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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story - The IMAX Experience

The 70mm Newsletter
Written by: Ronan Nissenbaum Date: 24.12.2016
Earlier this year I decided that I would travel from Dublin to London to see any new releases on either 5/70mm or 15/70mm. Starting with "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" in January and following with "Batman v Superman" in April and the BFI IMAX's Prop Store film festival in September, showing all of Christopher Nolan's movies on 15/70mm, it was now "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story"'s turn.

No one was expecting "Rogue One" to get an IMAX 70mm release as this film is the first since "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies" in December 2013 to get a full IMAX DMR 15/70mm print. People hoped for a 5/70mm release as it was photographed with the recently revived Ultra Panavision 70 format, despite being shot digitally with Arri's digital 65mm camera, the Alexa 65. So when I heard there was going to be an IMAX 70mm release in both the Science Museum London and at the BFI IMAX I knew I had to go, as I am a die-hard Star Wars fanatic also, and a five-minute preview of Nolan's "Dunkirk" was announced, and I knew this would have been shot in 65mm IMAX.

Before going over I saw "Rogue One" on Dublin's digital IMAX 3D screen. I loved the movie and thought it was visually stunning, both things that enhanced my excitement for my trip. In London I began the trip with a visit to the Empire Leicester Square IMAX, which was presented in IMAX 3D with Laser. As the film and VFX were finished at 4K, seeing it projected in true 4K was great, a large improvement over standard digital IMAX 3D. Next I went to the Science Museum to finally see in 70mm and I was blown away. First of all I got to see the five-minute preview of "Dunkirk" and it looked great on the screen. Apart from two shots, the whole preview had been shot on 15/65mm. Although the film was announced to have been shot entirely in 65mm, the two shots that were in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio had the look and grain structure of a 35mm blow-up rather than a 65mm one. I also couldn't tell if these shots had been shot on anamorphic, which would have been the definite sign of what format they had been shot on. The IMAX scenes while looking fantastic on the screen didn't have the pin-sharp clarity that I normally associate with Nolan's IMAX work. The IMAX stuff was extremely high in resolution yet still had grain that I wouldn't expect from 15/65mm. The sound was phenomenal and matched the seat-shaking volume of seeing Interstellar in IMAX.
More in 70mm reading:

I understand why everyone says it is "a must" in 70mm

The Dunkirk 70mm Imax preview, plus the support film, Star Wars Rogue One

Internet link:
This was definitely the best presentation of "Rogue One" that I had seen so far but then again I am biased towards film presentation. Firstly I'll begin with the cons. The film was very dark at certain times, not like it wasn't being projected bright enough, or that the print was under-exposed, it was that the print was just far more contrasty than the digital presentations, and in some scenes it was almost too contrasty. One thing that happened with the 70mm print that I had never seen before, despite having seen several IMAX prints; the reel changes were quite noticeable. Not in terms of the splicing being visible but the print would change colour when a splice occurred, sometimes it would be quite a jump in colour aswell, turning a scene too red or too green mid-scene. I found it  distracting and I'm sure the average movie-goer would notice too. I can't think of any reason why this would be. My last gripe is that unlike when I saw "Episode VII" or "BvS" on film, for "Rogue One" I actually found myself missing the 3D, which I thought was unusually great in the film and made me think about how great it would have have been if they had made IMAX 3D prints like the good old days. Also I'm not sure if it was just me but it seemed that the print had the tiniest bit of shake that was barely noticeable but I'm normally used to seeing rock-steady 15/70mm prints. These cons would probably be enough to turn a lot of people off but in my opinion the pros far out-way the cons. Star Wars just looks great on film. The galaxy far, far away benefits greatly from the "film look" with the colour and grain rendition with all its worlds, ships and creatures.
Like many filmmakers I feel that film, both as a format for capture and exhibition, gives a movie extra tangibility and can make everything feel that much more real. For me it added such nostalgia to an already-nostalgia filled movie, and reminded me of seeing photos of people lining up to see the original trilogy on 70mm. It felt like I was following in the footsteps of an old tradition. As mentioned before the film was fully finished in 4K and therefore it may have been the best DMR print I have seen. The movie looked much better than the usual 35mm blow-ups I have seen that are usually finished in 2K, resulting in much higher definition and less grain. Seeing VFX at such high quality on film was something to behold and it was simply stunning. These are definitely I think some of the best visual effects I've seen, and to my eyes it makes the photo-real effects feel real too, this also goes for the creatures and planets. Certain effects that maybe needed a little more work (CG characters in particular) benefited from that extra push of realism through the film presentation. Because of this I feel the 15/70mm print of "Rogue One" was much better than seeing the 15/70mm print of "Episode VII". Despite "Episode VII" being shot on 35mm and even including a four-minute 15/65mm sequence, it suffered from the 2K resolution finish. Although then again "Episode VII" benefited a little bit more from the old tradition nostalgia I mentioned as it is a saga film and follows the original trilogy.
After the film I got to go back into the projection booth where I had visited in January and April. This time I had contacted the projection team in advance to see if I would be able to see the lacing of the print and it was no problem. It was very brief but quite cool to see and handled by only one guy who was extremely nice and didn't mind a "fly on the wall". 

Later in the day I went to see a 70mm print of "Die Hard" in the Prince Charles. "Die Hard" is one of my favourite movies of all time so getting to see it projected on film was fantastic. The print was in pretty good condition apart from some tinny sound. This also may have been the first time I noticed the 6-track Dolby Stereo at work and I loved getting to hear different tracks going on in different speakers. The film was very steady but quite grainy, but the movie was shot on quite a grainy film-stock. The colour didn't seem to be fading and the scratches and dust were kept to a minimum.

The next day I saw the "Rogue One" print showing at the BFI IMAX. This matched the print showing at the Science Museum for all its pros and cons apart from that the extra screen size at the BFI does result in larger grain and a little bit more noticeable shake. Before flying home I had time to see the print showing at the Science Museum one last time, as I knew the chances of me seeing "Rogue One" on film ever again are extremely low. This time I but my focus on the movie aside and savoured everything I love about film projection. Overall it was a fantastic trip and definitely my favourite of my four 70mm trips to London. When I was there last for the Prop Store film festival I found myself being disappointed by the sound in the BFI IMAX. I had seen "Interstellar" over ten times in the digital IMAX in Dublin and it had the whole screen shaking due to its amazing volume, whereas when I saw the 15/70mm print at the BFI it was still loud but the seats barely shook at all. This led me to believe that large IMAX auditoriums mightn't be able to carry sound like that, so after seeing the seat-shaking preview of "Dunkirk" at the Empire, I knew I could use this as a test to rank the sound of London's three true IMAX's. The Empire was a close second best after the Science Museum, which just had the whole auditorium in the midst of this WWII action, and again I was disappointed by the BFI. This surprises me as apparently it is Christopher Nolan's favourite cinema, and when I was in the projection booth there in September the projectionist had said that Nolan was asking for their specs so he could tailor-make a mix for the screen. When I saw the "Dunkirk" preview here it was still very loud but nothing like the volume of London's other two massive screens. When I travel to London in July to see "Dunkirk" in 35mm, 5/70mm and 15/70mm I know that most of my time will be spent at the Science Museum, and I hope that one day I get to see "Interstellar" here to truly experience the movie the way it was fully intended.
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Updated 21-01-24