by: Brent Barbano
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So, every year I try to guess who will be coming home with an Oscar for the Academy Awards. 17/24. That was my score this year. Yes I’m bragging because it really isn’t that bad. Had it been a quiz I would’ve scored a 71%… Anyways, some mishaps in the often overlooked categories such as Best Doc. Short Subject, Foreign Language film and a last minute switch to Mikey Rourke from Sean Penn kept me from getting a solid B. But for the second year in a row, I was wrong when it came to Cinematography (last year I picked Assassination of Jesse James and I stand by it). I chose The Dark Knight, and for good reason. It was a no brainer and I pretty much had my decision made before I dished out the $13.50 at the Arclight to go see the best movie of the year…another topic but yes.
Director of Photography Wally Pfister A.S.C. (left) sits with Director Chris Nolan (right) and the Imax MSM 9802…weighing in at 65 lbs.
First off, I thought Slumdog Millionaire was shot beautifully…colors, movements and locations. So, not a bad movie to take home the title. However, Dark Knight did something never done before. It broke the traditional grounds of 35mm (standard in mostly all big budget features) and shot a good chunk of the feature on Imax’s whopping 65mm format. This was unheard of at the time when Wally Pfister A.S.C., DP of Dark Knight, and Director Chris Nolan came up with the scheme.
Pivotal action sequences and scenes were solely dedicated to the enlarged format and the outcome was nothing but gorgeous, saturated footage with amazing clarity never seen before in a traditional Hollywood flick. “There was no visible grain, and we could see every detail in the darkest shadows with truly rich black tones and extraordinary contrast,” Pfister says.
Above: You can clearly see the difference in size between the two formats. Imax film image area is ten times larger.
The scenes in which Imax technology was used were widely praised. The clarity and dynamic range of contrast was something many, including I, had never seen before. The new venture was a success and soon enough there was already enough buzz to assume Pfister would be nominated, yet again. Sure enough, he was.
Back story, and tech specs aside, my point is this: when someone decides to take such a risk (artistically as well as financially) as Nolan and Pfister did on The Dark Knight, they need the recognition they deserve. This was an unprecedented feat for all of cinema that is now becoming a popular trend.
Steve Jablonsky, the DP for Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, immediately jumped on the bandwagon and shot the summer hit in Imax (70 million in Imax box office alone for Dark Knight did some of the convincing). Shane Hurlbut, the DP from Terminator Salvation (Yes the one who Christian Bale called “a nice guy”) strongly considered using the Imax technology to shoot the robotic sequel. They decided on 35mm but will be bumping up to Imax for theatrical release as well.
It may have been the saving grace for film…which was slowly being pushed out the door by digital video and all it’s inflexibility. But this was a milestone for cinema and especially for Cinematography. This standard now leaves viewers with the opportunity to watch films in some of the best visual quality today’s technology has to offer…
…rant start now…
It has changed the way we will watch and perceive movies as a visual experience alone. Marketing for theatrical releases will change, ticket sales will change…This is the beginning of something big and to not award Pfister and his team an Oscar for such an accomplishment is more than a slap in the face, it’s the mere ignorance of focusing on the “now” and “what’s hot”, ahem “Slumdog”, not what will be history.
This is like not awarding Alexander Fleming the Nobel Prize for his discovery of Penicillin (this limb is small and bending fast but hear me out). During WWII, Penicillin reversed the affect of infections, thus severely lessening the death toll due to combat-related injuries. Domestically, it evolved the medical and health industry and became a major component in medical advancements and studies up to today.
I see this type of affect on an industry as the same kind of affect the Imax standard will become on Hollywood. Sure, it’s not the discovery of color film, or motion pictures for that matter. But I see this step, in this industry, as one of those milestones.
These are my last thoughts:
In an age where film was “dying” and digital video was emerging as the new and cheaper technology, Nolan and Pfister saved film and introduced an antibiotic to video. More importantly, this will change the way we experience movies in years to come. Furthermore, Nolan and Pfister are rumored to be shooting their next Batman sequel in Imax, yet again. But this time, the entire movie will be shot in the format. Lucky for us. Unfortunately, by then, Imax will have become a standard and the Academy will overlook Pfister once again for some Indy flick that makes them feel cultured for adoring.
And as for picking the Oscar winners, maybe I should listen to what others have told me in the past: go with your head, not your heart. I usually do, but I was hoping that maybe the Academy would recognize what I saw.
All in all, when the Slumdog buzz has settled, I hope people begin to realize where the real risks were taken and the roads paved. If only those who matter could look at the bigger picture…literally!