[VoxSpace Selects] The Lost Art Of Using 70mm Aperture For Motion Pictures

Some Movies Were Made To Be Felt…

Imagine a brazen stretch of nothing as far as your eyes can see, as if awaiting the very beginning of the world itself, as apes and tapirs struggle amongst themselves for sustenance. You are inside a dark theatre, as the scenes break into nervous trepidation, fear, glee, and loud noise, noise ensuing from the fear of being gnawed away against the backdrop of a blue sky, rocks piled upon, and a land bereft of vegetation. What 2001: Space Odyssey creates with the brilliant usage of a 70mm aperture is riveting, and would perhaps remain as the best technique to produce cinematic intensity accentuated by the soundtrack Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

Today, the film is regarded as Stanley Kubrick’s magnum opus synonymous with the brilliance of 70mm lens in the history of motion picture. The post will reminisce about the grandeur of using 70mm aperture in cinema, its history and significance and why some of the best directors decided to return with the grandiose utilization of the 70mm lens.

2001: Space Odyssey

In the history of motion picture, I personally believe that 70mm was unparalleled in capturing movements and stillness of the film. Space Odyssey clearly plays with the notion of speed and movement, especially in the sequence when we are racing into what appeared like a psychedelic array of bright neon colours, as the colours filter through Dave Bowman’s eyes. The brilliant cinematography helps the audience to grasp the bewilderment of Dave Bowman, who is yet to figure out a way of securing communication with Earth. In the film, the 70mm lens lends a density to the usage of colours used in the film, starting from the serene sky juxtaposed with a desolate looking land, to the bright and apathetic eye of HAL 9000 computer, to the soothing night sky of the infinity, and again back to the crass red colour lining the insides of the machine.

The sound effect delivering a spooky blend of breathing and pleadings from HAL 9000 produce the mental image of helpless claustrophobia with the wider aspect ratio of 70mm film format. If cinema can be taken as more of an experience, a journey rather than a visual treat, then 2001: Space Odyssey is the finest example. 70 mm has rendered scenes to appeal to the imagination., For instance, the lens zooming into the eyes of the murderous machine, its voice reverberating the theatre ensuring a surge of terror. The sharper edges owing to the brilliance of this resolution takes us to a different journey which defies gravity, prevalent concept of time and finite, each scene more contemplative than its predecessor.

Hamlet (1996)

Directed by Kenneth Branagh, the sharpness of each scene is a harrowing exposition of fear, suspense, paranoia, agitation, and madness of one of the most renowned Shakespearean tragedies of all time. With Hamlet, the prowess of 70mm does justification to the longest adaptation of the Shakespearean tragedy on screen. The towering figure of King Hamlet in the very opening scene sets the tone for the rest of the play. Filled with imposing anticipation, manic restlessness, and an alarming fright that many of the characters will be subjected to.

Remember the mousetrap scene in Hamlet? The wider resolution at once letting us delve into the perspective of different people who are watching over the king, Horatio, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern amongst the other. We see the mousetrap play from different angles, which was essential to bring forth the importance of staging the play in front of vibrant royal members sitting as audience.

70mm Is An Experience In Itself

70mm was most recently used in Dunkirk by Christopher Nolan, taking the audiences into the middle of a catastrophe with colourful and vibrant background passive to war brutalities.  With most of the films today, available on the internet immediate or before their release, cinema making has lost much of its grandeur. Earlier, scenes were meant to be lived within the cosiness of dark theatre rooms, with the camera zooming in and out, the experience was far more real than any screen resolution of the smartphone could offer.

With sharper edges and wider angles, films like Lolita and Exodus were meant to alter the perception of audiences towards cinema as art. In Exodus, by Otto Preminger, and Lawrence of Arabia the former a historical drama based on T.E Lawrence while the later has as its theme rooted in the founding of Israel were shot considering even the minutest detail.

Pompous desert scenes in Lawrence of Arabia where Jon Box portrayed a mirage creating an impression of the sea in the middle of the desert, were delivered in square footage that 70mm allowed for it to bring alive the character of Lawrence and Omar Sharif to audiences. In Dunkirk, in the beach-bombing scene where thousands of soldiers were scattered like ants waiting to be rescued, can be savoured the best in a theatre hall to realize pricking monstrosity of war Nolan makes us see from his panorama. 70mm is therefore not just another resolution that the directors have experimented with in the past to offer the audience both a very cinematic and immersive experience but a revolutionary decision amidst issues like lengthier processing time, surging maintenance costs of making a movie with 70mm and popularity of digital projection system have made the frequency of 70mm even rarer.

With time, embellished images and mind-boggling visuals of cinema are fading away as 70mm lens is falling out of use and usage of 70mm is confined to the sweet memories of watching films like Dead Poets Society, Lethal Weapon 2 and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade for the first time.