Turkey Movies

After stuffing ourselves with turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and pecan and pumpkin pie—a la mode for me—my wife and I took in a couple of movies over the long holiday weekend. As it happened, the experience clearly demonstrated the differences between film and digital projection.

First up was Australia, Baz Luhrmann's ambitious tale of cut-throat cattle ranching in the land down under just before the start of World War II. The scenery is spectacular, and Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman have great chemistry as the aristocratic widow who inherits a cattle ranch and the drover who helps defend her property from a ruthless cattle baron and his henchman who want to monopolize the Australian meat business. Otherwise, however, the three-hour movie doesn't live up to its epic scope, with uneven pacing and predictable outcomes.

It didn't help that we got to the theater just before show time and had to sit in the second row. Aside from inducing a slight headache, this vantage point emphasized the flaws of film projection, including gate judder (slight but constant jittering in the image as the film is stopped and started through the projector for each frame) and scratches and dirt on the film print. Granted, we were way closer than we should have been for an ideal viewing experience, but I clearly see these things (as well as reel-change markers in the upper right corner of the screen) even at the proper distance.

A couple of days later, we saw Milk, a moving biopic about Harvey Milk, the first openly gay San Francisco supervisor who was assassinated along with mayor George Moscone in 1978 by Dan White, a disgruntled, conservative ex-supervisor who left his job only to unsuccessfully ask for reinstatement. Sean Penn is brilliant as Milk—an Oscar-worthy performance, for sure—and the rest of the cast deftly portrays real-life characters from the episode.

For this flick, we bought tickets online for a theater with reserved seating, so we were able to sit at a more reasonable distance from the screen. And it was a digital presentation to boot. I didn't know that going in, but from the moment the movie started, it was obvious in the rock-steady image and complete absence of dirt and scratches (except in the archival footage). The black level wasn't quite as deep as film's, and the shadow detail was perhaps a bit lost, but I'll take those limitations over herky-jerky film any day.

Many cinephiles still cling to film as the ultimate movie medium, just as many videophiles insist that CRT is the best video-display technology. I understand the argument for CRT, but it's quickly becoming extinct because of the cost, bulk, and high maintenance requirements. Also, the various digital technologies are starting to match CRT's performance characteristics.

On the other hand, I have no love for film when compared with digital projection. Yes, film still has better blacks and shadow detail, but its drawbacks far outweigh these advantages for me. Just as I prefer to watch almost anything in high-definition before I'll choose something in standard-def, I will always seek out digital cinema over film. But that's me—where do you stand on this issue?

If you have an audio/video question for me, please send it to scott.wilkinson@sourceinterlink.com.