Quentin Tarantino's new film The Hateful Eight was just released this Christmas — but in some theaters, the film's launch was a blast from the past.
The movie is showing at 100 movie theaters in 70 millimeter film: an extra-wide format that has been out of use for decades, aside from a handful of film connoisseurs and artsy theaters.
Airing the film in 70 mm has, in some cases, required renovations.
Before theaters made the move to digital, the standard size of a film print was 35 mm — about the length of a wine cork. If you widen that, you get a higher-resolution picture, which can be shown on a bigger, wider screen.
But movies haven't been shown in 70 mm on this scale in decades, not since the era of 1959's Ben-Hur. All of the equipment is old.
"The people that did this 70 mm, they're either dead or retired," says Dave Hoag, a projectionist at the AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring, Md.
Hoag, along with fellow projectionists Mike Marini and Mike Aloupis, is looking at a print of The Hateful Eight in 70 millimeter.
Aloupis is running the reel. He grazes the side of the prints with his fingers, checking for nicks, bumps, anything weird.
"It could jam or it could catch on the side and just pull the whole slice of film right down the center," Aloupis says.
AFI Silver is one of only a handful of theaters around the country that have projectionists experienced in 70 mm. For the usual multiplex to show this movie requires some serious work.
That's where Chapin Cutler comes in. He's the head of Boston Light and Sound, the company in charge of gathering old equipment like reels and lenses and retrofitting theaters so they can show this movie. It can be complicated.
"In one case, we had to chop open a door that had been cemented shut and put the equipment up on the second floor by bringing in a forklift," Cutler says.
Cutler wanted to keep the process as simple as possible for theaters, mostly plug-and-play. So in most theaters, the entire three-hour-plus movie comes on a single big reel — about 4 feet in diameter. That film print weighs 220 pounds and can take four people to carry.
Airing a 70 mm film is a lot of work, time and money. But fans of the format say it's an experience that digital projectors can't match.
Chapin mentions one scene in particular, where Samuel L. Jackson is tucked up in the corner of the screen.
"There's some depth. You don't get that in 3-D. You don't get that in any other way except in a format that's this wide," he says.
Quentin Tarantino, a passionate fan of the format, specifically released The Hateful Eight in 70 mm to help keep the style of film alive.
"I'm guaranteeing to some degree or another there will be 70 millimeter film prints out there in the world screening for people who care," Tarantino said in a promotional video from the studio.
And some people definitely care. The projectionists at AFI are evangelicals for the church of 70.
Aloupis, for his part, is stunned into silence to hear this reporter had never seen a film in 70 mm.
"It's so clear and sharp and — " he said with a sigh.