Tuesday, September 11, 2012


This is what theatrical exhibition has come to: Samsara is a movie shot on 65mm film that exists almost solely for the purpose of looking gorgeous, and Landmark's website proudly announces that this is a "35mm Presentation!" and that it is only being distributed in 35mm and 4K (the film's website mentions that it will open in Boston Common in the latter format on the 14th). I get that this is the world of film exhibition we live in, and that we should probably be happy that Oscilloscope Laboratories has done so well getting it into as many theaters as it has, evidently exercising some stringent quality control over which places play it as well.

Still, given that interest in large-format film is as high as it has been in years - Mission: Impossible 4, The Dark Knight Rises, and Star Trek Into Darkness all include segments shot in native IMAX, and Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master is getting a lot of notice for being shot in 65mm and exhibiting in 70mm in some theaters - I hope that at least a few 70mm prints have been made to show up in venues that can display them every once in a while. It's at least encouraging to see that the digital intermediate and mastering is being done at 8K, even though the filmmakers certainly could have gotten away with 4K; it shows an interest in being ready for higher-resolution formats later when many other movies from this period are going to be stuck at HDTV resolution.

Anyway, this looks great on film, so good that even the titles didn't look all jaggy from the front of the theater. I'm sure digital presentations will look quite nice, and I look forward to Oscilloscope sending me this as part of their "Circle of Trust" program, but 35mm is the way to go, at least for now.


* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 10 September 2012 in Landmark Kendall Square #1 (first-run, 35mm)

Especially early on, Samsara certainly looks like a movie that instills the same reaction as its trailer - "ooooohhh, pretty!" - only for longer. And, yes, it's certainly the kind of pretty that justifies the cost of a theater ticket. Filmmakers Ron Fricke and Mark Magidson do have somewhat more complex ambitions than that, crafting a picture that they likely hope will serve as both a window on the world and a mirror.

But, first, the technical: Samsara was shot over the course of years in Super 70 Panavision. The digital mastering was done at 8K resolution (roughly 8,000 pixels wide; for comparison HDTV is roughly 2K and most digital projection uses either 2K or 4K). So, exceptionally detailed formats are used at every stage of production, meaning that when you see it on 35mm film or 4K projection (much less the eventual home video release), you are seeing a mere fraction of the detail originally captured. It is a shame that there don't appear to be 70mm screenings at this time.

Fricke takes his large-format film camera around the world, shooting nature, cities, small towns, villages, industry, performance, and anything else. It is truly astounding to behold, and not just because Fricke is hauling a big camera to beautiful places. There is that, of course - a number of early shots will have audiences marveling that images like these often come from CGI in fictional films, because they are so grand and striking - but he's got a way of holding shots or doing gentle camera movements that encourage the eye to move and seek out details.

Full review at EFC.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I saw it in 4K. It's excellent Digital VIDEO if you go for that sort of thing. I would have much preferred a 70MM film negative reduction to 35mm prints.
It's a #$#$ing shame that the distributors are so spooked by the move to digital that they failed to strike even ONE 70MM film print - NOT ONE!