Release 'First Man' In 70mm IMAX Film

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Ten years ago, director Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight took immersive narrative filmmaking to the next level by being the first film to shoot on IMAX 70mm film cameras. IMAX's cameras using the format - a horizontally-run variant of 70mm film - were previously only used on documentary films like The Dream is Alive and Space Station 3D and are still considered today as the highest-quality moving picture capture device; IMAX's theatres also boast some of the largest screens in the world. 

One can go on for too long explaining why the 'full' IMAX experience - a film shot on IMAX film cameras exhibited in the 'traditional' IMAX venues on either 70mm film or laser digital formats - is so highly-praised. To find out more, check out the following article on IndieWire, as well as this format guide for Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk that I have compiled last year ahead of the film's release.

This year, following the success of Nolan's Dunkirk, director Damien Chazelle used these cameras on his upcoming (and fantastic) Neil Armstrong biopic First Man for the lunar sequences. With tickets going on sale in the UK as of the time of writing; from what I have been told, Universal reportedly will not be making any 15/70mm IMAX celluloid prints of the movie for any country.

"It’s a surreal world, the moon, like the planet of the dead. With the silence first and then the music, everything changes. It gets so unfamiliar from what we’ve been seeing. So we went to the ultimate opposite in IMAX 70mm …"

- Director of Photography, Linus Sandgren

This decision throws the availability of the 'full' First Man experience into question, particularly due to the limitations of IMAX's digital projection systems. Resolution aside (IMAX estimates a digital equivalent of as much as 18K for its 70mm film), only the 4K laser systems can fully fill traditionally-built venues with screens of the 1.43:1 aspect ratio. While most such flagship locations in the U.S. - including AMC Lincoln Square in New York, Universal Citywalk in LA, AMC Metreon in San Francisco and Smithsonian's IMAX venues in Washington, DC and others; not to mention Melbourne in Australia with the biggest IMAX in the world - have these projectors, the lack of 70mm prints means venues that only have the 2K Xenon digital projection system installed alongside the 70mm miss out on the best possible experience (save for installing laser). This includes all of the UK's 'traditional' IMAX venues including the BFI IMAX, Science Museum and Vue Manchester Printworks, as well as many museum-based locations Stateside and other countries.

Therefore, this petition asks Universal Pictures and IMAX to consider striking 15/70mm IMAX film format prints of First Man for these venues. 

Even just one print will give a chance for UK audiences to experience the film in the best possible way without having to go abroad - and it can also be used for a 'roadshow' type engagement in the UK and Europe, going to different IMAX 70mm-equipped locations. The gesture would also be an assurance of IMAX 70mm film presentations being kept alive, especially as filmmakers like Nolan as well as Wonder Woman 1984's Patty Jenkins still choose to utilise the format (especially as opposed to IMAX/Arri's digital system - currently limited by the 1.90:1 aspect ratio) on their productions. Thanks to the efforts of the likes of Nolan, Quentin Tarantino and Paul Thomas Anderson, 'regular' 70mm presentations for their latest films such as Phantom Thread and The Hateful Eight are staging a comeback. IMAX 70mm - arguably the highest-quality and most immersive celluloid film presentation - should not be forgotten about too with the company's increasing move to digital in production as well as projection.

Again, while at this stage ahead of the film's release (as well as the general reputation of such petitions for film-related matters) it's unlikely that this petition will have an effect, the hope for this is to serve as an indicator of interest in having prints done. At present, First Man is unfortunately the first movie shot on IMAX film cameras utilising the full-height aspect ratio that will not be getting a release on IMAX film. Maybe with a bit of luck, this situation will change in the month leading to the film's release.



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