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65/70mm Rules

The 70mm Newsletter
Written by: Rick Mitchell, Hollywood, USA. Date: 21.01.2010
German advert for the anamorphic projection lenses required for showing Ultra Panavision 70 properly. Click image to see enlargement. Image by Schauburg's archive.

Last night at a special program at UCLA's Bridges Theater devoted to unusual film picture and sound formats, two examples of 65mm origination and 70mm presentation were shown. First, the chariot race from "BEN-HUR" was shown in full width Camera 65/Ultra Panavision. It was a print of just that sequence made off the original negative in 2003 for Panavision but only those who knew what to look for would notice any sign of fading. Dick May officially acknowledged that Warners had had a 70mm print of the entire film made at Technicolor at that time and while I would have no problem watching an inconsistent print, if most or all of it looks like this reel, I see no reason why it couldn't be run publicly, except for two problems. While the clip for Panavision had been striped and sounded, Dick couldn't remember if this had been done for the full feature. According to other sources, Warners had had new 70s struck on all the 65mm negatives in its library with the possible exceptions of "RAINTREE COUNTY" and "HAMLET" as a guide for making elements for HD transfers for future video release with apparently no thought of public screening so a track or DTS time code wasn't needed. Assuming the apparently one facility in the US that still did print striping is still doing it, it could be striped and sounded. Alternately it could be shown double system by various techniques as was done with "GRAND PRIX" at the Academy's Dunn Theater in 2006 and "IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE" and "KISS ME, KATE!" at the 3-D Expos at the Egyptian. Of course given the current "let 'em eat digital" attitude of Warners and Disney, it's not likely to happen, even for the Academy.
More in 70mm reading:

Ultra Panavision 70, Early lenses
Ultra Panavision 70 Lens - Adjustment and lens modifications

Internet link:

The other problem, one which goes back to "BEN-HUR"'s original release, is that not many screens are set up to handle the width of the image. Though it was not acknowledged last night, the image was essentially "letterboxed" to fit it into the Bridges' 2.40 screen, something which also had to be done at the Academy's Goldwyn Theater when a 70mm print of "THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD" was shown there in 2004. However, "IT'S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD" and "KHARTOUM" were shown with little problem at the Egyptian and the first has been shown at least twice at the Cinerama Dome with no problem. I believe both have been shown successfully at Bradford along with older prints of UP films; I don't know about Berlin but will probably get a comment from Thomas Hauerslav on that.
Bradford show them without UP70 lenses

Karlsruhe show UP70 with brand new Schneider lenses

Thomas, editor
Two other notes about the "BEN-HUR" sequence: it was terrific to see really terrific action editing. The cuts seemed no longer than those in contemporary "action" films, but you could always tell who was who and what was going on, really getting your pulse going as the suspense builds. And no handheld camerawork, which would have been impossible with those cameras even with Ah-nold in his prime operating. Michael Bay, Paul Greengrass, Michael Mann, J. J. Abrams and their ilk should be tied down with their eyes propped open and be forced to watch this sequence on an endless loop all day! And it was also nice to hear the sound effects and few lines of dialog in clear discrete 6 track magnetic sound rather than the mono sounding front- rear wash that muddies so much of today's sound editors' meticulous work.
The program ended with a screening of the incredible Norwegian short "A YEAR ALONG THE ABANDONED ROAD" (1991), a 65mm shot time lapse film in which the camera was rolled down a hill from the northernmost inhabited place in Norway down to the coast and back over the period of a year, a must see in 70mm. It's a reminder that digital ain't there yet for either acquisition or presentation.
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Updated 21-01-24