Seeing Red again

What on earth will the cinema industry do with a camera like the Red Epic 617?

This is a camera that, if it were to shoot onto the equivalent film, would be using negatives over 180mm wide – that’s beyond IMAX by quite a big percentage. And film wouldn’t be able to capture the dynamic range that this camera can. Projection technology can only barely cope with such a source, and that’s with the help of esoteric multi-screen technology such as Spyder & WatchOut.

But will it bring people together to witness the magic of a movie? Will it enhance the stories? Will it drop an audience further into a created world? Is Ultra-HD cinema going to be a source of inspiration and action? Of course not.

Over the last seven years or so, my love of visiting the cinema has gurgled noisily down the plug hole. My peer group is in agreement that going to a cinema to watch a movie is a chore: poor sound, scratchy prints, badly behaved audiences, and the rest. Seeing Madagascar digitally projected from a hard disk a couple of years ago provided a lovely pristine print and a lovely clarity. But that technology hasn’t made it into the provincial cinemas yet, and I’m not holding my breath.

The Hollywood system isn’t exactly churning out movies for my age group anyway. Adolescents and teens must be catered for – this group hasn’t got the dosh to buy big screens and 5.1 audio systems that keep us at home thumbing through the Criterion Collection and prevent us old fogeys from crossing the cinema threshold.

But let’s look on the optimistic side: Scarlet and Epic will enable a raft of new Producers to make films that could not be made before. It could blow apart the Hollywood system that pushes film budgets ever skyward. But where are these films going to be viewed? Sure we have our computers and our TVs. Maybe cinemas will finally get a chance to find a digital projection system that will last enough time for them to make a return on their investment. Maybe (let’s be really optimistic) they get hip to recent innovations such as flexible screening and ‘quiet’ auditoriums like some did with the Saturday Screamers.

Or there’ll be a perpetuation of the system that keeps innovation out, spread betting a portfolio of film treatments, micro-managed to appeal to immature target audiences fed on a diet of star-lead convenience food for the eyes.

But the nurse says I must rest now.

It’s just that I sense an undertow of ‘Spectacle’ when reeling over the extreme resolutions of these cameras. That shooting in Epic proportions will make a dull safe story with familiar faces a little more appetising. That resolution is being applied like Monosodium Glutamate to enhance our appreciation of the movie.

I hope Red will be the catalyst for some amazing cinema to come. Small cameras that go places a cinematographic camera can’t usually go or be where cinematographic cameras can’t usually be. And I hope that the dinkiest little Scarlet will be cheap enough to be the Bolex H16 of a whole new generation of film makers.

Meanwhile, can we please just get 1080p50 right first?

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