This summer, Hollywood’s blockbusters are engaging in a high-stakes format war between digital technology and old-fashioned film. Movies that have been shot digitally, like The Avengers, Prometheus and The Amazing Spiderman will be battling out with equally epic movies shot on film as The Dark Knight Rises, Men in Black 3 and Battleship. Indeed, no summer memory boasts so much variety in terms of how films are shot and exhibited.
The studios are looking to trim costs on increasingly expensive movies, traditional celluloid film -easily the more expensive of the two formats- maybe on its way out as the cinema’s medium of choice. Still, old fashioned film defenders continue to make compelling arguments about why theirs is the most enduring medium, even as both sides pull their biggest guns this summer in an effort to prove definitively the commercial value of their respective formats.
For this summer, film has the numbers on their side major blockbusters; more were shot on film than digitally. Aside from The Dark Knight Rises, Men in Black 3 and Battleship, other summer tentpole movies filmed non digitally include Snow White and the Huntsman, G.I. Joe: Retaliation and The Bourne Legacy. But digital technology has the momentum and the prestigious advocates who will likely help it out eventually.
The biggest weapon in digital’s commercial arsenal is clearly 3D. Although movies shot both digitally and on film continue to be converted to 3D, the only native way to shot a movie in 3D is digitally. This summer, two major blockbuster’s were shot in native 3D, The Amazing Spiderman and Ridley’s Scott Prometheus, guaranteeing a higher level of realism and clarity than most film-to-3D conversions.
Veteran directors like Ridley Scott increasingly view such native 3D cinematography as representating a major advance in cinematic realism. “We see in 3D anyway, but your brain has cut that gift down so you don’t really think about it - you think you’re seeing in 2D, but you’re not,” Scott said recently at a Paris press screening for Prometheus. “When you put on those [3D] glasses, it reminds your brain how you really see”.
Not to be outdone, the old fashioned film defenders have their own popular, high-res format: IMAX. Although movies shot both digitally and on film can be converted to IMAX, the bes way to exploid the format is to shoot in natively with IMAX cameras, through which 65mm film is bed horizontally to achive images of breathtaking size and resolution. Director Brad Bird included 30 minutes of IMAX footage, in his recent movie Mission Impossible: Ghost Protoccol. For this summer’s The Dark Knight Rises director Christopher Nolan will be featuring more than 60 minutes worth of IMAX film footage, first for a major studio release.
Old fashioned film defenders continue to lose vital ground. For example, most of the world’s camera companies have already stopped production on celluloid-based motion picture cameras altogether. What’s more, Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit, is poised to abandon not only film, but traditional film rate of 24 frames per second (FPS). The Hobbit is currently being shot at 48 fps, for Jackson’s stated purpose of removing the cinema’s traditional strobscopic “flicker” effect and also to easy eye strain sometimes caused by 3D. Jackson’s decision has already provoked much controversy.
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