Daily Blog – John E. Johnson, Jr. – June 11, 2008: WE NEED TO UNDERSTAND FILM BASICS WHEN COMPARING MOVIES.
If you read our Movie Renter’s Guide commenting section, you are aware of a discussion about the movie Patton, which was recently released on Blu-ray. There is a lot of discussion about how the high def version looks too “clean”, implying that it was “scrubbed” more than for other movies.
Patton was shot on 70mm film back in the days when 70mm was a buzzword instead of surround sound and computer graphics. Most movies are shot within a very small film space that fits on 35mm film when the film is run vertically. Because the film space is so small, film grain is really quite visible now that we can watch them in 1920×1080 resolution. 70mm films were also called “Roadshow Films”. They usually had seven channels recorded on a magnetic strip alongside the film frames.
There are some other classics that were shot in 70mm too, such as Lawrence of Arabia and Ben-Hur. Although Ben-Hur was filmed with a slightly anamorphic lens, both Lawrence of Arabia and Patton were not, so the image is razor sharp. Also, since the 70mm film space has four times the area of the standard 35mm film space, film grain is barely evident, and in my opinion, probably not even resolvable at 1920×1080, depending on the type of film used.
Lastly, back in the old days, there were not many shadows in the movies (except for the film noir movies in the 1940′s). So, the image just leapt off the screen. Such was the case for Patton. Even when George C. Scott was standing out in the full sun, one can see the slight shadows on his face coming from another direction, indicative of the strong overhead lighting.
So, Patton, in my opinion, is not “scrubbed”. It is not “super clean” due to image processing. It is simply a superb film source from which to create an incredible high def movie disc. When 4k high def arrives, this movie will look even better, while regular 35mm movies (not including CGI-based movies that can be generated at any chosen resolution) will probably not look much different than they do now because I think the limits of picture sharpness extracted from the standard 35mm movie film space have just about maxed out at 1920×1080, and I am speaking of movies shot on film and then digitally extracted from that film for mastering to a Blu-ray disc.
Bottom line is that the film size of the master is very, very important to the final image quality. That is why Ansel Adams shot his pictures with a 4×5 film camera.