Warner Bros.’ imminent re-release of Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” in 70mm is prompting some to wonder: Is the format alive? Could it mount a commercial comeback?
The answers seem to be yes, and probably not.
The enhancement of 35mm prints with digital sound and digital effects has left 70mm all but extinct. Exhibitors have jettisoned most 70mm projectors, and filmmakers forgo it as excessive and expensive.
In the 1970s and ’80s, though, 70mm was central to the moviegoing experience — newspaper ads touted it and dozens of event pics (from “The Towering Inferno” to “Die Hard”) used it to larger-than-life effect.
The last new studio film to be released in the format was “Titanic” in 1997. Warners initially planned to bring back “2001” in 35mm, but then decided the daring sweep of the film (one of the first landmark 70mm titles) deserved better.
“This is for the die-hard fans. … We want them to view the film as it is meant to be seen,” says Warner Bros. domestic distrib prexy Dan Fellman.
Reissues in 70mm often fetch strong grosses, especially at the state-of-the art Cinerama theater in Seattle, which was restored by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and is run by General Cinemas. Wider acceptance is another matter.
Paul Rayton, head projectionist at Hollywood’s Egyptian Theater, which will play “2001” after it bows at the Cinerama in October, sees upgrades to 35mm as the real killer. “And with all these massive megaplexes taking over,” he adds, “there is no room or money left for building 70mm-friendly screens.”