One weekend onboard the USS ANZIO my friend Eddie and myself had just finished our five-hour security watch. Afterwards we went to our shop and watched the action/horror exploitation double feature Grindhouse. After viewing Death Proof and Planet Terror we began discussing the two film’s cinematography. Robert Rodriguez used 35mm film in the past on projects such as Desperado and From Dusk Till Dawn. However he utilized 35mm digital on Planet Terror. And since George Lucas mainstreamed digital cinematography with Attack of the Clones more filmmakers are running to digital format. But why not use what has been used since the three second long 1888 Roundhay Garden Scene? There have been mammoth leaps in digital cinematography in recent years. Slumdog Millionaire and Avatar won the Academy Award for cinematography in 2008 and 2009 respectively. And David Fincher has showcased respectable digitally captured images in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Even considering all of the positive previously stated truths, the fact remains that digital formats will always try to mimic film.
Before I go further in to this discussion, I would like to voice my admiration of digital projectors. Commemorating the 10th Anniversary of Memento, director Christopher Nolan approved the 10th Anniversary Blu-Ray and digital print of the 2000 neo-noir film. Stating the obvious, digital projection alleviates viewing experiences being hindered by film reels being jammed and the annoying appearance of the infamous cigarette burn. Yet the grains, textures, and latitudes of film cinematography are maintained in digital projection. However the aforementioned physiognomies of film are not present (although some what admirably imitated) in the digital capturing of movies and television.
Director of Photography Wally Pfister attempted to include high-speed shots in Inception that were captured by the Phantom HD camera. The scene where Leonardo DiCaprio’s character is being dunked into a tub of water to snap out of the induced dream was simultaneously shot on the Arriflex 435 Extreme film camera and the Phantom HD. Portions of the film were also post converted to 3D and Christopher Nolan has acknowledged the conversion was much better than expected. But nonetheless he was not impressed enough to release a 3D version of the movie. Below is Wally Pfister discussing the superior advantages of shooting on film.
Steven Spielberg is utilizing digital motion capture cameras for The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn. Spielberg believes that this is the only way to bring Georges Remi’s (aka Herge`) comic series to life. However he has stated that all of his other films will still be shot traditionally. I have seen poor quality traditionally shot films, but it certainly seems as though there are much more poorly shot digital films. I personally loved Michael Mann’s Public Enemies, but as my friend Daniel Pardi stated: “It looks like The Blair Witch Project with guns. Another friend of mine said that it was as if though they were watching a homemade movie and all of a sudden Christian Bale and Johnny Depp walked across the screen.
Cinematographer Roger Deakins shot the upcoming 2011 film In Time in the digital format. Although it was the director’s decision to shoot on this format, I believe that the 10 Academy Award nominations with no wins was a factor for Deakins to be so optimistic about abandoning film. I am very biased (obviously) about this discussion. But I am not so obtuse that I do not recognize that filmmakers simply use what they feel are the best tools for the job. But I can’t imagine that Sam Mendes will want Deakins to digitally capture James Bond’s next outing in the still untitled Bond 23.
I would never disregard a film whether it is independent or studio produced because it is not recorded to a film stock. But two facts remain even if all of what I am arguing is perceived as pretentious or boulder-dash:
1. The human eye sees motion naturally in analog not digital.
2. Digital formats will always try to mimic film and not vice versa.
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In an interview earlier this year, cinematographer Wally Pfister spoke of the disadvantages of 3D cinema and the advantages of IMAX film cameras. 3D images are not only dimmer but also cause headaches for the audience. Acclaimed animator and writer Brad Bird is looking for the best image quality possible with his first feature live action movie Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. It is confirmed from the two time Academy Award winner that 25 minutes of Ghost Protocol will be shot on 70mm IMAX film. This is less than The Dark Knight and the upcoming The Dark Knight Rises (which is rumored to have 1/2 of the film in 70mm), however key IMAX scenes will involve Tom Cruise scaling the world's tallest building in Dubai.
Brad Bird's efforts to open his version of the next Ethan Hunt adventure earlier than the official release date has only given him five sneak preview days. However, the five days will be dedicated to placing the movie on premium IMAX screens. Those individuals will most likely (judging by Bird's current track record) leave theaters positively discussing a film that was viewed in the best possible manner.