FilmSlashTV: Some day, my prints won’t come
BY BURL BURLINGAME / firstname.lastname@example.org
We had a most excellent time this week at Consolidated’s little revival of “Top Gun,” the iconographic ’80s movie. Now 25 years old, Paramount has digitally remastered the film and tweaked the audio into 7.1 sound. The digital projection in the Ward theaters’ Titan showroom was basically flawless and excitingly boomy. Movies are designed to be seen in theaters.
I’d forgotten what a mediocre movie it was. It was among the first generation of films to be influenced by the cutting techniques of music videos, and it’s essentially a progression of gorgeous, oversaturated meaty images — heavily influenced by the aerial photography of naval aviator C.J. Heatley — strung together with fairly embarrassing witless dialogue and frankly awful music. Still, the movie has undeniable power, particularly on the big screen where the aerial choreography is overwhelming. Is it a classic? Of sorts.
The audience loved it, despite the relatively high ticket price of nearly $15.
I had to spend some time on the mainland a couple of years ago, and my daughter and I discovered a neighborhood theater that ran “classic” films on Tuesday nights, traditionally the deadest night in American theaters. We saw “Bullitt” and “The Great Escape,” her for the first time, and she quite enjoyed it (although, frankly, except for the chase scene, “Bullitt” doesn’t hold up). Although the theater’s prints were in pretty good shape, they still were scratched, grainy and the sound was tinny. The dark areas had a violet tinge, typical of fading film stocks of the period. What seemed fine in a theater in the mid-’60s doesn’t cut it today.
“Top Gun” was clearly shot on film; you could see the original grain in the digitally projected image. Paramount had digitally remastered the film in preparation for Blu-Ray release, and the image is as fine as it’s going to be without actually increasing the sprocket speed.
Movies have been the language of dreams for the last century, and many of the greatest films (particularly in Technicolor) deserve to be seen in the arena they were created for, the movie theater. It really is a different experience than the corner of the living room. As always, the problem is the marketplace. Movie theaters aren’t charities.
Movies were originally distributed by making hundreds of expensive prints and physically shipping the heavy reels all around the world. It’s a very expensive proposition that is essentially an informed gamble, and that’s why you don’t see independent and low-budget films opening in hundreds of theaters. Costs too much for the prints. Plus, when a movie’s run is done, what do you do with the battered prints and rusty reels?
When the original “Star Trek” movie was released, the effects teams worked up to the last minute, and the hastily-done prints were shipped wet with rush-delivery costs. It put the studio — Paramount again! — in a distribution hole before the film even opened.
The reason some theaters have dipped into digital projection is two-fold; the projection quality is (now) first-rate and won’t deteriorate, and films cans be electronically delivered to theaters, either on a small hard-drive or downloaded. Quick and timely, cheap and efficient.
“Top Gun” was revamped for the AMC chain on the mainland. When Consolidated heard about it, they requested in on it too. The movie was delivered to Hawaii on a small hard drive.
Theaters already get their trailers delivered as digital files, and it’s up to theater managers to program in an appropriate pre-film mix of previews.
The “Top Gun” screening this week was a bigger success than Consolidated imagined, and they’re buzzing about what to try next. Let them know. Let all theaters know if you’re game to see classic movies in the best possible setting.
And while they’re at it, digitally restoring classic movies for new audience, fix the errors. Yeah, like that wire holding up the Cowardly Lion’s tail in “The Wizard of Oz.” Can’t see it on your home TV, but it’s way too visible in a theater.