Destination Film: Wonder Woman in 70mm - Gateway Film Center - Columbus, Ohio

Say what you will about Warner Brothers’ handling (or mishandling) of their back catalog, their niche titles and putting all their eggs into the DC Comics basket with summer tentpole movies.  In spite of the pros and cons still swirling around the film and media empire, the company as it stands is still one of the only studios in the world still regularly striking 70mm celluloid prints for many of their upcoming films.  Whether adhering to the rigorous elite standards set by Christopher Nolan’s IMAX 15/70mm pictures, the use of multiple film formats behind Zack Snyder’s Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice or striking standard 35mm prints blown up to 70mm ala Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice or David Yates’ Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Warner Brothers is without a doubt the frontrunner for film companies still making a concerted effort to use film exhibition whenever possible.

The latest cinematic venture to join their ever growing library of newly minted 70mm blow up prints is the critically revered Patty Jenkins directed comic book film, Wonder Woman.  Despite rolling out a massive nationwide DCP digital release in standard theaters, a total of ten select theaters throughout the country received exclusive 70mm celluloid prints of the superheroine epic.  The nearest theater to yours truly carrying the coveted and rare film print just so happened to be the non-profit independent film venue in Columbus, Ohio: the Gateway Film Center

Located on the campus grounds of the Ohio State University adjacent to the student Barnes and Noble bookstore, the Gateway Film Center was founded in November 2005 before President/Chief Programmer Chris Hamel took over the facility and has since transformed the venue into bona fide cinephile’s dream place. Offering a myriad of unique programming ranging from the classical to the modern with an emphasis on exhibiting digital cinema, 35mm film and 70mm film, the Gateway Film Center is at the epicenter of the student and neighborhood campus community! Honored with the prestigious Sundance Award as one of the top North American art house theaters for their ongoing programming and reaching out to the community, the venue is connected to the restaurant lounge/bar The Torpedo Room offering a variety of mixed drinks and elegant luncheon/dinner meals.  

Inside the theater itself were a variety of local custom paintings paying homage to some of cinema’s greatest films and most beloved actors.  In the era of midnight movie revivals, upon picking up my ticket for Wonder Woman I couldn’t help but notice they also happened to be playing Creepshow in 35mm later that day as well as the new 4K restoration of David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive.  Much like the Indiana State Theater IMAX, the sleek interior design and multiple floors housing auditoriums sported a far more modern and classier theater going experience than your typical multiplex.

Still, the real highlight of the venue was the rare opportunity to see one of the year’s biggest superhero films in the largest film format possible.  Photographed on 35mm film with select sequences photographed using the ARRI Rental Prime 65 lenses with the Alexa 65 camera, Wonder Woman like the other recent DC Comics film offerings came together through a variety of film formats before ultimately being transferred and exhibited in DCP and in rare cases, celluloid.  For this particular 70mm print of Wonder Woman, as with the Rogue One screening in Indianapolis, the film was precluded by a sneak peek at Christopher Nolan’s upcoming Dunkirk though framed at a fixed aspect ratio of 2.20:1 without the IMAX aspect ratio shifting present in the IMAX version. 

The film itself looked great with moments of depth, texture and noticeable film grain which made the experience that much more enveloping.  The sound appeared to be in DTS Digital, as analog magnetic audio has all but been phased out of the cinema scene save for archival prints from the 1980s.  Technically speaking however, lovely and clean as the format is with still stunning depth of field and fluid movement, Wonder Woman when compared to the technically proficient work on Zack Snyder’s Batman vs. Superman, didn’t quite jump off the screen in the ways other 70mm features have in the past.  In all likelihood, Wonder Woman represents a blow up print which means the 35mm footage is presented at a higher resolution than native 35mm projection would have exhibited but not by much.  As with most 35mm films blown up to 70mm, there's a slight loss in picture information with the 2.35:1 native ratio slightly cropped down to 2.20:1.

In the end, however, film is still this filmgoer’s personal preference and having the rare opportunity to see Wonder Woman for the very first time in the splendor of 70mm still proved to be a treat even if to my eyes the differences between it and the DCP release weren’t all that far apart.  Film exhibition of modern cinema, particularly tentpole cinema, is such a rare thing these days that to see one at all is kind of miraculous.  If nothing else, the trip to the theater introduced me to one of Ohio’s greatest film venues with many future attractions sure to draw this filmgoer back for more! 

-  Andrew Kotwicki