The upcoming release of Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight is a pivotal moment for physical film. Tarantino famously loves film stock (having shelled out money to keep film production plants running); the director wants his upcoming movie to showcase the rich power of film in a way that’s undeniable to studios and audiences. But showing that film in all its glory takes specialized equipment. Only select theaters will project it as intended in Ultra Panavision 70 – a beautiful format that, it turns out, nobody really remembers how to use.
No major commercial film has been shot in Ultra Panavision 70 since the 60s, and given their rarity, few working projectionists have experience with the format. This might explain The Hateful Eight‘s apparently disastrous advance screening last night, as reported by HitFix’s Drew McWeeny, in which the film drifted out of focus for two hours before the theater decided to play the digital version instead. The event meant to celebrate physical film stock might have convinced attendees that the format isn’t practical anymore.
McWeeny warns that too many of these failures could reduce film stock to a fetish object for filmmakers with little meaningful use. He notes that the most recent season of Project Greenlight involved a huge push to shoot on film rather than digitally, “[a]nd in the end,” he says, “it made no difference.”
If theaters struggle with the medium’s show-off piece, that’s a bad portent – and clearly not what Tarantino and other film diehards hoped for. We’re sure The Hateful Eight looks gorgeous when projected correctly, but the long-term outlook on watching film like that seems more uncertain.