During the past couple of years, analog and digital projection quietly raged in theaters, with the latter winning quickly and decisively. Over half of America’s theaters are equipped with digital projection now, and 35mm is a dying breed. Nevertheless, the merits and disadvantages of each continue to be debated, and proponents of digital projection often point to one selling point that’s finally being utilized more this year: revival screenings of older films.
Of course, both formats are able to accomplish this, as re-releases of old films were once a staple of the movie-going experience (particularly before the advent of home video). Reparatory houses and some major chains (such as the Alamo Drafthouse) still present films in 35mm.
However, for those of us (such as yours truly) who aren’t fortunate enough to live near such establishments, digital projection makes reparatory screenings more feasible due to lower costs. It typically costs a studio about $1500 to strike up and ship a print to theaters around the country, and one can see how that’d begin to balloon when that tally is multiplied by thousands of theaters.
As such, it’s easy to see how studios would be quite skittish to re-release older films into theaters, especially when these films are readily available on multiple home video platforms these days. With digital projection, however, the costs are substantially lower, as it only costs about $150 to distribute films in this format.
In recent years, studios and theaters have embraced this more often. Whether films are delivered via satellite or in the form of Digital Cinema Packages (hard-drives containing the data), classics have been cropping up a little bit more often lately.
Some chains, such as Cinemark, even have an ongoing weekly series where classics will play for one night only, while several other chains have also participated in one-off events. For example, “Singin’ in the Rain” and “Casablanca” both played nationwide on two occasions each earlier this year as part of Turner Classic’s Events series.
This fall, TCM will take it a step further, as they’ll be releasing four Universal classics into theaters for one night only, starting with Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” next week. Following months will see a twin bill with “Frankenstein” and “Bride of Frankenstein” in October, then a showing of “To Kill a Mockingbird” in November.
Other noteworthy screenings of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (in IMAX theaters this week) and “E.T.” (coming in October) will give younger audiences the chance to experience these films as they were meant to be seen: on a big screen and in the company of other movie-goers. While these screens might not be the 35mm ideal, they are certainly better than nothing.
The jury may still be out when it comes to the analog vs. digital debate–it’s a complex subject, with pros and cons arising on both sides–but this is certainly one benefit that’s difficult to ignore. Hopefully, classic film enthusiasts will be compelled to seek these films out so studios will continue this sort of programming; in an age where we can consume films on an iPhone, these sort of events are a godsend that reminds everyone that film belongs on the biggest screen possible.