Ultra Panavision and The Hateful Eight

Tarantino's unconventional ultra-wide format for Hateful Eight.

Word broke out a while ago that Quentin Tarantino’s western epic The Hateful Eight would not only finally begin production but that the iconoclastic director would be shooting his passion project in the elite 70mm film format.  After Paul Thomas Anderson used it recently for The Master followed by Christopher Nolan’s use of IMAX 70mm film for Interstellar, it seemed fitting Mr. Tarantino would jump on board for the use of older film formats as part of his penchant for film preservation.  But then an even bigger piece of news fell from the sky that is seriously unbelievable that it’s really happening: Quentin Tarantino will be shooting The Hateful Eight in the extremely rarely used Ultra Panavision 70, a pants-droppingly wide 70mm format which was extremely short lived and only used for big Hollywood movies from 1957 to 1966.  Films like Ben-Hur and a majority of the Cinerama three-camera process projects such as How the West Was Won and It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World utilized the extraordinarily rare camera before it was retired with the Charleton Heston epic, Khartoum.  In short, Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight represents the first film shot in Ultra Panavision 70 in almost 50 years.

To give an idea of what this format is like, let’s take a look at aspect ratios forming the dimensionality of a screen image.  At the dawn of cinema, most films were framed at what was dubbed the Academy Ratio of 1.33:1, approximately the size of a standard CRT television unit.  When black and white television began pulling patrons from theaters in the 1950s and the film industry started facing bankruptcy, a gimmick known as widescreen was started with the 1953 Biblical epic The Robe.  Shot in CinemaScope 35mm, audiences saw the 20th Century Fox logo open from 1.33:1 to a panoramic width of 2.55:1, presenting a positively epic vista that immersed viewers into the film as never before.  Soon an armada of competing formats would follow, 70mm VistaVision at 1.66:1 among them.  Michael Todd, best known for Around the World in Eighty Days, pioneered both the three-camera widescreen process known as Cinerama before selling the project off in an effort to refine the process to one camera which then became Todd-AO with a ratio of about 2.20:1.  During the short life of Cinerama, two competing widescreen formats designed specifically for Cinerama projection were created, Ultra Panavision 70 and MGM Camera 65.

What makes Ultra Panavision 70 unique to other film formats used around the time of an endless format war is how unbelievably, incredibly wide the screen image is.  Where CinemaScope was briefly known as THE widescreen format at 2.55:1, Ultra Panavision 70 reached an unattainable width of 2.76:1, making it the widest widescreen format in the world!  Reportedly, it’s a lot easier to work with than the less-wide Todd AO for being less bulky of a camera and shooting at 24fps versus 30fps.  Both have an incredible depth of field and are responsible for some truly breathtaking images, but only one pushed the envelope for how panoramic the screen can be.  With the news out concerning Tarantino’s resurrection of the dead format, Tarantino will reportedly invest in retrofitting theaters with 70mm projectors that can handle the ultra-widescreen format so it can be displayed properly.  Where Tarantino perfected the western with both Kill Bill Vol.2 and the recently released Django Unchained, now he has with the use of Ultra Panavision 70 made a film on the same level as some of the greatest films produced from the late 1950s to the early 60s.  This is truly exciting news for film buffs and Tarantino die-hards, offering something new that hasn’t been seen in half a century and spoken of the breath of a man who truly knows and loves the ins and outs of cinema!

-Andrew Kotwicki

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