“2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968)
Stanley Kubrick’s magnum opus is largely credited as one of the most essential moviegoing experiences. Cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth took a page from “Lawrence of Arabia” and used spherical lenses and Super Panavision 70 film. The movie, which was presented in a Cinerama roadshow format, was projected in 2.21:1 aspect ratio on a curved screen with a six-track stereo magnetic soundtrack. No wonder the experience is so iconic. “2001” continues to tour the country on 70mm.
Franklin J. Schaffner’s biographical war epic “Patton” begins with an all-time great shot: General George S. Patton walking on stage with a massive American flag behind him. It’s shots like these that demand the scope of 70mm. “Patton” is one of only two films shot in 65mm Dimension 150, which was a variation of the Todd-AO 70 process that allowed the film to be projected on a deeply curved screen (the other film was John Huston’s “The Bible: In the Beginning”). Imagine how massive that American flag or those open field battle sequences probably looked in this format.
70mm was practically extinct by the time director Steven Lisberger and DP Bruce Logan decided to shoot “Tron” on Super Panavision 70 using a combination of various 65mm stock. Prior to 1982, the last 70mm release was James Clavell’s “The Last Valley” in 1971, and “Tron” would be the only 70mm movie for another decade. All of the live action scenes in “Tron” were filmed in 65mm color, while the groundbreaking visual effects required black and white 65mm or traditional 35mm. The VFX portions of the film were then composited to VistaVision intermediate and printed on 70mm. It was a tedious process that drove up the movie’s budget.
“Baraka” is the first documentary ever filmed entirely in 70mm. Ron Fricke served as cinematographer on the non-narrative documentary “Koyaanisqatsi,” which was shot on 35mm, and aspired to create a similar study of human activities and technological evolution. Fricke shot “Baraka” in 24 countries over a 14-month period. He directed a sequel in 2011, entitled “Samsara,” which also used 70mm photography.
“The Master” (2012)
Panavision introduced an updated line of 65mm cameras in 1991 known as the Panavision System 65, but the box office failure of the first movie to use the technology, Ron Howard’s “Far and Away,” kept most studios away from using the expensive process. “Far and Away” and Kenneth Branagh’s 1996 “Hamlet” adaptation were the only two features in the 1990s to be shot on 65mm and projected on 70mm, and the next feature wouldn’t arrive until Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master” 16 years later. The filmmaker used Panavision System 65 for nearly 85% of the feature and filmed the rest in 35mm. The 65mm footage was cropped from a 2.20:1 aspect ratio to a 1.85:1 in order to match the 35mm footage and keep the look of the film consistent.
“The Hateful Eight” (2015)
Quentin Tarantino and The Weinstein Company brought the glory days of Ultra Panvision 70 back to life with the release of “The Hateful Eight.” The director and longtime DP Robert Richardson decided to use Panavision anamorphic lenses so the film could have an aspect ratio of 2.76:1. The Western received the largest 70mm release since Ron Howard’s “Far and Away” over 20 years earlier. The costly exhibition process didn’t pay off as strongly as the Weinstein Company hoped, but that fortunately didn’t stop Warner Bros. from letting Nolan shoot “Dunkirk” entirely in 65/70mm.
Ever since “The Prestige” in 2006, Christopher Nolan has utilized 65/70mm photography for different sections of his blockbusters. The iconic street chase between The Joker and Batman in “The Dark Knight,” the aerial prologue of “The Dark Knight Rises” and the city folding in on itself in “Inception” were all made to feel bigger through the use of the Panavision System 65. But “Dunkirk” marks the first time the director has made an entire feature this way. Between the commitment to 70mm projection and the use of IMAX camera for 75% of the movie, “Dunkirk” really is going to be Nolan’s grandest looking film to date.