I feel like digital being used in place of motion picture film has been around now for a decade, to generally favorable critical response. It seems like those that have a strong opinion against using digital cameras on large film productions, or question the merit of such a decision, are savvy to this specific conversation. On the whole, I think most newspaper critics and mainstream media outlets have favorably reported on the new developments in the way films are shot.
However, I feel now that I'm reading stuff in the mainstream reviews of movies that I have never seen in print before. When Public Enemies came out, a large portion of reviews for the film mentioned the look and how unsuited the digital feel was. Similarly, the press on Avatar is scathing. I have read numerous reviews directly comparing it to a video game.
I don't think anything much has changed in terms of the quality offered by the above two choices. Except, whereas you'd be hard pressed to find a review critical of the Star Wars prequels from 10 years ago, it's now somehow acceptable to call the Emperor out on his new wardrobe. Anything that can be said of Avatar, would have applied equally to Jar-Jar Binks or the extended CGI sequences in the Spiderman movies. Maybe it used to be the case that if new technology came out then the young embraced it and the older generation that didn't came across as stagnant or whatever. So maybe that's a reason for why so many have been hesitant to point out that in many regards the new developments neither exceed nor match the visual looks we've seen.
And as to whether we should withhold an opinion of Avatar until it's screened in IMAX 3-D, I'll say that I saw Captain Eo about 20 years ago using that approach. So the best angle that format could add, would be to compare it to a theme park attraction. When it comes out on DVD, what will be point of watching it then?
Do you think digital now no longer gets a free ride and has to stand on it's own?
I would tend to agree with you. I think what is happening with Digital and HD et al is that it has loss some of it's "specialness." It's no longer "new," and has moved into the mainstream. As such, it's a lot harder to be "revolutionary" with it, and in the loss of its newness it must begin to stand on its own two legs. The same can be said of cinema or photography or digital photography; once it lost its new feeling and some arbitrary period of time passed, I feel that people began expecting it not to just move them based on it's technological "coolness," but on its ability to convey ideas.
Look at stills, for example, at first, they were used to document whatever, and then once the technology began to be "utilized," it progressed to turning to documentation and art-form. I don't think it is enough, anymore, to praise digital systems just because they are digital, and people are catching onto that, as you mention.
I think that audiences observe the digital formats in the context of story and some times digital isn't the right choice for the story. In Public Enemies this was definitely the case. It shouldn't just be about logistics and money especially for bigger productions like Public Enemies. The format should be decided on a film by film basis. Also Digital is constantly changing with technology.
i think we are reaching a point where digital has to find his own language.
for me, the main problem, as a movie goer and also as a professional, is that people tend do shoot with digital using the 'film' techniques. thats not good, because trying to 'imitate' is never a good policy.
i've seen movies shot in digital, exploring it in a good way, that i just loved, so i cant agree that digital is a weak medium. its simply different than film, and therefore has to be treated differently. so, i agree that digital has to learn to stand on his own.
we, contemporary filmmakers, have to see all this different possibilities as a way of conveying different sensations. not different ways of conveying the same. my point of view...
The major studios have had DI's in their feature pattern budgets for a couple years. Contact printing all the way is a special case now. The color correction power of DI drives that. Most DP's will trade the 2K resolution hit for the extra control in timing. If you're going to hang some filters and cut the resolution anyhow, it's a no brainer.
PUBLIC ENEMIES = fail. 85 million budget, camcorder results in some regards. A nobel experiment that produced mixed results at best.
4k sony projectors in theaters = win for audience, long term win for exhibitors.... maybe. Jury still out.
The director of KNOWING mentioned in an interview that audiences are accepting of poor quality picture like You Tube and that influenced him in his choice to shoot Red One. A sad day for cinema. A dumb movie that will be forgotten.
Kodak has never made a better product than what they have today (with the exception of nitrate B+W, which has never been equaled) Panavision lenses have never been better.
Then again, a careful, skillful and industrious but underfunded indie film maker ought to be able to make something that looks good these days using digital cinematography. That should be a "win" for everybody.
Possible parallel story - about ten years ago, a few notable modern "guitar geniuses" were paid high dollar to promote high tech guitars that incorporated electronic components. Ad campaigns were funded, and the marketers went to work trying to sell modern miracle this to the pickers. It failed, and today nearly all electric guitars are made with the same tech you could find in Buddy Holly's time. Tube amps, too are still the most popular. Of course, if the record company executives were picking out the fear for bands to use.....
I don't there is a turning point against digital (though maybe against excessive CGI effects), I think there is a turning point coming where few people notice one way or the other -- fewer and fewer reviews of movies (or TV shows) mention that they were shot digitally, especially all those Adam Sandler comedies shot on the Genesis. That's progress of a certain type, that viewers can get beyond the origination format and look and judge the movie like any other movie.
I've heard this argument before, "transcending the medium", which begs the question, IF digital acquisition is all that, then why does it need to be "transcended" but leaving that aside for now, I personally think digital works best when the production has heavy CGI. I also think people cop out far too much and use digital as an excuse to be sloppy with their work, the mindset being, "we can do as many takes as we want so why prepare?" To me, excessive coverage due to lack of vision is an unforgivable sin. Now Mr. Mullen is a consummate professional and could never be accused of lack of preparation or lack of vision but the problem is far too many of these low budget productions simply use "it's cheaper" as an excuse to not plan out the work. (not that 80 mil is "low budget" but low budget is notorious for this excuse and it's filtering into the money grubbing exec mindset as well) It's really NOT cheaper if you have a clear vision of what you want to shoot and using film on a period piece, in general, is just kinda dumb from an aesthetic point of view, Again, just my opinion. Of course, I do believe there are exceptions to every rule and Manure is one, but if course, Mr. Mullen and the Polish Brothers are a true artists so they truly DID transcend the medium, thing is, not everybody, or every story, can do that.
Edited by James Steven Beverly, 31 August 2009 - 11:56 PM.
I don't think the acceptance curve of digital cinema (however you define it) is different from any other innovation.
The first time people saw photographs, movement, colour, sound, stereo 3D, widescreen, cgi, television, etc etc, they were blown away. Amazing, marvellous etc. Of course the technology improves steadily from day one, but once the novelty has worn off, people get critical. Yes, it's colour, but the flesh tones are poor. The 3D is impressive but I get a headache. TV's good but the picture is so small, and I can't get it on a windy day. etc. But that is what drives the technology to improve.
Film reviewers are always looking for something different to say about a film, and with some films it's hard to find anything different. So they mention the technology, because the eqipment manufacturers have pushed publicity everywhere. (That's fair enough: it's called marketing.)
I really don't think audiences in general have a clue or a care about how the pictures get on the screen. Who goes to see a film because of the camera it's shot on (except people on this list!). Sure, digital cinemas reported bigger box offices at first: but that's just novelty value again.
As someone said, a technology has only really arrived when it's gone away.
If you're going to hang some filters and cut the resolution anyhow, it's a no brainer.
This statement shows ignorance of the physical property that resolution as a system decreases at each step.
If you run something through a filter that reduces the resolution of a negative to a 2K equivalent, then scan it at 2K, you don't end up at 2K of information with the final file, you end up with, roughtly 3/4 of that.
Likewise, if you make a 2K IP, and then print that through two more generations, you end up with something far less than even 720P in the theatres.
The color control abilities are actually worse with DI than with film, because you are essentially throwing out a lot of color information.
This is, unless, you are talking about selective color adjustment, which is generally a feature that is done for only specific shots in a film anyway.
What digital allows you to do easily is adjust contrast, and saturation in ways that it is difficult or impossible to do optically. Do most movies need this control? I'd suspect not.
What DIs are doing is making 35mm prints look worse that DLP, because you are showing a 3rd generation copy of a 2K scan on film and a 2nd generation, albeit compressed, scan of the film on DLP.
If one were to scan a master positive, you'd still get arguably more than 2K, and would likewise still get more than 2K on a release print that has gone through the chain.
I get why you would do a DI with effects-heavy films, and S35 to anamorphic blowups, I really do, but why it would be used for straight-anamorphic or 3-perf. films is beyond me, especially when said films involve little to no CGI. "Julie and Julia?" "Time Traveler's Wife?" Really?
[. . .] especially all those Adam Sandler comedies shot on the Genesis.
People who don't even know that film is used though, will tell me they notice that the colors are funny on Genesis movies. I think one can only berate poor-looking imagery so many times before one has to give up.
Joe Q. Public will notice something doesn't look as good but won't bother to try to determine why. He is there to be entertained, after all.
Most people don't know that the movies are still from projected film prints, but they can appreciate the visual impact on the big screen.
I went to see a movie with a family member the other day. Print was out of focus, noticeably so. I didn't want to get up and bother him, so I let it slide. No one else noticed, at least enough to get up and complain. But their not noticing or not doesn't change the fact that the print was out of focus.
So, I think trying to explain away people not caring is like trying to make an argument that it is OK to shoot a movie out of focus, or not using fill light. You can get away with it, but people will notice something is not quite right.