At 100 theaters across the country, moviegoers are being treated to an extra special cinema experience courtesy of Quentin Tarantino. The director’s newest film, the epic western The Hateful Eight (read our review for the film), is playing a unique “roadshow engagement” in 70mm. Although 100 seems like a small number compared to the amount of movie theaters in the U.S., it’s still a huge deal, and not just for cinephiles. 70 millimeter is an important, must-see format for viewing movies. Even if you may not fancy yourself a huge Tarantino fan, it’s worth going to see a film in 70mm at least once in your life. What exactly is so wonderful and significant about 70mm? Here’s a handy guide to explain the glorious format:
Bigger and Better
Most movies, if they are filmed on actual film at all these days, are merely shot in 35mm. The name refers to the width of the film strip, which is 34.98 mm, or 1.37 inches, wide. 70mm film is double the size of 35mm. Quite literally, filmmakers have more room and a bigger frame to play around with when shooting scenes. Normal movies are shot (and then projected) in what is known as an aspect ratio. This term refers to the proportional relationship between the width and height of the image. Most movies are filmed in three standard aspect ratios, 1.85:1 (meaning, the width is 1.85 times the height), 2.35:1 or 2.39:1 (the current standards for widescreen movies). Wes Anderson uses both aspect ratios in The Grand Budapest Hotel, shifting between different aspect ratios to signify a different time period.
For films shot in Ultra Panavision 70mm (like The Hateful Eight) however, the aspect ratio is even bigger: 2.76:1.
The advantage? A bigger frame to play around with. Although The Hateful Eight takes place mostly indoors, this wider frame gives Tarantino the area to make the small, one-room cabin the characters occupy feel vast. 70mm allows him to use space to create tension between these actors.
Brighter Colors, More Detail
Since 70mm film is double the normal size, this also results in movies with more vibrant colors and detail. Look at a scene from Ben-Hur for example:
Not only can moviegoers see just how enormous the legendary Roman race track is, but 70mm shows it in beautiful detail. Audiences can see the deep impressions in the sand made by the horses racing around the track, even from a distance. While the capes of the soldiers outfits are small, the viewers eye is still drawn to the vivid yellow and red color of them. In 35mm, these details and colors would be much more grainy and far less bright.
This larger format works beautifully for outdoor shots to show off epic, grandiose landscapes. The director David Lean used 70mm to show off the immenseness of the Arabian desert to great effect.
While Lawrence of Arabia was filmed in 70mm, it was shot in Super Panavision format instead of Ultra Panavision. The difference? A smaller aspect ratio, mostly. Lawrence of Arabia was filmed in 2.20:1 aspect ratio. Both movies are incredibly vivid, crisper films than anything shot in 35mm though. They are a visual treat meant to be seen in a cinema, projected on the biggest screen possible for enjoyment.
In short, 70mm is simply the best available experience when watching a movie in a theater. The Hateful Eight is now open in wide release across the U.S. and while it’s a great film, it will most likely be projected digitally. The detail and color of a 70mm print simply won’t be there. In addition, the 70mm version has an opening overture (written by legendary film composer Ennio Morricone) and 12-minute intermission. These make Tarantino’s latest feature feel like a cinematic event. Back in the ’50s and ’60s, audiences would regularly get dressed up to go to the movies and experience these Ultra Panavision 70mm events like How the West Was Won. The last movie shot in Ultra Panavision was 1966’s Khartoum, being able to see another is a rare treat for audiences that may not have another chance again.
Will you be checking out The Hateful Eight roadshow? Let us know in the comments below!
Michelle Buchman is the social media manager at Nerdist Industries. She’s also a huge cinephile. Feel free to follow and chat movies with her on Twitter, @michelledeidre.