For Your Consideration: Nov. 7, 2014

One of the year’s most hotly anticipated titles, Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar,” finally drops today – or, if you’re lucky enough to live near one of the handful of theaters around the country that managed to hang on to their old film projectors, perhaps you’ve already seen it in early release. Nolan and Paramount’s decision to make “Interstellar” available two days early to theaters with 35mm and 70mm projection has caused quite a stir, not to mention a lot of whining from many theater owners (who, in fairness, were more or less forced by studios to abandon film and convert to digital projection five years ago when “Avatar” was released). But, after $1.5 million in Tuesday and Wednesday screenings alone, it seems fair to say that “Interstellar” is going to do all right; and while Nolan isn’t going to keep Kodak in business by himself, it’s nice to see the public’s attention drawn to the behind-the-scenes technology that makes moviegoing possible.

To celebrate the history of 70mm (which you can read a nice little summary of here), this week we’re picking out three of our favorite films that were filmed in the super-widescreen format. It really pains me to put streaming options next to these ones. Just….try and put them on the biggest screen possible, yeah?

– Ethan

“Ben-Hur” (1959)

Cast: Charlton Heston, Stephen Boyd, Jack Hawkins, Haya Harareet, Hugh Griffith, Martha Scott, Cathy O’Donnell, Sam Jaffe, Finlay Currie, Frank Thring

Available to rent or purchase from Amazon Instant and iTunes, on disc from Netflix

If ever there was a movie made for the big screen, it’s “Ben-Hur.” The first movie to win still-unbeaten record of eleven Oscars—a feat unrivaled for almost four decades—this epic set in Biblical times is so grand the screen doesn’t feel big enough to contain it. The story of a friendship gone sour between a Jewish prince and a Roman commander, it is at times ludicrous, a soap opera sheathed in classical dress—with a side plot featuring Pontius Pilate and Jesus Christ. But it’s an exhilarating spectacle that pulsates and dazzles for the length of its 212 minutes. The nine-minute chariot race is one of the most famous sequences in cinema history, setting the blueprint for every competitive race or car chase in the movies since (“The Phantom Menace” is a prime example). To top it all off, it’s the only Hollywood film to make the Vatican’s official list of approved religious films.

– Elaine

“Mutiny on the Bounty” (1962)

Cast: Marlon Brando, Trevor Howard, Richard Harris, Hugh Griffith, Richard Haydn, Percy Herbert, Tarita Teriipaia, Henry Daniell

Available to rent or purchase from Amazon Instant and iTunes, on disc from Netflix

Based on the 1932 British novel, “Mutiny on the Bounty” has been remembered more for star Marlon Brando’s on-set antics than for its own merits. But this battle of wills on the high seas features a very fine performance, not from Brando, but from Trevor Howard. Howard, his voice gravely and his lip perpetually set in a curl, outshines his counterpart as Captain William Bligh, a cruel, conniving man whose brutality finally drives his men to mutiny.

As in any odyssey, we yearn for the sight of land, and the movie’s visuals deliver spectacular vistas of Tahiti and the ocean from which it rises. Thanks to the luscious cinematography by Robert Surtees, who won an Oscar for his work on “Ben-Hur,” when the Bounty finally reaches her destination, we, like the sailors, believe that we have made it to paradise (for all its problematic imperialist overtones).

– Elaine

“2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968)

Cast: Keir Dullea, Douglas Rain, Gary Lockwood, William Sylvester

Available to rent or purchase on Amazon Instant and iTunes, on disc from Netflix

Yeah, so it’s really not like “Interstellar” needs another pre-emptive “2001” comparison. But even unseen and un-dissected (by me, anyway), the comparison is kind of unavoidable when it comes to the film’s technical specs. Wouldn’t you know it, there’s just something about space that attracts directors to a sense of scope (select scenes – yes, you can probably guess which – from “The Tree of Life” were shot in equivalent 65mm). In some ways it’s almost counter-intuitive: why do you need extra image detail and color quality to convey the black nothing of outer space? But then you watch Kubrick’s masterpiece and you realize you can count the stars on the screen just like you can pick out the thousand flecks of the Milky Way on a quiet country night, or that the radiating visions of Dave’s descent into Jupiter are practically burning themselves on to the surface of your eyes – and that’s the reason some directors choose to go big.

– Ethan