The ‘Dunkirk’ 70mm IMAX Experience
July 30, 2017 1:51 PM   Subscribe

So there is 70mm, Imax 70mm, and Imax digital? The Imax offering in Portland just says Imax, does that mean digital?
posted by Pembquist at 3:36 PM on July 30, 2017

Oldschool projectionists I have known have almost uniformly called 70mm overrated...most of the extra space went to the soundtrack.

This may have changed in recent decades.
posted by Jessica Savitch's Coke Spoon at 3:44 PM on July 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

So there is 70mm, Imax 70mm, and Imax digital? The Imax offering in Portland just says Imax, does that mean digital?
posted by Pembquist at 3:36 PM on July 30 [+] [!]

All Oregon and Washington IMAX theaters are digital. the pacific science center in seattle is IMAX with LASER but it's still digital.
posted by Dr. Twist at 4:00 PM on July 30, 2017

Fanfare thread on Dunkirk, High-Def Digest is currently down for me.

I went to see a 70mm IMAX showing last week; the picture is absolutely huge, to the point of being overwhelming. (Also, the soundtrack and Foley is punishingly loud, at least in the theatre I attended).

As my cinephile tastes have matured and expanded, I've come to appreciate that there is a time and space for big screen projection. Comedies can be appreciated at any scale, together with many dramas, but some movies just need a bigger canvas. Dunkirk is certainly one of them.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 4:08 PM on July 30, 2017 [5 favorites]

Playtime has the reputation of being best experienced in 70mm, at the largest size, and I hope one day to see it that way. Because of this thread I just bought tickets for the Friday 4:30 show at the IMAX at the Science Museum, in 70mm. So, thanks.
posted by Grangousier at 4:15 PM on July 30, 2017 [4 favorites]

Saw it last week in standard 70mm and was astounded all over again how good real film projection looks compared to digital.
posted by octothorpe at 4:31 PM on July 30, 2017

Nolan says that “70mm is the most incredible way to tell a large-scale story. The audience really gets the benefit of that large canvas, that depth of colour, that heightened resolution. It really becomes virtual reality without the goggles.”

Dunkirk is indeed like virtual reality, with all its accompanying issues of how to maintain dramatic thrust without a traditional story. It's an interesting experiment, but a failed one. If you're going to see Dunkirk, see it in IMAX 70mm, but I personally found it grossly overrated.
posted by fairmettle at 4:37 PM on July 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

Jessica Savich's coke spoon: speaking as an old-school projectionist (I've worked professionally with 16mm, 35mm, 70mm, IMAX film aka 15/70, and now IMAX Digital; starting with REALLY old-school carbon arc lamps, then xenon and now lasers) no, the soundtrack on 70mm film does NOT take up very much of the frame at all --- I'd estimate it to be maybe one twenty-fifth if that much. (And it takes up zero percent of IMAX film, since that soundtrack is on a separate CD.)
posted by easily confused at 6:43 PM on July 30, 2017 [4 favorites]

The Hollywood theater in Portland is showing Dunkirk in 70mm (non-IMAX) about 8 blocks from here, while across town there is a showing in IMAX 70mm.

Although the last time I went to the Hollywood, they didn't even have an ice machine, and this week we'll be hitting 106+ F
posted by Auden at 8:42 PM on July 30, 2017

I've seen the PSC IMAX with laser, and it's really, really good. And obviously very digital. 4K is apparently still coarse enough to see the pixels on a screen that big.

The color gamut and blacks on the IMAX laser are really good, likely on par with film as far as contrast is concerned. 8k dual projector IMAX laser is probably about the point where we just start to break even with 15 sprocket horizontal 70mm IMAX film.

The dual projector 3D system is the least annoying and most immersive I've seen. Very low flicker and headache factor.
posted by loquacious at 12:30 AM on July 31, 2017

That blogger really is a tremendous nerd, bless him.
posted by Sebmojo at 12:44 AM on July 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

LIEMAX, heh.
posted by Literaryhero at 1:47 AM on July 31, 2017 [2 favorites]

I saw Dunkirk at the IMAX in London last week and apart from being a terrible film and illustrating vividly why the roles of director, writer and producer are often best kept separate, it was deafeningly loud, the dialogue lost in the noise, and the colouring was extremely muted. Bit of a waste of good film, really. 70mm highlighted all the defects and special effects quite clearly for this movie, and if you can't get rid of the motion blur, you're losing most of the definition anyway. 5/10
posted by bookbook at 3:19 AM on July 31, 2017

Saw it from a 70mm non-iMax print in NYC's East Village Cinema (a converted Vaudeville theater) The technical tradeoffs where about what one would expect:

On the plus side there was no horrible digital clipping in whites or during bright outdoor scenes. Texture on the beach sand was clearly visible. Colorimetry was beautiful, and not dependent on the local digital projector being set up correctly (which in most cases they are not!). And lots of beautiful film grain to take in without it causing compression artifacts. Sweet.

On the negative side there was a fair amount film gate jitter, which reduced effective resolution. (I'm guessing below HD 1,920 x 1,080 for this print). There was noticeable flicker, especially in bright sky areas, from having to keep the shutter closed while pulling all that film through the gate between frames. Film scratches and dirt where noticeable, even on a one week (?) old print. Oh, and while I suppose the reel change punch holes should be considered an error they did warm he cockles of my heart.

Bottom line: on a purely technical basis this was lower quality than a high dynamic range digital 4K playback system with a properly calibrated projector. No argument there. BUT, the look and feel of the 70mm film print 100% absolutely supported a WWII story that took place 77 years ago and that made for a more engaging experience. And that, IMHO, is more important than all of the technical analysis.

P.S. - regarding sound: I too found the dialogue very hard to understand in the mix. But I wrote that off to bad set up in the audio playback system, which NYC commercial theaters are notorious for.
posted by Dean358 at 9:05 AM on July 31, 2017

I didn't see any flicker or jitter on the 70mm print that I saw and only the occasional scratch or dust spec. Maybe the the projector at your theater was not in good shape? They're all fifty year old machines as far as I know.
posted by octothorpe at 10:57 AM on July 31, 2017

I saw the IMAX film about the Powell expedition at that South Rim theater maybe 15 years ago. It was kind of unpleasant, with progressively more distortion toward the edges of the screen. Maybe they've improved that.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 11:32 AM on July 31, 2017

Spokane recently tore down the nation's first IMAX screen (built for the '74 World Fair) because when they installed FauxMAX screens in the nearby mall the actual IMAX lost the right to run major movie releases.

I'm sad because I saw a bunch of movies in IMAX format that were stunning. Several of the Harry Potter movies (the scene where he is riding the big flying creature across the lake was stunning in IMAX) and The Dark Night and a few others.

But the FauxMAX construction killed the ability of that theater to survive and running 45 minute nature documentaries wasn't paying the bills. The city killed it a few years ago and is doing a giant renovation project on the old World Fair grounds and so now that building is gone. Forever. Just gone.

Fuming mad, but powerless to have changed the situation.
posted by hippybear at 11:36 AM on July 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

I enjoy watching movies in the theater, but have a hard time finding any that are worth the effort and that I'm not convinced won't be just as enjoyable on my big screen with surround sound once they come out on streaming or DVD. The recent profusion of projection formats has made it even less likely that I will go see a movie in the theater. Which combination of REAL/IMAX/LASER/3D!/etc. is best? Hell if I know and so I'll just avoid the hassles of the theater and watch at home at a time of my choosing with fresh, cheap popcorn and an audience of myself with or without friends and family that will also enjoy said movie.

Having said that, I've been wanting to see Dunkirk, but since I am not interested in driving hours to the nearest 70 mm IMAX screen, I will definitely watch at home later.

It is always cool learning more about the art and craft of movie projection though.
posted by TedW at 2:13 PM on July 31, 2017

Gary Harbison, a senior audio specialist from IMAX who had flown out from Alabama...

I'm from Alabama - we don't have that many IMAX screens (1 or 2 in Birmingham, maybe some in Huntsville?) - wonder if he's so senior that he retired...
posted by randomkeystrike at 7:48 PM on July 31, 2017

Or he's so senior that he lives where he wants to live and IMAX travels him to wherever theaters need their audio systems worked on.
posted by hippybear at 8:21 PM on July 31, 2017 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I thought about that too. It's not like that's a job where you wouldn't be traveling all the time anyway.
posted by randomkeystrike at 8:23 PM on July 31, 2017

When The Hateful Eight was released in [gorgeous] 70mm during the road show event, I fully expected it to be the last major release by a major director in 70mm. I'm glad I was wrong. From what I understand, only the latest 4k digital cameras are capable of reproducing the sweeping, grand vistas of the classic studio epics of the 50s and 60s. The nature of the film Dunkirk makes this the only way to really get an idea of the scope of that beach. But another advantage of 70mm over 35mm or last gen digital recording is the unique, deep color saturation common to the classic epics like Lawrence or Ben Hur. With the precision of digital colonization, I'm not sure why I can't think of many digital films that attempt to mimic 70mm coloration, but it's another great stylistic choice for the subject content.

I really do think that this will probably be the last major 70mm release. There are so few 70mm projectors in service even compared to 10 years ago, and even fewer projectionists available to operate them. Many people don't realise that good projection is a skilled art form. Nearly all theaters now screen even classic films from a digital file on a thumb drive. I'm under 30, but even I remember when even the dinkiest small time theater had a protectionist by necessity for every film. Most weren't very good because again, it is a skilled profession that takes practice and a trained eye.

I'm finally at a point where I submit that the latest digital cameras are technically superior to any film camera or medium. Unfortunately, most are still filled in 2k, and upscaled for UHD release. Watching Planet Earth II on UHD BR on an HDR10 caoable OLED panel makes that abundantly clear. 35mm can't quite teach 4k definition, 70mm is capable of scaling over 8k resolution. Not really an issue for anybody with a 4k television panel smaller than 77" (which I imagine encompasses at least 99.5% of the population). I can testify that the Criterion 1080p transfer (scanned at 4k from the negative) of films lile Thin Red Line, New World, and Paris,Texas look far far superior to many of the UHD 2k upscaled transfers like the recent Goodfellas release. It's a shame that many of the early adopters of digital recording technology will never have a true UHD remaster like Lawrence. And as most people hopefully realize by now, 4k is really only a noticeable improvement over 1080p for gaming on a monitor you sit ten inches from or watching on a screen larger than 60". Even the 65" LG C6 OLED I have at home is barely large enough to pick out a small difference. For anyone not in the market for a $20,000 television, the real reason to upgrade from say a 1080p plasma panel is the OLED technology and HDR10/Dolby Vision.

I saw Dunkirk at a cinema called The Loft, which is the only theater in Southern Arizona to be screening 70mm. And remember that 70mm is not necessarily 70mm IMax, a significantly better experience and standard altogether. Great film, and a fitting swan song if it turns out to be the last.
posted by WhitenoisE at 12:53 AM on August 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

Maybe the the projector at your theater was not in good shape? They're all fifty year old machines as far as I know.

Probably so, octothorpe. Leaving aside cost and encryption, the switch to digital projection was supposed to add more technical consistency to the quality of the viewing experience as every digital release file is absolutely identical. Compare that to the typical 35mm release print, which had wide variation in the printing / developing process and suffered a bit of physical degradation each time it was run through a projector.

But as it turned out, in the real world the need to precisely calibrate digital projectors on an on-going basis actually adds more variation to the viewing experience than the variation in release prints. Heck, I've been to theaters in NYC where the projector was set to the wrong color space for the film being projected (!). And as you point out, analog mechanical playback systems from film projectors to vinyl turntables all require on-going maintenance and expertise to function well. Be curious to hear easily confused's thoughts on this.

And not to split hairs WhitenoisE, but films aren't screened from thumb drives. Here is the standard physical medium for a DCP delivery to a theater.
posted by Dean358 at 8:07 AM on August 1, 2017

So due to poor social planning I saw this movie twice on opening weekend, the first time at "Century City 15 IMAX" in Santa Monica. I believe this is a digital IMAX screen, and while it looked "fine" (nothing bothered me) it was smaller than I expected and that showing left me disappointed. Both with the film itself and some of the cinematography.

The next day I saw it on 70mm IMAX on a real projector screen at City Walk Universal - the biggest screen I think I've ever been to in decades - and everything changed. It was stunning, overwhelming in the right way aurally and visually, and I loved it. My opinion of the whole thing was significantly boosted and I think the proper viewing experience is crucial to this specific film more than any other in recent history.

Nolan wants you to get lost and overwhelmed with blaring gunfire/sound and physically uncomfortable from a visual frame you have to pan your head to fully inspect.

So - see it on the biggest, best screen you possibly can while you still can. It's worth every penny, and it's a fantastic film. Odds are you'll completely miss the "Nolan twist" and it may not hit you for days or weeks. Trust me, it's there, and out of all of his various little mysteries I may like this one the best.

Only one person I know besides myself has mentioned it to me, due to it being far more disguised than even the majority of reviewers and critics seem to realize.

TL;DR - it's a Chris Nolan movie, and if you enjoy film and aren't going to see his projects on said mega screens already....well....I feel a bit sad for you. Might be the last director of the kind still given budget and freedom to do what he does.
posted by GreyboxHero at 10:27 AM on August 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

Gotta agree with Dean358: no, films are not screened from thumb drives. (Individual trailers sometimes, but not the actual feature.) The photo Dean358 includes is indeed a digital hard drive; laser hard drives look similar but are a little thicker, a little longer and wider. Neither is ever opened at the theater, so no you would not see the insides.
posted by easily confused at 6:22 AM on August 7, 2017

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