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iPontificateFilm Is Dead at the Hands of the Sith


- June 3rd, 2005

The latest installment of George Lucas' Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith is quite literally taking over the planet with the speed and aggression of Order 66. That's because Revenge of the Sith is the forerunner of the next wave of cinema, specifically Digital Cinema and Projection. Lucas has always been at the front of emerging film technology from the earliest days of the original Star Wars special effects to the first of the prequels, with The Attack of the Clones being shot entirely on HD cameras, a first for such a large project.

I had the opportunity to see Sith at the only digital theater in Austin, TX last week and was blown - nachos and all - out of my seat. From the opening space battle to the final moments of Anakin's transformation into Darth Vader, the images leapt from the screen into an area of my mind that controls breathing, perspiration, and giddiness. The BPG frontal lobe if you will.

If Sith is any example, the next few years will present the movie going public with a new universe of stunning visuals and digital effects. Being projected in its native digital format, the film takes on a new look and life that is entirely it's own, separate from standard film projection methods. The colors and clarity of the CGI was something I haven't experienced before, and they made me excited for what lies in the future for these new theaters.

There is no doubt in anyone's mind that CGI is here to stay, and it is evolving into a new form of cinema that is complimented more widely by the growth of digital theaters, a marriage that will firmly anchor the future of digital filmmaking directly to the public. Sith has declared full force that film is going the way of the Jedi. Join the Dark Side with us, and the legions of the newly converted.

Ireland recently become the first country to go "all digital" with the conversion of 105 sites and over 500 screens to digital projectors. Other countries across the globe are slowly starting to convert to the digital format as well, but the release of the Sith has spurned a wave of conversion from India to Italy.

According to DCinemaToday, the growth rate of digital theaters worldwide continues its upward climb. The US, however, is a bit slower to change, and Hollywood is largely being seen as the biggest obstacle for a wide national change. The studios have been a bit wary of digital projectors in the past because the quality and image didn't quite meet their standards.

China, in fact, has actually surpassed the US as the country with the most digital installations, while France sides with US theater owners in resisting. The release of the Sith will more than likely spur a wider acceptance of the digital format from those previously reluctant about digital projection.

One of the coolest things about digital theaters is the reduced cost of content delivery, which bodes well for theater owners. Theaters have been fighting an uphill battle over the past few years as revenues from tickets and sales have been in decline.

This has been a result of the wider use of DVDs and large format TVs in more US homes. Home theaters with surround sound speakers and direct download of movies via Video On Demand and other such services have really dealt a blow to Hollywood and Theater owners.

There's really not that much difference between what can be seen in your own home and the local multiplex besides the size of the screen and really expensive popcorn. Digital Cinema can help fill the dusty seats by offering viewers something their own home theaters cannot provide.

Hollywood has to put the experience back into the viewing sales pitch, and these Digital Theaters really help to bridge that gap. The digital content is also cheaper that the old standard physical film print that has to be shipped to each screen. Using the new digital medium, venues simply can download the entire picture off a satellite network and to the theater for projection. This helps reduce the theater overhead and helps broaden the line between profit and failure.

Hopefully within the next five years or so, the majority of theaters across the US and the globe for that matter, will be fitted with digital projectors. With more places to show their work, Directors will feel more comfortable with shooting in digital with the express desire for it to be viewed as a native digital movie. Celluloid is starting to move into its twilight years and has taken up residence in Boca Raton with Ethel Merman and Rudolf Valentino. Its legs are weak and tired, and it is simply a matter of time before the trusty old girl is laid to rest. The younger generation is moving into town, with blasters and light sabers blaring.

With that, let me get back to the Sith film, and say a few words about the last Star Wars movie of our lifetime. I am not a Star Wars nerd by any means. I grew up on the films, as many of my generation did, and have a healthy appreciation for the franchise.

When George Lucas re-released the older films a few years ago with extended scenes and remastered CGI backdrops and such, I was kind of pissed off about him tampering with the older movies. I am a purest at heart and really couldn't understand why Lucas would mess with perfection unless he had some really cool toys and just wanted to show them off.

After watching Revenge of the Sith I now know why he did what he did. Because the prequel films where made some 20 years after the originals, they look more stunning than the previous versions. Even if you put everyone in retro looking spaceships, the fact remains, they look pretty damn perfect when compared to the little models that attacked the trenches of the Death Star in 1977.

There is now a seamless transition from the new movies into the old. Now that the older movies are peppered with the CGI and visual enhancements that didn't exist back then, visually they are all tied together and can be watched from Episode 1 to Episode 6 without missing a beat. I sure envy all the kids now days that get to grow up in a world of film that quite literally has no boundaries. I tip my hat to Lucas for having a few cards up his sleeve, and for dealing the final blow to celluloid with his red colored light saber. Quick, painless and quite beautiful.

[Update: Thanks for the notes about it being Attack of the Clones, and not The Phantom Menace, that was shot entirely on HD. The column has been corrected. - Mike]

With five years in the entertainment industry, and three years writing for The Mac Observer, works passionately on various genres of film, including documentaries, narrative features, and shorts. He has two feature films under his belt as Director of Photography and Camera Operator, and his current role at TMO is to cover digital media and the film industry.

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