous as "Pirates of the Caribbean: Ad Nauseum".
But this introduces another major dilemma: few of today's video addled directors know how to stage and shoot for presentation on the B-I-G W-I-D-E S-C-R-E-E-N. One of those BOURNE things in this process would result in the rest of the day being spent cleaning and disinfecting the theater.
Conversations I've had with Weisgerber reveal that he is aware of these problems, too, and hopes to control them as much as possible to get both formats launched. The reported success of Imax versions of dramatic films suggests audiences will still fall for the kind of height that made Cinerama and 3-D temporary successes in the Fifties, and even confused audiences about 70mm in the Eighties by selling it for sound rather than superior image. That both Super Dimension 70 and Dimensional Movie Xperience will deliver on any promised hype is obvious from this demonstration, especially with the right subjects. (Ironically those Imax conversions are presented at shorter aspect ratios ranging from 1.85:1 to 2.40:1, rather than the full height of Imax, which would reveal how impractical Imax is for telling a dramatic story, something for which Super Dimension 70 was designed.)
Because the fate of the National Theater is up in the air, future Los Angeles demonstrations are uncertain at the moment, but they are planned and I will pass on announcements as I am informed of them. To those who haven't taken the opportunity to see this, it¹s well worth doing so.