"Here's To The Good Stuff." The 70mm Film Festival Returns.
By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 09/11/18 10:21:24
An overview of this year's installment of the 70mm Film Festival, running September 14-27 at Chicago's beloved Music Box Theatre.
As one of the few venues in Chicago still capable of showing films in the majesty of 70mm, a format that is twice the size of normal 35mm film (with a single reel clocking in at over 40 pounds) that offers a degree of visual sharpness and clarity that leaves both 35mm and digital projection in the dust by comparison, the Music Box Theatre has always relished the opportunity to show off its capabilities and give audiences a chance to see the process in all of its glory--the last year alone has seen one-off screenings of rare prints of ''Streets of Fire'' and, somewhat inexplicably, ''Howard the Duck,'' and hosted the revival of Stanley Kubrick's ''2001: A Space Odyssey'' this past spring. However, their greatest showcase for the format is their annual 70mm Film Festival, which returns for its fifth installment September 14-27 and which will be screening 12 films--including 4 returning favorites and 8 making their festival debuts--in rarely screened prints. Some of the films were actually shot in the admittedly cumbersome format and some were shot in 35mm and blown up to 70mm (although the visual clarity isn't quite as spectacular as that of a true 70mm print, they still beat most anything else you can imagine and include spectacular soundtracks as a bonus). All will be screened on the massive 16 X 36 temporary screen that the theater has installed for the duration of the festival and will provide the kind of overwhelming sensory experience that one rarely gets there days when they go to the movies these days.
Passes for the entire festival are available for $70 for general audiences and $60 for Music Box members. Tickets for each individual movie are $14 for general admission, $12 for seniors and students and $10 for members and kids. They can be purchased at the Music Box Theatre (3733 N. Southport) or at their website at https://www.musicboxtheatre.com/events/the-music-box-70mm-film-festival-2018.
Here is a brief overview of the cannily chosen collection of all-time classics and cult favorites that will be screening at this yearís festival.
2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968): Stanley Kubrick's seminal sci-fi masterpiece is such a perennial feature of this festival that the Music Box actually commissioned its own 70MM print of the film to use. The version that will be screening, however, is the so-called ''Unrestored'' version where new prints were struck from the original camera negative without any subsequent digital fiddling in order to recreate exactly what viewers would have seen when it premiered fifty years earlier. (Well, not exactly ''exactly''--it is not being shown in the miracle of Cinerama.) Regardless of which version is playing (and I must confess to preferring the newer one to the ''Unrestored,'' which is more of a curiosity than anything else), seeing ''2001'' in 70mm on the biggest and best movie screen imaginable is one of those things that every serious movie fan should experience at least once in their lifetime. (9/24, 9/27)
THE DARK CRYSTAL (1982): Although Jim Henson's weird fantasy epic, in which a young boy on an epic quest to restore his dying planet by restoring the missing shard of the all-powerful Dark Crystal and bringing the two warring factions together at last, was not a big hit when it first came out--those expecting something light and frothy from the creator of the Muppets were put off by its somber tone and occasionally horrifying images. However, while the story is still a little on the creaky side (and seems to offer up tacit support to the concept of genocide to boot), it is still well worth seeing or revisiting because of the incredible visuals--all of which were created in the pre-CGI era--on display in every single frame. The film, which Henson co-directed with Frank Oz may not quite be a masterpiece but in terms of its sheer ambition and stunning technical achievements, I would take it over the ''Lord of the Rings'' films in a heartbeat. (9/22, 9/23, 9/26).
INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE (1989): Easily the best of the Indiana Jones sequels, this one finds our hero (Harrison Ford) traveling across the globe on a quest to find the Holy Grail before the Nazis get their hands on it. Following the grim cheerlessness of ''Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,'' this one found Steven Spielberg returning to the lighter and funnier tone of the original and, in a stroke of absolute genius, decided to further up the game by bringing in the legendary Sean Connery to play Jones's father--the rapport between him and Ford is so hilarious and genuine that their scenes together are even more entertaining than the elaborate action set pieces. Additionally, while I am evidently more of a fan of ''Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull'' than many of you are, I will say that the final image of this film--which was initially meant to be the end of the series--is so perfect that I almost wish that Spielberg and Co. hadnít inadvertently undercut its poetic power by reviving the franchise years later. (9/21, 9/22, 9/25, 9/26)
LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962): The big get for this year's festival is a brand new print of David Lean's award-winning historical epic about the legendary T.E. Lawrence, the British officer who somehow managed to unite warring Arab tribes in order to fight off the Turks during World War One. A film that is big in every sense of the word and yet surprisingly intimate and nuanced in its handling of Lawrence (Peter OíToole in the role that launched him into international stardom), this is generally cited as one of the greatest movies ever made and it more than lives up to those proclamations. This is a chance to see one of the most visually and dramatically overwhelming movies ever made in the manner in which it was truly meant to be seen and if you have a chance to catch it, it is an absolute must. (9/15, 9/16, 9/18, 9/19, 9/20)
PATTON (1970): One of the greatest war films of all time, Franklin J. Schaffner's look at the adventures of the infamous General George S. Patton during his campaigns in Europe during WWII remains a staggering achievement. The screenplay, co-written by Francis Ford Coppola, does a brilliant job of presenting the man in a way that defies all expectations--it neither lionizes him nor does it use him to represent all of the sins brought about by war--and the staging of the big battle scenes is still remarkable to watch. Of course, the greatest and most famous aspect of the film is the towering performance by George C. Scott as Patton, a tour de force turn so cheerfully outsized--while still being perfectly and precisely controlled--that it almost feels as if even the jumbo-sized 70MM image is not enough to contain it. (9/15, 9/20)
THE REMAINS OF THE DAY (1993): For their follow-up to the award-winning hit ''Howard's End,'' the filmmaking team of director James Ivory, Producer Ismail Merchant and screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala presented this adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro's novel about the unspoken relationship that develops between the head butler (Anthony Hopkins) and housekeeper (Emma Thompson) of a large British estate whose owner (James Fox) is working on a plan for England to make peace with the Nazis. While this film may not have the elaborate set pieces of many of the other films at this festival, the 70mm presentation allows viewers to better appreciate the lavish visual splendor on display in every scene while at the same time falling under the spell of the performances by Hopkins and Thompson. (9/21, 9/23, 9/24)
SILVERADO (1985): Having proven himself as both a screenwriter (''The Empire Strikes Back,'' ''Raiders of the Lost Ark'') and as a director (''Body Heat,'' ''The Big Chill''), filmmaker Lawrence Kasdan got the opportunity to make pretty much anything that he wanted to do. His choice was an elaborate homage to the Western genre that managed to cram virtually every single trope of the genre into a single narrative and also featured an all-star cast that included the likes of Kevin Kline, Scott Glenn, Danny Glover, Kevin Costner (in his breakout role), Rosanna Arquette, Brian Dennehy, Linda Hunt, Jeff Goldblum and John Cleese, who scores the biggest laugh in the film with his very first line of dialogue. Although it was underrated when it was first released (it has the misfortune to come out a couple of weeks after the release of Clint Eastwood's more serious-minded ''Pale Rider''), this is a film that I have always had a soft spot for since I first saw it when it originally came out and I cannot wait to see it again in all its widescreen glory. (9/23, 9/25, 9/26)
THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965): Other than the fact that this is not the Sing-A-Long version of the film, I don't really have anything to say here. (9/22, 9/27)
STAR TREK VI: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY (1991): The last big-screen hurrah for the original ''Star Trek'' crew finds Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and the gang called upon to help with peace negotiations between the Federation and the once-hated Klingons--shockingly, things donít go as planned and Kirk and McCoy (DeForest Kelley) are convicted of killing the Klingon High Chancellor as part of an elaborate plot to scuttle the peace talks. While not quite as great as series peak ''Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,'' this is still one of the better entries in the film franchise thanks to its sense of humor, the nice Shakespearian touches and the pull of seeing the original cast going out on an undeniable high note. Plus, if you see only one Christopher Plummer film at this festival, you should make it this one. (9/21, 9/22, 9/23)
THE THING (1982): Derided at the time of its release as a relentlessly bleak gross out (it had the misfortune to hit theaters a couple of weeks after the far more audience-friendly ''E.T.''), John Carpenter's brilliant remake of the 1951 horror classic, in which a group of researchers at a remote Antarctic post find themselves up against an alien creature who can assume the form of its victims, is now often regarded as one of the very few remakes to actually equal or surpass the original. Filled with jaw-dropping creature effects by Rob Bottin, a brilliantly developed sense of paranoia that brings a palpable sense of tension to every single scene and nifty performances from the great cast (including Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, Keith David and Richard Dysart), this film is arguably Carpenter's masterpiece and the kind of film that continues to have the power to freak out viewers, either newcomers or members of the cult that has since developed around it. The print that is being shown is reportedly somewhat faded in terms of color but seeing it on the big screen like this should help to make up for the muted visuals. (9/14, 9/15, 9/19)
WEST SIDE STORY (1961): This Oscar-winning adaptation of the landmark Broadway musical is not really one of my favorite movies (as much as I adore Natalie Wood, she is kind of miscast here) but I am more than willing to concede that it is absolutely stunning from a technical perspective. Co-directors Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins have presented the material with a lot of energy and excitement throughout and there are a lot of good individual scenes on display throughout (especially the ones featuring Rita Moreno, who won the Supporting Actress Oscar for her work here). If you are a fan of the film or of movie musicals in general, this presentation should be considered a must-see. (9/14, 9/16, 9/17, 9/18)
YEAR OF THE DRAGON (1985): For his follow-up to his infamous box-office flop ''Heaven's Gate,'' Michael Cimino returned to filmmaking with this adaptation of Robert Daley's novel--with a screenplay written by none other than Oliver Stone--in which Mickey Rourke plays a police captain and Vietnam veteran who is charged with cleaning up New York's crime-ridden Chinatown district and bringing down the main crime boss (John Lone). Deeply controversial when it was released--it was criticized for being borderline racist in its attitudes toward Asian-Americans--the film is an audacious crime epic that does contain some embarrassments (such as the performance by former model Ariane that is an all-time clunker and the weird attempts to make Rourke look older by dying his hair grey) but balances them with some stunning set pieces (such as the shootout in the Chinatown restaurant and a finale that needs to be seen to be believed) and a fiercely committed performance by Rourke that never shies away from the fact that his character--the ostensible hero--is kind of an asshole throughout. The decision to include this film in the festival may have raised a few eyebrows but it is the one that I am actually the most excited to see--while I love the film, I have never seen it on the big screen before and to get a chance to see it this way is like a dream come true. (9/15, 9/17)