70mm Cinema: Days of Future Past


Having now finally seen the 70mm roadshow cut of Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, I can firmly say that it was one of the most transcendent moviegoing experiences I’ve ever had. The relish of seeing a modern-day film shot on a film stock that hadn’t been used in nearly fifty years was like being thrust in a time portal back to the 1960s and early 70s where the form was predominantly utilized in the epic film genre. The wide, high-resolution images of both the mountainous exteriors and contained spacing of the main haberdashery setting were a feast for the eyes, and the addition of a complementary souvenir program on the film, its stars and production was an added bonus too.

Having said all that, it’s a bit obvious that I’m a proponent for film stock’s relevance in present day cinema. Although digital cinema has officially become the preferred shooting form for its simpler and speedier style of capturing images, it’s always a treat to see to see big-name directors retain both the relevance and importance of film stock in cinema. Several years before The Hateful Eight went into production, Paul Thomas Anderson shot his highly anticipated sixth feature film, The Master, on 70mm, which was the first feature-length fiction film to be shot entirely on the format since Kenneth Branagh’s 1996 adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet.


Although the amount of movies entirely shot on the 70mm format has been scarce in the last fifty years, its partial use has also seen a resurgence as of recent years. A recent example of this recurring trend was Christopher Nolan shooting various portions of Interstellar on 70mm IMAX cameras. I managed to see the film on one of the largest IMAX screens in the country, and even as someone who was decidedly split on the film as a whole, I was nonetheless awestruck by the wide scope and lush image quality of various scenic settings where the format use was evident.

Before going any further in my speculation of 70mm’s prolonged future in present day cinema, I shall provide a background for those that may not be as familiar with the film stock’s historical significance. Before the digital format made its rise at the turn of the 21st century, movies were shot on four formats: 8mm, 16mm, 35mm and 70mm. The bigger the film print, the brighter and higher quality the image resolution became, which allowed for expansive settings to be shown in their most detailed form. However one thing that all the formats shared was the vertical line breaks in the film negative, which were evident in The Hateful Eight roadshow version.


The first American film to be photographed in the 70mm format was the 1955 musical Oklahoma!, which received multiple Academy Award nominations, including Best Cinematography. From that point on until 1970, 70mm became the preferred film stock for productions of movies that sought to capture the fullest scope possible of some of the world’s most immersive environments. This helped produced some of the cinema’s greatest classics, including Ben Hur, Lawrence of Arabia and 2001: A Space Odyssey. At that time filmgoers weren’t getting just a great film, but also an experience where looking at a certain image was just as profound as the rest of the movie’s admirable aesthetics.

By the early 1970s though, 70mm saw a decline because the costs for the projection systems and theater screens compatible with the stock became too expensive. This was soon replaced by films that were widely shown in the format being re-released to a wider distribution in 35mm.

With all that being said, I am fully aware that not everyone shares the same passion I do for 70mm’s survival in film. Hell, I’m sure some people saw the roadshow version of The Hateful Eight because it released one week earlier than the standard release did, and that it was directed by Tarantino. However from the viewpoint of a person that’s an aficionado of classic cinema and the preservation of its original format, it’s a given that they, like myself, treated the experience as a nostalgia trip to relive an era of both film and movie-going that was almost gone for good. In this generation though, it’s harder to be optimistic for one film to boost the awareness of a significant aspect in the history of filmmaking for a longer period of time. Nonetheless, what Quentin Tarantino did with The Hateful Eight was truly special, and just the display of the text, “See it in Glorious 70mm Ultra Panavision,” is enough to provoke at least a discussion and/or research out of peaked interest to learn more about one of cinema’s greatest film forms.

If you’re by any chance more interested in both the history and high image resolution of 70mm, I’ve attached a slideshow of still shots from some of the best films to be shot on the format.

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Tyler Christian is a 23 year old graduate of UC Irvine with a BA in Film & Media Studies. After viewing a double feature of Pulp Fiction and Scarface in his early teens, film became his biggest passion. He has had a number of film-related ventures over the last couple years, including making several appearances on The Rotten Tomatoes Show, doing movie reviews on Youtube under the account “CaliCriticReviews,” and editing the Arts & Entertainment section of his college newspaper for two years. When he gets a break from his digital media day job, he's prime for catching up on the latest and greatest in film and television. Also if you ever happen to meet him in person, prepare in advance for the onslaught of sarcasm and bad puns.
  • Tony Montealegre

    Sounds like a very interesting way to watch The Hateful Eight!

  • Haha

    NOTHING BEATS FILM – except $$$

  • Ariel Schudson

    “The relish of seeing a modern-day film shot on a film stock that hadn’t been used in nearly fifty years” You may want to check your sources on this. Also, you really have to differentiate between just 70mm and a highly specialized 70, like H8. They have been shooting plenty of films on 70mm stock in the last 50 years. FAR AND AWAY (Ron Howard, 1992) was in 70mm. Much of what is critical here lies in the lenses and the 2.76 aspect ratio- this is the first *anamorphic* 70mm to be released in theaters in that long. The lenses that they used (some found!) and ones that they had to create especially for this production open the screen space up to the ULTIMATE wide-ness/scope of the frame & what can be seen. So this is a little deeper than just 70mm or film stock. There is a difference b/w 70mm and Ultra Panavision 70mm.
    THE MASTER was in 70mm, but not Ultra Panavision. OKLAHOMA was filmed in Todd-AO 70mm, but not Ultra Panavision.
    KHARTOUM (Basil Dearden, 1966) is the last film to have used this process. And there are only a handful of films to ever even have been shot in UltraPanavision.

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