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Watching Superb Movies On The Big Screen

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in70mm.com
The 70mm Newsletter
Written by: William Kallay Date: October 21, 2002
Sometimes it's great to live in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. Get past the endless traffic jams on the 101 Freeway and make your way to Hollywood, you get a sense that movies are once again alive on the big screen. From the month of August, through early October 2002, the city was the center of the film universe. Old-time theatre marquees lit up drizzly night skies. Projectionist Paul Rayton ran many brand-new 70mm prints of classic films at the historic Egyptian Theatre. And the movie responsible for widescreen madness, "This Is Cinerama", re-opened to the public in its original 3-strip glory at Pacific Theatres' Archlight Cinerama Dome. Movies meant for the big screen and the large format returned to Hollywood. Showmanship was back in true form.

Sleeping Beauty Reawakens. El Captain Theatre. Picture by Richard Greenhalgh.

The beautiful El Captain Theatre is a showcase of movie palace history. Restored in the early '90s, the theatre has enjoyed a renaissance of success by showing films released by the Walt Disney Company. Since it's rechristening in 1991, with the opening of "The Rocketeer", the theatre has shown numerous films in the 70mm format, including "Fantasia" (once in Fantasound), "Beauty and the Beast", and "TRON" during a re-release.

In August, the theatre ran a two-week engagement of Walt Disney's "Sleeping Beauty" in 70mm. A Saturday morning showing was done back in January of this year, but it was mainly aimed at children. As in January, the August engagement was not advertised in 70mm in the newspaper theatre directory.

This was the archive print that was selectively shown in 1997. Though a little ragged, the print was still in excellent shape and showcased the Super Technirama 70 process well.

On opening night, audiences were treated to a full night's program of cast and animator interviews; clips from the old Disneyland television show, in which Walt Disney erroneously implies that "Sleeping Beauty" was shot in 70mm; audio outtakes of songs from the film; the CinemaScope short, "Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom" and original previews of the film. Anyone who was interested in Disney lore, or even film history in general, was in for a treat. Mary Costa (the voice of Aurora), respected and renowned animator, Ollie Johnston, animator Andreas Deja and Walt Disney Studio restoration expert, Scott MacQueen, were just some of the people on-hand that night for an all too brief Q&A session. After the film was over, audience members could talk to the celebrities of the evening, and watch clips from a special edition DVD of "Sleeping Beauty".

In its original release in 1959, the film didn't earn very respectable box office revenue. Seen as a poor follow-up to "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs", "Beauty" disappeared from showcase theatres after a short run. In the late-1970s, the film was re-released to relative success. But after many years, at least for one night, the film got recognized and newly appreciated for being a revolutionary and wonderful film.
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70mm At The Egyptian Theatre

 
"Lord Jim" poster"Lord Jim" poster, editors collection.

After sitting out the year of 2001, the American Cinemateque's Great Big 70mm Festival returned to the historic Egyptian Theatre on Hollywood Blvd. Sony Pictures brought out the Super Panavision 70 Columbia Pictures film, "Lord Jim" (1965). 20th Century Fox showcased restored 70mm prints of "Patton" (1970) and "Hello, Dolly!" (1969). And "2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968) returned, as well.

"Lord Jim", starring Peter O'Toole and directed by Richard Brooks ("The Professionals"-1966), is an ambitious epic based on the novel by Joseph Conrad. Beautifully photographed by Freddie Young, the film isn't one of the best epics ever made, but the film is still worth seeing. Good performances by Peter O'Toole, reminiscent of his role as T.E. Lawrence, and James Mason as a pirate, deliver. The excellent cinematography shines in this film. It was restored under the supervision of Grover Crisp, archivist for Sony Pictures.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of this year's festival was the restored 70mm print of "Hello, Dolly!" The film has had the stigma of being an extravagant box office failure, overblown and one of the reasons for the decline of the big budget Hollywood musical. According to the book, The Hollywood Reporter Book of Box Office Hits (Susan Sackett-Billboard Books, 1996), the film ranked Number 5 in terms of U.S. box office gross. But the film cost approximately $26 million to make, one of the most expensive films at that time, and it only earned approximately $15 million in return. It probably didn't help that audiences also were seeking out counter-culture movies like Easy Rider.

 
"Hello, Dolly!" logo"Hello, Dolly!" logo used on front of the US souvenir program.

Yet, watching "Dolly!" in 2002, one wonders why audiences in 1969 didn't embrace the film. Although not as good as perhaps "West Side Story" (1961) or "The Sound of Music" (1965), this musical is very enjoyable. Expertly directed by Gene Kelly ("Singin' In The Rain"-1952), the film is meant to be seen on the big screen. The musical numbers and choreography are stunning, particularly in the Harmonia Gardens sequence. The Academy Award-winning sound and art direction are exemplary. No CGI here. Massive, detailed sets and real live extras grace the Todd-AO frame.

"Patton" and "2001: A Space Odyssey" rounded out the festival's schedule. The restored print of "Patton" was originally shown at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Samuel Goldwyn Theatre in 2001. The film begins with the famous speech by George C. Scott, as General Patton, in front of a gigantic American flag. In 70mm, from the Dimension-150 process, the clarity is almost like seeing the real Patton in person.

The same cannot be said about the recent 70mm print of "2001: A Space Odyssey". This is the same newly struck print from the year 2001. Unfortunately, this particular print is somewhat grainy, and as a friend of mine said, who worked on the visual effects on the film, it appeared "dupey." The sharpness, the clarity and definition of previous 70mm prints was lacking. Not particularly the way audiences, who may have never seen "2001" in 70mm, ought to see the film. Hopefully in the future, Warner Bros. will strike new prints with better quality.

All of the 70mm prints, except for 2001, were in DTS.
 

Happy Birthday, Lawrence

 
On Sunset Blvd., not far from the Egyptian, the newly renovated Cinerama Dome welcomed back an old chum, "Lawrence of Arabia" (1962). Not much else can be written about the film these days to offer any new insight into David Lean's classic. However, this being the 40th anniversary of the original release, it is notable to point out that the film received some freshening up from Sony and Robert A. Harris, including a DTS soundtrack. The Dome ran a 70mm magnetic soundtrack print until the arrival of "This Is Cinerama", then was moved over to one of the auditoriums in the ArchLight complex next door.
 

Apollo 13: The IMAX Experience

 
Back in 1995, when Ron Howard's excellent film, "Apollo 13", was released, it was sort of a shame that it wasn't shown or even filmed in large format film. The scope of the film would've lent itself perfectly to 70mm. Yet, Ron Howard was probably stung a little by the disappointing box office of his Panavision Super 70 film, "Far and Away" (1992). 70mm prints, from a distributor and exhibitor standpoint, were negated to the rollout of digital sound on 35mm prints.

But time has a way of changing things. Around 1995 and 1996, many megaplex theaters began to build large format theatres onto their sites. Unfortunately, many of the large format auditoriums either closed down from lack of business, or were primarily used for "enhanced 35mm" showings of popular films.

In an effort to increase its audience attendance, and to entice Hollywood into showing films in the IMAX format, the company developed DMR (Digital Re-Mastering) process in which 35mm, or digital movies, could be converted into the large 15/70 frame. The end result, at least based on the preview of Apollo 13: The IMAX Experience, was impressive. The de-graining of the film utilizes excellent picture quality.

But one aspect, which is rather bothersome, is the re-framing of the original Super 35 aspect ratio. The widescreen image has been cropped to 1.66:1 to accommodate a majority of the IMAX screen. Why, one wonders, won't IMAX or Universal Pictures allow for a widescreen (2.40:1) letterbox effect? The image on the IMAX screen would still be larger, sharper, brighter and better than how films are shown on most standard movie screens. And based on previous IMAX films that experimented with various aspect ratios, like "Mysteries of Egypt", widescreen letterboxing isn't as unpleasant as watching those awful enhanced 35mm presentations of the past and present. Perhaps if an anamorphically shot film is transferred to DMR, audiences could really see the potential of this process.
 
 

"This Is Cinerama" at the Dome

 
The Cinerama Dome, by Richard GreenhalghThe Cinerama Dome. Picture: Richard Greenhalgh

Until now, "This Is Cinerama" has never been properly shown at the Cinerama Dome. The seminal 1952 film finally came to the Dome in its three-panel format this past October. Ironically, the theatre never was equipped to showcase the Cinerama format. Cinerama films were supposed to run at the Dome, but the format was essentially dead by the time the theatre opened in 1963. A long engagement of "It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" in 70mm was the premiere film for the Dome.

The film did run at the Dome in 1973, but in a 70mm version. And during a 1988 25th anniversary celebration, the 70mm version was shown at the Dome again.

But the "real" Cinerama might have never returned to the Dome, if it weren't for some last minute rallying from concerned film lovers. Despite being one of the most popular theatres in Southern California, the Dome was nearly altered beyond recognition. Pacific Theatres wanted to install a flat screen, thus replacing the 90-foot curved screen originally intended for Cinerama, add a flat ceiling and stadium seating (despite the fact that the theatre already had it). But due to an effort by the "Save The Dome" committee, headed by film editor Doug Haines, the theatre was spared. They argued that the curved screen and other original amenities were a part of the Cinerama Dome experience.

At around the same time, showings of Cinerama classics in Dayton, Ohio prompted international publicity. And not much later, filmmaker David Strohmaier was making a documentary about Cinerama called "Cinerama Adventure".

This year, the Cinerama Dome reopened, along with the ArchLight Cinemas next door. A special effort was made to bring back "This Is Cinerama" to the Dome, headed by Cinerama, Incorporated's John Sittig, Michael R. Forman & Christopher Forman, owners of Pacific Theatres. The result is a spectacular journey back in time, before large format films, ride simulators, virtual reality video games and other entertainment today's audiences take for granted. One could see why audiences of the day, used to seeing movies on 1.37:1 aspect ratio screens, and hearing them in monophonic sound, were simply amazed by the Cinerama process.

The movie, as seen today, is quite fun in some parts, rather slow paced in others. For the most part, it's a film simply to showcase a process and pretty scenery. But to miss seeing it is to deny oneself seeing a part of motion picture history.
 
 

Please Give Us More!

 
Maybe it was coincidental that so many 70mm movies and "This Is Cinerama" were played in Hollywood at around the same time. No matter. To buy a ticket to any one of these films, one was taken back to the glory of the way movies could be shown. In today's environment of mass-produced megaplex theatres and endless pre-show commercials, it was a treat to see what big movies could be like. The overtures. Brilliant 70mm projection of true 65mm cinematography. Water skiing beauties.

To sum, movie bliss.
 
 
 
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Updated 22-12-16