Friday, October 17, 2014

Interstellar and the Fear of Non-Digital Projection

As of right now, we are just three weeks away from getting the chance to see Christopher Nolan's highly anticipated space adventure, Interstellar. Already drawing 2001 comparisons from the few that have seen the film, it appears to possibly be marrying the technical wizardry and ambition of Kubrick with the sentimentality of Spielberg (who was originally attached to the project). A series of cryptic, but visually stunning trailers have stirred the hype and major Oscar buzz is flying.  
However, what I want to talk about here has nothing to do with story specifics or awards prognostication. Not too long ago, it was announced that Interstellar would open two days early with 35mm and 70mm screenings in select theaters. It's an exciting proposal and a rare one for a big studio like Warner Bros. to make. Nolan is known to be a strong advocate for film preservation and with the kind of clout he has in Hollywood these days, the fact that he is using the podium to draw attention to film quality should not be surprising. The special screenings are sure to be popular with fans, but it is proving to be a point of concern for some theater owners.

In a recent article by Kevin Jagernauth of The Playlist, it was found that a sizable number of theater owners view the early release as "devaluing the digital push," with one CEO making the claim that "It makes no sense to step back in time."

The reactions are a sad indication of the film business we live with today. While the artistic community celebrates and treasures film showcases such as this one, the suits and moneymen look askance. Now, to be fair, much of the derision is coming from those who did away with old projectors and recently went full digital at the not-so-subtle suggestion of the studios, so the prospect of missing out on a major pre-release must be frustrating. However, to say that this move "devalues" the digital push seems a bit hyperbolic and misguided. No matter how big the early numbers for Interstellar are, there's no way it's going to turn the tide back to traditional projection. It's about the expression of the artist and I feel like some of these folks need to see past the dollar signs and recognize that.

Digital is here to stay, period. Of course, that is until the unfortunate day when theater viewing becomes obsolete and everything (including physical media) instantly goes to streaming and VOD, but for now, digital is firmly set in place and as film lovers, we need to champion the few directors (Tarantino, PT Anderson and Scorsese to an extent) that still flash the extra cash for the privilege of working with film. It may just be ladling water out of a rapidly sinking ocean liner, but I'm glad that some big names are standing up for the format.

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