Posts Tagged ‘pirates of the caribbean’

Reviewing the 2011 Summer Movie Season

August 1, 2011

The summer of 2011 has provided movie audiences with a full roster of feature film entertainment. We’ve enjoyed no less than 10 big-budget, action-packed films that, collectively, have provided entertainment for virtually all ages. Our previous blog posts about TRON Legacy and Pirates of Caribbean: On Stranger Tides have helped bring to light some of the technical considerations of modern filmmaking. But now that the blockbuster season is winding down, perhaps it’s a good time to reflect on what we’ve experienced this summer to see what trends currently dominate the Hollywood production process.

We’ve had the opportunity to experience an array of different filmmaking techniques and movie styles over the past few months. Film, digital, 3D, 2D, IMAX, RealD 3D, Dolby Digital 7.1, live action, animation, super heros, westerns, action and sci-fi all graced our local cineplex screens. For the movie fan, it was a cornucopia of visual and auditory information overload. And for the cinemas, it was a profitable summer of popcorn and Coke sales. But is there anything for us film buffs to learn after laying down our hard-earned cash or running up our credit card balances to see all these films? Well, a few things may surprise you.

IMAX display for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

Let’s take a look at the production details of the biggest films this summer. Following is a summary of the camera systems, aquisition formats and presentation configurations of 10 big-budget movies released during May, June and July. If the technical details of film production and presentation are of limited interest to you, we’ll summarize after the list.

Thor
Camera systems used: Panavision Panaflex Millennium XL (film), Panavision Panaflex Platinum (film), Arriflex 435 (film), Photo-Sonics 4ER (high-speed film), shot in anamorphic
Theater presentation formats: 2.35:1 aspect ratio, 35mm anamorphic and D-Cinema, 2D and 3D (via post conversion), Real-D 3D and IMAX 3D

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
Camera systems used: Red Digital Cinema Red ONE (4K digital), Red Digital Cinema Red EPIC (5K digital, for pick-up shots)
Theater presentation formats: 2.39:1 aspect ratio, 35mm anamorphic and D-Cinema, 2D and 3D (via stereo production), Real-D 3D, IMAX 3D and IMAX 3D DMR 70mm

Kung Fu Panda 2
Camera systems used: 3D Computer animation (via InTru3D)
Theater presentation formats: 2.39: aspect ratio, 35mm anamorphic and D-Cinema, 2D and 3D (original production), Real-D 3D, IMAX 3D

Super 8
Camera systems used: Panavision Panaflex Millennium XL (film), Arriflex 435 (film), Arriflex 16 SR3 (16mm film), Beaulieu 4008 ZM4 (Super 8mm film), Bell & Howell Eyemo (film), Canon 1014XLS (Super 8mm film)
Theater presentation formats: 2.39:1 aspect ratio, 35mm anamorphic and D-Cinema, 2D, IMAX Digital

X-Men: First Class
Camera systems used: Panavision Panaflex Millennium XL (film), shot in anamorphic
Theater presentation formats: 2.39:1 aspect ratio, 35mm anamorphic and D-Cinema, 2D

Green Lantern
Camera systems used: Panavision Panaflex Millennium XL2 (film), shot in Super 35
Theater presentation formats: 2.39:1 aspect ratio, 35mm anamorphic and D-Cinema, 2D and 3D (via post conversion), Real-D 3D

Cars 2
Camera systems used: 3D computer animation (2K resolution)
Theater presentation formats: 2.39:1 aspect ratio, 35mm anamorphic and D-Cinema, 2D and 3D (original production), Real-D 3D, IMAX 3D, IMAX 3D DMR 70mm (1.44:1 aspect ratio)

Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Camera systems used: Panavision Panaflex Platinum (film), Arriflex 235 (film), Arri Alexa (3.5k digital), Red Digital Cinema Red ONE (4K digital), Silicon Imaging SI-2K (2k digital), Sony CineAlta F35 (1080p digital)
Theater presentation formats: 2.39:1 aspect ratio, 35mm anamorphic and D-Cinema, 2D and 3D (mostly via stereo production with some post conversion), Real-D 3D, IMAX 3D, IMAX 3D DMR 70mm

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
Camera systems used: Arricam Studio (film), Arricam Lite (film), Arriflex 235 (film), shot in Super 35
Theater presentation formats: 2.39:1 aspect ratio, 35mm anamorphic and D-Cinema, 2D and 3D (via post conversion), Real-D 3D, IMAX 3D, IMAX 3D DMR 70mm

Captain America: The First Avenger
Camera systems used: Panavision Genesis (1080p digital), Panaflex Millennium XL (film), Arriflex 435 (film), Arriflex 235 (film), Arri Alexa (3.5k digital), Canon EOS 5D Mark II (1080p digital – used for vehicle POV shots)
Theater presentation formats: 2.39:1 aspect ratio, 35mm anamorphic and D-Cinema, 2D and 3D (via post conversion), Real-D 3D

Cowboys & Aliens
Camera systems used: Panaflex Millennium (film), Panaflex Millennium XL (film), Panavision Panaflex Platinum (film), shot in anamorphic
Theater presentation formats: 2.39:1 aspect ratio, 35mm anamorphic and D-Cinema, 2D, IMAX Digital

IMAX Digital press brochure

So, after sifting through all of that technical production and presentation information, what can be concluded? Quite a few things, it turns out.

First, note that every single film listed above was presented in the 2.39:1 aspect ratio (also known as Scope, Anamorphic or Widescreen). Traditionally, there are far more films released in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio than the 2.39:1 aspect ratio. This is simply because 2.39:1 aspect ratio films generally result in higher production costs because of the production processes required. It’s true that action films or big-budget films are often released in the 2.39:1 aspect ratio but, for fans of widescreen presentation, it’s a welcome situation to see so many directors and cinematographers embrace the 2.39:1 aspect ratio.

Shooting a scene for Harry Potter using Arri 35mm film cameras on dolly tracks

Secondly, notice how many of the movies utilize traditional 35mm film cameras as their aquisition format. If you remove the two computer animated films from the list, only one of the remaining nine films was shot completely digitally. Every other film was completely or mostly captured using 35mm film systems. In this age of digital filmmaking (heck, digital everything, really), it’s really interesting to see how well 35mm film is represented this summer. I’d venture to guess that this summer represents the highest percentage of film-based movies we’ve had in the past 5 years. The film production vs. digital production situation will be interesting to keep track of in the coming years.

Thirdly, with 3D supposedly being all the rage right now, note how few films were produced the dual camera stereo 3D process…only two. And three of the nine live action films weren’t even offered in a 3D presentation format. Of course, the two parts of the Harry Potter finale were shot at the same time and the filmmakers only found out towards the end of principle photography that Warner Brothers decided to release the final film in 3D. Still, it would appear that Hollywood has perhaps cooled off a bit – at least for the time being – about shooting everything in 3D.

DP Matthew Libatique uses Panavision 35mm film cameras to shoot Cowboys & Aliens

While we still have a few more big-budget films scheduled for late summer, the next big movie season is the holiday season. On tap are several action films, a few animated films, some super hero films and even some remakes and re-releases. We’ll keep track of these releases and provide an update on the production and presentation trends throughout the rest of 2011.

In the mean time, we invite you to leave a comment about what you thought of the summer 2011 movie season. We’d love to hear your thoughts on 2D vs. 3D, Real-D 3D vs. IMAX 3D, 2.39:1 aspect ratio vs. 1.85:1 aspect ratio, film production vs. digital production, film projection vs. digital projection, stereo production 3D vs. post conversion 3D or any other thoughts you have on the current state of movie production and presentation.

We appreciate you taking the time to read and respond.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides…which 3D version is better?

May 28, 2011

The summer movie season is upon us and the next three months should provide lots of exciting entertainment for movie goers. Thor kicked off the season in early May and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is now making its run in several 3D formats. I was invited by Disney to a press screening of Pirates on May 19, the day before its official release. The film shown at the screening was presented in RealD Cinema 3D on a medium-sized screen at the Regal Citrus Park 20 in Tampa. I saw Pirates a second time at the renowned Brenden Theaters and IMAX at The Palms in Las Vegas in the IMAX [Digital] 3D format. While I’ll leave a review of the film to other movie sites, I’d like to offer some comparisons between the two digital 3D presentations.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides Theatrical One Sheet

After seeing the RealD Cinema 3D showing of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, which was shot primarily using Red Digital Cinema RED ONE cameras with pickup shots captured on RED EPIC cameras, I was left with the impression that visually, the film was dark, somewhat dull and lacking in detail. I know cinematographer Dariusz Wolski – who  framed all three previous Pirates of the Caribbean films – would not choose to deviate from the vibrant, sharply-focused and detailed image present in the prior chapters of Jack Sparrow’s adventures, so I was a bit disappointed in this particular 3D presentation. In actuality, the RealD Cinema 3D system, which makes use of a stereoscopic projection system that utilizes a special silver screen and a lens and glasses polarization technique, is known to produce an image that’s about one-third the brightness of a standard 2D film projected on the same screen. A darker projected image means that the viewer won’t experience a picture with the level of contrast (the difference between the darkest black portions of the image and the brightest white portions of the image) expensive cinema cameras can record.  RealD 3D films are projected using a single digital projector that presents both the left eye and right eye images as alternating polarized pictures to create a three-dimensional effect. While a polarized projection system is less susceptible to distortion when a viewer moves their head about, it also halves the resolution of the recorded image since half of the total pixels are used for the left eye and half for the right eye. Thus, the RealD format is not only darker, but less detailed. On a positive note, most viewers tend to prefer the look and feel of the RealD Cinema 3D glasses over other systems.

Sample "Pirates" image at full brightness and contrast

Sample "Pirates" image at 35% brightness and contrast

The IMAX [Digital] 3D showing at the Brenden Theaters at The Palms in Las Vegas was a completely different experience. First, let me note that the Brenden chain of movie theaters, which was founded by CEO Johnny Brenden, grandson of Ted Mann, founder of Mann Theaters, is known in the industry as a theater chain that takes great care to provide their audiences with high-quality picture and sound. Most of their theaters are THX-certified and make use of the latest cinema technology. The Brenden Las Vegas is a 14-screen, all-THX cinema with auditorium 9 featuring a full IMAX screen and IMAX [Digital] projection. This is where I saw Pirates the second time. The IMAX auditorium at the Brenden Las Vegas is actually a hybrid IMAX system. The movie screen is the traditional, five-story, squarish IMAX screen – no doubt originally installed for presenting standard 70mm IMAX films – but the projection system is the new, dual projector 2K digital IMAX system. The combination actual works quite well since the huge screen allows for pristine presentation of IMAX 3D films.

Palms Casino - location of Brenden Theaters Las Vegas

Brenden Theaters box office displaying THX and Dolby Digital plaques

Brenden Theater lobby with prominent Pirates of the Caribbean display

The IMAX 3D version of Pirates was full of contrast, detail and clarity. The blacks were deep and inky and the whites were bright and clean. Colors popped in sunlit scenes and the dark, dingy locations below the decks of the ships were full of subtle detail. The close up shots of Barbossa’s face properly showcased the special, albeit gaudy, makeup treatment reserved for British officers and the tight shots of Blackbeard allowed one to count the hairs extruding from his face.

The sound system in this particular IMAX auditorium was a bit of an oddity, too. Since the screen was the traditional, large format IMAX screen, I can only assume that the sound system installed behind the screen is the traditional, multi-channel IMAX sound system used for the 70mm film presentations. However, since we were viewing a new digital IMAX presentation, which normally utilizes a different type of sound system, I’m not sure how the two sound formats were adapted to work with one another. Additionally, the theater is listed with THX and other resources as a THX-approved theater. Well, THX-approved theaters don’t include IMAX screens with IMAX sound systems. Again, I have questions as to how this traditional IMAX sound system can be listed as a THX-approved system, unless some special adaptations were made to meet the criteria of both systems. I’ve contacted both THX and IMAX about these issues; I’ll post an update should I hear anything back from either company.

Dolby also produces a digital 3D system named Dolby 3D. Although Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides has been released in the Dolby 3D format, I’ve yet to have the opportunity to visit a theater showing this version of the film. I’m anxious to audition a Dolby 3D film to see how it compares to RealD Cinema 3D and IMAX [Digital] 3D. The XPAND company also manufactures a 3D cinema system as does the Master Image company. I’ve yet to see a film in either of these formats. Note that Disney Digital 3D is simply a trade name applied to Disney films released in the 3D format; Disney does not manufacture any type of 3D projection system.

So, in conclusion, be aware that not all 3D is created equal. I’ve mentioned before how impressed I’ve been with the IMAX [Digital] 3D system and this recent direct comparison between the IMAX system and the RealD Cinema system validates my initial findings. Check your local theater listings to see what version of 3D digital projection they offer; most movie listing sites like Fandango will indicate which digital projection and 3D formats are available near you. If IMAX [Digital] 3D is an option for you, I highly recommend it. And once you’ve seen a 3D presentation of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, leave a comment sharing your experiences with the presentation.

Summer 2011 Movie Poll

April 15, 2011

The summer of 2011 will offer movie goers more potential blockbuster films than we’ve seen over a single season in a long time. With a mix of both sequel films from ongoing stories and totally new concepts, there’s sure to be something for everyone. So, we invite you to take our poll (and share with your friends) to see which of these summer movie titles are the most anticipated…