Super Dimensional Xperience
The 70mm Newsletter
by: Rick Mitchell,
Film Editor/Film Historian/Film Director
© 2007, Universe rights reserved.
We boomer movie fans have long lamented the decline in the quality of
the theatrical moviegoing experience over the last forty years. Of
course the production-distribution end of the industry no longer really
cares about exhibition, viewing it as a high priced publicity venue for
the ultimate home video release. But exhibition doesn't really seem to
care about providing older potential moviegoers especially with a
desirable alternative to the home video setups owned by those who can
afford them. While they finally seem to have gotten out of the shoebox
theater mindset, their current goal seems to be making the theater
experience more like the home situation rather than something special
and unique; the question of why people other than hype influenced
trendoids would be willing to go out and pay $10-20 for an experience
they can have at home for free doesn't seem to have occurred to them.
Actually, all the technological advances that have enhanced the
moviegoing experience and have been embraced by audiences: sound, color,
wide screen, stereophonic sound, and to a so far limited degree, 3-D,
have initially come from outside both the production/distribution and
exhibition sides of the industry and only been adopted after their
commercial viability had been proven by independent efforts.
Unfortunately, given the attitude over the last decade that theatrical
exhibition was on life support, with Digital Cinema expected to provide
only temporary relief, there seems to be very little serious R&D going
on with regard to improving the contemporary moviegoing experience.
One person who has been trying is Robert Weisgerber. Nine years ago he
began promoting Super Dimension 70, a process using 65mm negative shot
and projected at 48 fps., but unlike Imax, designed for narrative
feature production and presentation by the roadshow standards of the
Sixties. The results are spectacular, easily blowing away Digital Cinema
in terms of both sharpness and contrast, on very large screens. And, using digital technology, Weisberger has not only
done successful downconversions to 24 fps 35mm anamorphic, but equally
spectacular upconversions to 70mm 48 fps from 35mm 1.85 and HD material.
in 70mm reading:
Super Dimension 70
Reformatting films in SDS-70´s "DMX"
Go see this!!
Who's Rick Mitchell?
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off the screen from the 70mm print of the demo reel which gives some
idea of the sharpness and clarity of the process. Image by Rich Greenhalgh
Weisgerber has an extensive practical background in both production and
exhibition and knew that the success of this format would be based on
its easy adaptability to existing equipment and production and
exhibition situations. Standard
Panavision and Arriflex 65 cameras are
used in photography as is existing technology in modifying projectors
and platters for that end of the process, with
DTS' special venue
technology for the sound system, all designed for easy installation and
removal from standard large auditorium booths. (See attached photo.)
Unfortunately, although the process has gotten an enthusiastic reaction
from those who have seen it, including members of the American Society
of Cinematographers, Weisgerber has been unable to get production or
exhibition executive decision makers to view it.
With Digital Cinema an inevitability, Weisgerber saw the potential of
using 48 fps technology to bring images of 70mm comparable quality to
those venues. Working with Digital Jungle in Hollywood, a proprietary DI
process was developed not only for 48 frame 2K digital projection, but
also for 35mm 48 fps production using essentially the old 2 perf
Techniscope format for photography to allow for the standard 1000'
loads, but resulting in medium shots and closeups of comparable quality
to 65mm, in which ideally the wide shots would be made, in the digital
cinema version, and ideally in a 35mm anamorphic filmout as well.
(Though film tests apparently haven't been done yet, having seen John
Kirk's spectacular photochemical restoration of the Techniscope shot
"The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" using the state-of-the-art Super 35
technology of a decade ago, the results of a 24 fps from 48 fps 35mm
version should look very good whether done photochemically or digitally,
but I know I'll get arguments from both the grain and pixel sides on
with the Super Dimension 70 projection setup: projector, platter, sound
rack (photographed at the Harmony Gold Theater in Hollywood). Image by Rich Greenhalgh
On October 25 and 27, the first public demonstrations of this new
process, called Dimensional Movie Xperience, was held at the National
Theater in Los Angeles' Westwood district, one of the last old fashioned
movie palaces built in the city and now threatened with destruction. The
program started with a new print of the Super Dimension 70 presentation
film to establish a standard for the program. This was followed by a
35mm anamorphic presentation of the same film, then the DMX conversion
from an 8K scan of a 65mm IP (all of Weisgerber's scans are done at 6 to
8K) by 2K digital projection. Allowing for the fact that the digital
image was brighter than the film image, often a problem in such
presentations, the results appeared to be quite favorable. This was
followed by 2K presentations of the "Techniscope" tests. These looked as
good as the conversion from 65mm/48 fps.
The clincher was a test of scenes from "The Searchers", an
interior scene followed by some of the spectacular wide shots made in
Monument Valley. The jawdropper was the post-screening revelation that
these were taken from the commercial DVD!
(A caveat here: the only digital presentations I've seen are
presentations of "The Searchers" at the Academy's Dunn Theater
and "The Hight and the Mighty" at their Goldwyn, and SMPTE
presentations at the Dunn, USC's Norris, the Digital Cinema lab formerly
at the Hollywood Pacific Theater, and one of the theaters in the
Arclight complex, all theoretically the best state-of-the-art of the
time presentations; the DMX 2k presentation looked better than any of
these to my photochemically oriented eyes.)
This does not mean that Weisgerber has given up on Super Dimension 70.
It is his hope that producers shooting wide shots in the process and
seeing the high quality of the image in film dailies as well as the
downconversion, will decide to shoot the entire film in 65mm.
(Theoretically 65mm at 24 fps. or 4 perf 35mm anamorphic at 48 fps can
also be used for this purpose, and there¹s the probability that some
producer will decide to do everything at 2 perf. 48 fps, but the results
will still be better than Super 35.)
Weisberger and partner Barrie O'Brien introducing the demonstration at
the National. Image by Rich Greenhalgh
Since the DMX presentation reportedly requires only a simple software
installation on existing 2K projectors, this widens the range of
opportunities for presenting the 35mm and digital aspects of the
demonstration, making it accessible to potential financing sources
outside of Los Angeles, and especially in Europe or Asia, where
prospects for embracing Super Dimension 70 are more likely than in the
And in that regard, though presented at 1.85:1, "The Searchers"
clips demonstrate the impact that both these processes can have on
dramatic films properly shot to exploit them. And while a great story is
a necessity for selling the process, it would be a mistake to follow the
attempt to revive 70mm in the Nineties with sober, overly serious period
"Far and Away" and especially
whose production was clearly inspired by Robert A. Harris and James C.
Katz successful restoration of "Lawrence of Arabia", generally
considered the ultimate example of the Fifties-Sixties roadshow
presentation. However, this type of film is associated in the minds of
average contemporary moviegoers with Merchant-Ivory arthouse films and
tv's "Masterpiece Theater" As much as critics and cultural snobs abhor
it, selling these processes will depend on more "cinematic" material,
though it doesn't have to be as intellectually vacuous as "Pirates
of the Caribbean: Ad Nauseum".
But this introduces another major dilemma: few of today's video addled
directors know how to stage and shoot for presentation on the B-I-G
W-I-D-E S-C-R-E-E-N. One of those BOURNE things in this process would
result in the rest of the day being spent cleaning and disinfecting the
Conversations I've had with Weisgerber reveal that he is aware of these
problems, too, and hopes to control them as much as possible to get both
formats launched. The reported success of Imax versions of dramatic
films suggests audiences will still fall for the kind of height that
made Cinerama and 3-D temporary successes in the Fifties, and even
confused audiences about 70mm in the Eighties by selling it for sound
rather than superior image. That both Super Dimension 70 and Dimensional
Movie Xperience will deliver on any promised hype is obvious from this
demonstration, especially with the right subjects. (Ironically those
Imax conversions are presented at shorter aspect ratios ranging from
1.85:1 to 2.40:1, rather than the full height of Imax, which would
reveal how impractical Imax is for telling a dramatic story, something
for which Super Dimension 70 was designed.)
Because the fate of the National Theater is up in the air, future Los
Angeles demonstrations are uncertain at the moment, but they are planned
and I will pass on announcements as I am informed of them. To those who
haven't taken the opportunity to see this, it¹s well worth doing so.
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