Although he probably did it because he actually loves film and not as an arbitrary display of directorial power, a recent New York Times article about the preparations for The Hateful Eight’s roadshow run implies that Quentin Tarantino could bring back Betamax if he felt like it. Hell, name a dying technology—Phone books? Floppy discs? 1-900 chat lines?—and Tarantino could resurrect it simply by walking into Harvey Weinstein’s office and saying, “You know, Harvey, I really miss the analog warmth of a bored lady filing her nails while she asks me what I’m wearing. It’s so much realer than chatbots, you know?” And bam, two years later, suddenly phone sex is a thing again.
Anyway, the nearly obsolete technology Tarantino is saving this time is 70mm film, or, to be more specific, Ultra Panavision. Only 10 films have ever been made using the extra-wide format, which uses an aspect ratio of 2.76:1 to 35mm anamorphic film’s 2.39:1. The last was 1966’s Kartoum, meaning that Panavision had to manufacture “basically a lens a day” for use on The Hateful Eight, presumably because it went through some boxes in the garage but couldn’t find the old ones, maybe they got sold in a garage sale, it’s not really sure.
The actual projection of the film will require a similarly specialized effort, as the Times reports that The Weinstein Company has had a company on retainer since January, tasked with acquiring and fixing up 100 70mm projectors for The Hateful Eight. (By comparison, Interstellar played on 11 screens in 70mm.) Those projectors will be sent to theaters set to play the movie on its celluloid-only “roadshow” run, most of which will have to be specially retrofitted. The Chicago Tribune reports that Chicago’s Music Box theater has sunk more than $40,000 into a new speaker system for the event, as well as renting a 40-foot screen for optimal projection. And that’s on the low end: The Weinstein Company declines to comment on the actual cost of its preparations, but an engineer at another Chicago-based company specializing in movie-theater installation says costs could go up to $80,000 per screen. (The Music Box already has its own 70mm capabilities, so that probably helps keeps costs down.)
Then there are the people who work the machines. The skilled union job of projectionist is rapidly being replaced by ticket-takers and theater managers who can start a movie at the push of a button, but specialized labor will be needed to ensure that those special, expensive 70mm prints don’t get mangled in their special, expensive 70mm projectors. Therefore, the same company outfitting the projectors will provide training for staff members at theaters showing the film, or, presumably in extreme cases, even bring in its own projectionists.
Then The Hateful Eight expands into wide release and begins its digital run, and all that equipment and skill will once again become neat-but-dusty relics of a bygone movie age. Panavision VP Dan Sasaki thinks this is more than a one-time thing, though: “What Quentin Tarantino did is amazing,” he says. “He built up this infrastructure which is going to open up the floodgates for potential use.” We’ll see if the tide continues to rise when The Hateful Eight begins its 70mm roadshow run on December 25.