I’ve not really had a point of view on Film vs Digital on the big screen, other than nostalgically and emotionally being attached to the celluloid option.
After sitting through Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar in 70mm this past weekend, I’m going to lean a lot more towards celebrating the age of the DCP.
Now, before you start shouting “alright, alright, alright,” at my blasphemous judgement, consider this.
I love 70mm. I’ve had experience threading it many times as a projectionist during my teenage years, when it was pretty commonplace for blockbuster titles.
But technology has advanced, and those days are gone.
Modern digital projection, which has been getting better since it was a novelty itself, has become the norm. Even the most mainstream audience would probably be able to tell the difference between the sharpness of a digital print, and a new 35mm one.
I’ve even seen DCP prints of classic films like The Wizard of Oz and North By Northwest to be exceptionally superior when projected under the correct conditions.
So it was my screening of Interstellar, which was less than stellar, that gave me more than enough reason to question why I was so gung-ho on seeing it in 70mm in the first place.
My screening was at a top-notch big city single-movie house, that I’d prefer not to name, but the projection quality felt inconsistent. The print was pristine, as it should be in its opening weekend, but the sound was completely off, and almost too loud to appreciate the mix. The bulb of the projector felt as if it was operating on its final few performances, giving some of the darker scenes a hazy, uninteresting contrast that I’m sure Nolan would lose his mind over had he been in the theater.
Or perhaps Nolan would have lost it the moment towards the end of the movie when the film slipped off the platter and then returned out of frame for two minutes before the projectionist regained the proper display.
While I understand the technical reasons for the film running in 70mm, it’s the inconsistent quality in how those film prints will play that gives the stronger argument towards digital. No loss of focus, proper color timing, no scratches, after a few more runs of the print I saw, audiences will be missing the digital option.
It’s poetic that Interstellar opens in a world besieged by older technology and stalled progress.
Ultimately it is the developing technology that sets discovery in motion. The Lazarus project that takes the faith of mankind to succeed.
Perhaps the lesson to be learned is in a willingness to accept that the new norm can open our eyes to something that’s been there the entire time.