PICTURE the scene…you are settling down in your favourite cinema, maybe in a favourite seat, with that same fizzle of excitement you’ve felt at the start of every cinema visit since ever. You might have avoided reviews or even called for a social media black-out (penalty: eternal friends-list banishment to the accursed poster-of-spoilers).
Then the movie starts. Within minutes it is clear that the worst has happened. Visually, the film looks like a bunch of actors in an over-lit, soulless film set. Yes, the digital picture quality is stunning. You can see every pores of Benedict Cumberbatch’s skin. But because the ‘feel’ of the movie is cold, fake, empty and ultra-real you can also almost see Benedict standing on cue, under lights and under orders.
This ‘life-like’ quality is – in my humble opinion – a problem for movies like Pride, Theory of Everything and Man from UNCLE. The movie looks, and more importantly feels, like the street outside your cinema. But these movies weren’t set in 2015; they were set in the smokey days of 35mm film complete with the beige and green and brown colours of their period.
There are plenty of directors who get it right: just refer to Birdman or Theory of Everything. The latter almost smells and soaks in the textures and colours of your grandparents’ era. I know there may be much better words for the – as Ivan Little would say – phenomenon I’m describing. And if you get that Ivan Little reference you are definitely part of the 35mm generation. A film studies student might simply tell me it is a matter of a specific production issue or even a figment of my own imagination.
However, I even remember going to see a preview of Broadwalk Empire shown in HD and thinking “it looks like a movie set!”. I have to use the darkest setting on my TV to make Blu-ray watchable again and I’m told by a friend of a movie industry figure who refuses to watch Blu-ray at all as it reminds him of the shallow quality of picture seen through on-set mini-monitors.
In short, for my 30-something eyes a film like Imitation Game may sound and have a set straight out of the 1940s. But, especially for the 35mm generation, it should also have the look and feel of the 1940s too. Not too long ago we had movies like, to pick random examples from the top of the DVD pile, Amelie, Good Vibrations, A Beautiful Mind and Shame. Immersive movies with a sumptuous essence and roughness drawing you into their story.
Today we have real-life detail and almost real-life people on a larger than life screen. But we don’t need to buy a cinema ticket to experience the real world. We want to feel the director’s world, time and place.That’s why I’d still love to go back to Turing’s 1940s or the Miners’ strikes of the 1980s.
I missed out on a chance to do so in the cinema. Did you?