October 13, 2014

Side by Side

Produced and narrated by Keanu Reeves, Side by Side nicely documents the recent history of digital cinema, how it supplanted traditional silver halide film almost overnight, and raised the hackles of the purists (to mostly no avail).

Reflecting trends on the still camera side, ARRI, Panavision, and Aaton no longer make film cameras. That film and camera production peaked only ten years ago illustrates the rapid adoption of digital since 2002, when George Lucas shot Star Wars: Episode II entirely on digital.

There's plenty--a glut--of used film equipment lying around. The more pressing question is how much longer Kodak can afford to keep making (and chemically processing) celluloid film.

Fujifilm quit the motion-picture film business in 2013. Kodak's film sales have fallen a staggering 96 percent since 2006. Like vinyl LPs, there will always been a niche market. Whether the economics of film can continue to justify blockbuster quantities is another question.

Right now, it seems that only guaranteed minimum orders from a handful of Hollywood heavy-hitters are keeping the Kodak film franchise alive.

Television's quick adoption of digital also contributed to the rapid decline of film. But we should also pause to thank the original 35mm prints of Star Trek and other TV "classics" for the brilliant, high-def versions available today.

Along with a brief history of the evolving digital film technologies, Keanu Reeves interviews directors and cinematographers with competing analog vs. digital loyalties. If nothing else, this documentary rekindled my admiration for George Lucas as a technological pioneer.

Digital projection is the last frontier. That frontier is closing fast. In its heyday, most of the motion picture film stock Kodak made was used for theater projection prints. That market sector has taken biggest hit as theaters switched to digital projection.

IMAX was a lone holdout for a while. The last 70mm IMAX theater in Los Angeles will have a 4K laser projection system by the end of 2015.

As with still film cameras, the question not "if" but "when." The most ardent film aficionado has to admit that the best film stock in the world is ultimately no better than the worn-out print running through the crappy projector with the dim bulb in the local mall theater.

And lastly, there is the unavoidable irony of watching a documentary about the motion picture business in which the "old timers" extol the aesthetic superiority of analog--using digital technology.

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# posted by Anonymous Dan
10/16/2014 7:05 AM   
As it concerns TV I am hard pressed to identify the last time I have seen an old fashion tube TV. As a consequence it is difficult to draw a comparison anymore between analog TV and standard definition digital TV. My memory and gut reaction is there is not much difference. I have had HD service for several years and switching to standard definition channels is always a noticeable downgrade. You get the same effect with some low budget commercials which display in SD even on HD service. The image rendering is lousy.

But HD is very impressive. I continue to be pleasantly surprised at the quality of a good HD production, especially in sports. There continues to be a "wow" factor in the detail and colors that are shown.

This justifies to me why digital cinematography has succeeded so well. It is better. When one can get a better product for the same or less cost the old product will be replaced.

But long live the AM/FM radio. It is still going strong after all these years. You can even still get an mp3 player that has integrated FM radio. Imagine that.