by Nicolas Pinzon
It should come as no surprise to anyone who follows cinematography trends, that in this year, just like in the last few years, one camera dominated the best cinematography category of the Academy Awards: The digital camera, Arri Alexa. Other digital cameras were used in support of the Alexa, but the Alexa was the primary camera in all the nominated movies; all the nominated movies except one: Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight (cinematography by Robert Richardson.)
Tarantino has long been an opponent of digital cameras and, for his eighth and latest movie; the celebrated director chose to use an old and somewhat forgotten film technology that, according to him, surpasses digital images in every way.
Traditionally, movies had been shot and projected in 35mm film, but every once in a while, studios would choose to film on 65mm film and project it on 70mm in order to achieve better resolution, color, and over all picture quality. Classics such as Lawrence of Arabia, My Fair Lady, and The Sound of Music were all shot on 65mm film and projected through limited release on 70mm, but the high price of film along with the cost and difficulties involved in projecting the larger format, eventually halted this technology. Yet now, Tarantino, salivating at the possibility of showcasing what his beloved film can really do, decided to bring 70mm back for our awe and enjoyment. The question is: is there really a visible difference between 70mm and 35mm or digital recording that audiences can notice? And will this be enough to garner the hateful eight the academy award for best cinematography?
Full disclosure, I like film, but I am not madly in love with it. When it comes to the query of Film vs. Digital, there seem to be two spectrums of people in this town, those who hold a strong emotional connection to film, and those who couldn’t care less about what technology is used as long as it looks good and serves the story. The truth is I fall somewhere closer to the latter group. And yet, I must admit that the way The Hateful Eight looked when projected on 70mm blew me away. The texture, color, and sheer scale of the image was, for lack of a better word, magisterial, and for a brief moment I shared Tarantino’s enamor with film. If we were to freeze frames, The Hateful Eight would definitely have the most beautiful photography of all the nominated films.
But we aren’t supposed to freeze frames. After all, we are discussing an award for cinematography, not one for photography, and cinematography involves movement. Without a doubt, no nominated movie “moved” better than the front runner of this race: Alejandro G. Iñaritu’s The Revenant. Shot primarily on, you guessed it, the Arri Alexa, G. Iñaritu and his director of photography, Chivo Lubezki, used little to no artificial lighting during shooting and achieved an incredibly natural and raw look that should make any doubter rethink the power of a digital camera. The image looks great, but never as great as the 70mm frozen frames of The Hateful Eight, but then I go back to The Revenant’s movement, to the agility with which the camera moved from spectacle to spectacle in a way that a 70mm camera could never do simply because of it’s weight and size. And so I understand that each camera was chosen perfectly for what it was meant to do and that “film vs. digital” is just a thing we fight about.
I believe The Revenant will win best cinematography, though Sicario, also shot on the Alexa and directed by Denis Villenueve and shot by Roger Deakins could pull off an upset. Sadly, I believe The Hateful Eight holds very little of a chance. It was designed to be seen in a 70mm projection and, ultimately, most Academy voters will wait to see it at home through their free screener DVD at a tiny 720p resolution, stripping Tarantino’s latest of all of its visual power. It’s not fair, but for all of us who saw The Hateful Eight as it was meant to be seen, it was amazing.