Don Bauder 7:49 p.m., May 22
My Facebook pal, his enlightenedness, Matt Zoller Seitz at Salon.com, is today's messenger of misfortune. The big three motion picture camera manufacturers — Aaton, ARRI, and Panavision — have all halted production on traditional 35mm cameras.
It's been a tough year for film stock. The last roll of Kodachrome was developed on December 30, 2010. Now celluloid has gone the way of the of the Dictograph.
The potential for synchronized-sound, color, widescreen, and 3-D was on display, albeit in primitive form, as far back as the Paris Exposition of 1900. Motion picture camera and projection technology (where a claw mechanism pulls the sprocketed film past a lamp at a speed of 18-24 frames per second) had remained unchanged for over 100 years. Cameras no longer need be housed in enormous soundproof boxes; they have become so lightweight and easily transportable that, according to our current apathetic mode of hand-held storytelling, one no longer need bother with a tripod.
Frank Tashlin stands before the mighty VistaVision camera on the set of Artists and Models (1955).
As it was with three-strip Technicolor (Flowers and Trees) and stereophonic sound (Fantasia), "The House the Mouse Built" led the charge into the digital revolution. In 1999, Walt Disney Pictures released Bicentennial Man using DLP prototype projectors. It's a fact that Toy Story 2 was the first animated film to be released in IMAX, but to the best of my knowledge, it was also the first mainstream release to be digitally projected to a paying public.
So why do away with 35mm? Ease and expense. There is less effort expended by popping a hard drive into a slot than there is mounting, plattering, and threading a reel-to-reel print. No more lines, cue marks, and splices to remind one they are watching a movie, either — like TV, only bigger.
The cost of trucking bulky film canisters is astronomical. The average six-reel print previously arrived on-site in two hefty metal cans, with a combined average weight of 65 lbs. Transit fees for round-trip cartage amount to approximately $200 per title. For a major release, it would cost a studio close to $600,000 just to deliver one feature to 3000 screens.
I've witnessed digital projection that had me fooled, but exhibitors must keep pace with the times. Booth operators need to be brought up to speed and schooled in the art of digital projection. Theoretically, the chances of a Sony 4K projector losing focus should be no greater than your monitor at home. In terms of practical usage, we know better.
It's still going to take some getting used to. Compared to the soft, embossed hues film allows us to dream in, digital projection is cold, the colors bright and brittle, with pixelated skin tones that tend to register on the pink and squishy side.
I am not going to be like the naysayers who, in 1928 bellowed, "Sound will never replace silents — talking pictures are a fad!" Technology marches on. Hell, Marty shot Hugo digitally. The history of cinema is now, and it is hopefully leading us onward to a well-focused future.