Destination Film: Dunkirk Sneak Peek and Rogue One in 70mm

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the loose prequel of sorts to the events of Episode IV: A New Hope, is proving to be both a box office smash and among the more divisive Star Wars entries among fans and cinephiles alike.  Directed by the 2014 Godzilla director Gareth Edwards, for myself it was a disappointment but others will no doubt beg to differ.  Technically speaking however, it too joins Episode VII: The Force Awakens in the film’s experimental use of high resolution 65mm film formats in the cinematographic processes.  As with The Force Awakens, I had to travel to the Indiana State Theater in order to be able to see Rogue One in the intended presentation as no other theaters in the immediate area received a celluloid print.  Where The Force Awakens was largely shot in 35mm film with one 15/70mm IMAX sequence early on, Rogue One takes a different approach by utilizing the same Ultra Panavision 70 lenses used on Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight as well as 6.5K digital formats including Arri Alexa 65, Panavision APO Panatar and Hawk65 Anamorphic Lenses. 

Further still, Rogue One joins Anthony Mann’s The Fall of the Roman Empire by being the second film to be photographed in 2.76:1 Ultra Panavision 70 before ultimately being reframed and exhibited in 2.20:1, showing only the intended portions of the open camera negative.  The resulting product is unique in that the resolution clearly changes in between shots on the Ultra Panavision lenses and the Alexa 65 lenses yet the aspect ratio stays fixed at 2.20:1 for the 70mm exhibition as opposed to the 2.35:1 standard DCP exhibition.  Moreover, using only a portion of the negative results in a peculiar slightly zoomed-in look on certain scenes which is still sharper than 35mm but not indicative of the full potential the uncompressed 2.76:1 image might have had.  Seen in IMAX 15/70 which is projected from left to right ala VistaVision versus the standard 5/70 form of projection which runs from the top to bottom, the image was enormous despite never utilizing the full 1.43:1 aperture of the IMAX screen.

Another curious aspect of this limited presentation of Rogue One, one of fifteen IMAX 15/70mm 2D prints in the world, was the 12-track digital sound mix.  Unlike Dolby Atmos which adds four ceiling speakers to enhance the 7.1 sound mix, 12-track digital offers a similar experience to Dolby Atmos but instead of simulating the 360 degree surround sound, 12-track digital outputs twelve separate tracks of discrete audio.  What this means is that every sound is being individually channeled as opposed to creating a simulated surround mix, giving listeners a far more immersive and directionally based sound mix than anything being offered in cinemas as of current.  In other words, it is the future of surround sound mixing, adding an additional six tracks of sound to the mix and smooth, fluid movement of sounds from one channel to the next. 

The real treat, however, in seeing this limited 70mm presentation was that the film was prefaced with a seven-minute sneak preview of Christopher Nolan’s upcoming WWII epic, Dunkirk.  Unlike the director’s previous film Interstellar which alternated between 35mm and 15/70mm IMAX, Dunkirk arrives shot entirely in Super Panavision 2.20:1 with select scenes in 15/70mm IMAX, making it the director’s first true 70mm film from beginning to end.  With the footage of Tom Hardy in the cockpit of a fighter jet amid tense dogfights, point-of-view shots of soldiers preparing for battle before cutting to black against the rising sound of an aircraft on a crash course with a platoon of soldiers, Dunkirk appears to be as ambitious and grandiose as anything Christopher Nolan has ever attempted.  

Whether or not it will succeed over Interstellar remains to be seen, but I was in awe of what I saw here.  Reportedly as with Interstellar, theaters still equipped to show 70mm film will be allowed to exhibit the film well before it reaches regular DCP venues, another incentive to seek out the 70mm version first.  In the end, whether Rogue One in 70mm was worth the extra miles needed to see the rare presentation, the Dunkirk preview was worth all seven minutes on the biggest screen possible!  

- Andrew Kotwicki