Last night, Quentin Tarantino's "The Hateful Eight" screened for press in Los Angeles, in the "glorious" 70mm presentation that has been a key part of the marketing campaign around the movie (there's already a length 7-minute featurette dedicated to explaining the old school format to contemporary audiences —watch it here). Indeed, the film will only be screening in 70mm for the first two weeks of release, playing "roadshow" style across the country, with The Weinstein Company putting a lot of time and money into acquiring projectors, training staff and otherwise getting cinemas fully prepared to play the movie as Tarantino intends it to be seen. But it would seem there are a few kinks to be worked out.
The press screening at the Majestic Crest Theatre in Westwood was very near disastrous. By the time the intermission for the picture came around, Twitter was already alight with complaints from those in attendance about the shoddy presentation and other problems throughout the screening. Playlist contributor Russ Fischer was on hand, and he shared his account of what went down. Here's what he had to say:
From the very first moment announcing the Overture, it was obvious there was a problem with the projector setup at the Crest. The "overture" title card is a stark artistic rendering of the opening image of the movie: a stagecoach moving across a landscape at the base of a mountain. The mountain was crisp and the letters in the overture" looked good, but the stagecoach, in the lower middle third of the frame, was constantly fluctuating in and out of focus, a small but very noticeable spot.
As the first half of the film ran, that spot was constantly a problem it was always flickering, jittering, and moving in and out of focus, mostly out. The image had big jitter problems overall, most noticeably when the stark letters of chapter titles were onscreen, but also easy to see in other scenes with lots of contrast. One of Tim Roth's first big moments takes place over a small table lit with a hot light, and in this presentation that very highlighted part of the image was right in the trouble spot, bouncing and soft, it was impossible to ignore.
As the first half went on, things got worse, with the focus problems sometimes reversing, with that lower middle third spot now crisp, but most of the rest of the frame out of focus. Racking focus from foreground to back is a basic narrative device Tarantino and cinematographer Robert Richardson often use in the film, and that effect was ruined, as there was often nothing in sharp focus.
I stepped out to inform the publicist there was a problem as soon as the overture card faded into actual footage, when it was clear the focus issue wasn't going away. A couple other people were doing the same. The whole print ran like this through to the intermission, with little evidence that the projectionist was working to fix the problem.
Meanwhile, the Crest didn't properly place the matte curtains around the screen, so the top and bottom edges faded off into fuzziness rather than having the crisp delineation those mattes are meant to provide.
After the intermission, the second half of the movie was shown digitally, as the 70mm projection problems simply could not be resolved. But what must be more worrying to the studio is that this isn't the first time a press screening for "The Hateful Eight" has gone awry. A showing in New York City two weeks ago was reportedly delayed by ninety minutes due to projection woes.
There has been much spilled ink about the efforts by Tarantino, Christopher Nolan, Paul Thomas Anderson and other major filmmakers to preserve film stock and to project on film when they can. But the hurdle will always be that they must convince audiences they are truly getting a noticeably different and presumably better experience than seeing a movie digitally. There's still a couple of weeks to go, but let's hope for the sake of "The Hateful Eight" and the investment made to bring back a long dormant format, that audiences will be getting a special experience without any issues, or the big comeback of 70mm may be over before it ever really starts. — reporting by Russ Fischer