Point: The DCP Of Halloween Is Total Garbage
by Brian Collins
I've lost count of how many times I've seen Halloween on the big screen, but it's at least 6 - and I've only been happy with the presentation once. My first time was a beat up 35mm print that had what can only be described as a farting noise over the entire 3rd reel; another time was one of those washed out Fathom Event screenings that looked like a DVD on a poorly calibrated TV. The one time I was happy was at the New Beverly two years ago, when Trancas (the owners of the film) rolled out a very seldom used 35mm print that was IMMACULATE - and being at the Bev, my favorite place in the world, made it all the more special to me.
But while I love and prefer 35mm, I'm not against the idea of DCPs - I've seen a few that I thought looked spectacular, and I'm not naive enough to think that eventually people will turn their back on this new format and everyone will embrace film prints again. I think they can/should co-exist, and thus I was very excited to see a 4K DCP of Halloween at this week's Beyond Fest. The real draw was a Q&A with John Carpenter and Jamie Lee Curtis - believed to be the first time that both of them were in attendance at a screening of the film - but now that I had finally seen a good film print I was open to checking out how it looked on the Egyptian's giant ass screen in what should be the most pristine version possible.
Alas, I walked away disappointed. At first I thought it was just me and my anal nitpicking about this movie (I've seen it over 50 times), but I talked to others who were massively disappointed with the presentation, and at least one friend walked out entirely, opting to watch the Blu-ray at home since it looked better. In other words, it became clear that it wasn't just the old "film is better than digital" argument - it just looked terrible, period. The black levels were all crushed grey, the color more muted than it's supposed to be*, and most troubling were the numerous digital artifacts on display. Smeared textures and blurriness on fast moving things were joined by what occasionally looked like that god-awful "tru-motion" nonsense (particularly in the scene with Tommy and the bullies), and there was simply no life to the image at all. It was basically everything film purists decry about digital presentation; Quentin Tarantino's famous "TV in a movie theater" description has actually never been more apt - if anything it actually looked worse than you could see on your home theater.
I am hesitant to chalk it up to poor projection; I saw the 4K Texas Chain Saw Massacre in that same theater just 5 days before and it looked terrific. A short that followed the film also looked quite good, as did the El Rey promo that accompanies every movie at the festival. None of these things suffered from the same problems that Halloween did, leading me to believe that it was simply a poorly done DCP. I looked at the website for the company that provided it (they were bold enough to add their logo to the top of the film, thanks for making it easy!) and saw that their rates were much lower than what some filmmaker friends have paid to get DCPs (even 2K versions) of their own films at other houses, so it seems like this is a textbook "Get what you pay for" situation. I know Trancas doesn't bother providing pristine versions of parts 4 and 5 (the only other two entries in the series they still control), but it baffles me that they'd allow such a hack job for their golden goose. The film is set to be re-released in theaters at the end of the month (nothing new, they've done it several times over the past 7-8 years), and I truly hope that they find a better way to present the film than what I witnessed last night.
Counter-Point: It Doesn't Matter
by Brian Collins
Last night's screening of Halloween was hardly the best looking version of the film anyone had ever seen (though possibly the BIGGEST, as the Egyptian screen is huge), but digital hackery isn't enough to kill the power of seeing it (or any other movie) with a happy crowd. As it was October 1st, even the most casual horror fan is gearing up for a month full of horror movie watching (amateurs!), and there is no better way to kick it off than with the alpha and omega of Halloween-time movie options: John Carpenter's 1978 film that spawned 7 sequels, a remake (with its own sequel), a line of YA novels, a terrible Atari game, and more imitators and "homages" than can ever be counted by a mortal man.
Quentin Tarantino has recently doubled down on his anti-digital stance, taking control of the New Beverly Cinema (housed inside a building he owned) and removing their brand new digital projector in order to keep the theater 100% film (he replaced the digital projector with a 16mm one, the 35mm one that had been the theater's primary format even after the digital projector was installed will obviously remain). He has listed many reasons why he hates digital - the "TV on a movie screen" appearance, the lack of what he calls "character" (cigarette burns, scratches, etc - i.e. evidence that it's had a LIFE), and even scientific based ones concerning how the flicker of a film print keeps it embedded in your mind where a digital image will just fade away. He's not even wrong on most of it, but he always neglects to mention one particular thing: isn't the crowd experience just as, if not MORE important, than how it looks?
Presentation is of course important, and the people who made that DCP should be ashamed at their work, but will the guy who went home and watched it on his Blu-ray by himself really have as great of an experience as we did, sitting in that giant theater with our popcorn and soda? He didn't get to hear the screams of the (surprising number of) audience members who were seeing it for the first time, actually terrified by Myers in a way I haven't been in probably 20 years. He didn't get to hear the cheer of the crowd when Loomis "killed" The Shape at the end, or the gasp when he saw that his target had vanished. The applause for the names on the credits for those who have since left us (Donald Pleasence, Debra Hill, etc). The knowing laughter when Annie says that Laurie's would-be date for the dance, Ben Tramer, had gone out drinking with his friends (in Halloween II, Tramer is mistaken for The Shape and killed while out on his drunken excursion). The minor cheer for a well-known gaffe where Carpenter's cigarette smoke blows into the frame. These are the things that make the theatrical EXPERIENCE just as vital as how it looks on the screen, and in those moments, the sub-par quality of the image meant little to nearly 600 Hallo-fans.
Does that mean it's OK to show garbage quality, as long as the audience is having fun? No, of course not. But a beat up 35mm print is just as bad when it comes to that sort of thing, and unless a DCP skips (and this one did not), none of its flaws were as disruptive as a reel-long farting noise, or the other print I saw that had whole chunks of the film missing (including the moment where Annie said "Bye" and then the film skipped to where she was long gone, making it seem as if she vanished into thin air). In other words, presentation formats will always have their pros and cons, which is why militantly defending one side over the other is incredibly short-sighted, and the option for events like this should always be "The best that's available". That way, we ensure that Mr. Nitpick can have just as much fun as the regular joes who were coasting on a high from seeing the director and star of their favorite movie talk about it in the flesh, and not letting some blemishes diminish the experience of seeing a classic horror film on the big screen for possibly the first time.
*For years the wrong color timing has been used for Anchor Bay's annual re-releases, so some fans are so used to it they think that's the correct one. The new boxed set actually includes BOTH versions so you can just enjoy whichever one you prefer. However, the "correct" one, per Dean Cundey, is the one with the bluer look that actually looks like autumn in the Midwest. You can find that on disc 1 (or on last year's 35th anniversary solo release). The warmer, more orange look, while seemingly correct given the pumpkin-driven setting, just makes the movie look like sunny Los Angeles. That's the version that's on disc 2 of the boxed set and was used for the previous Blu-ray.
Point: The DCP Of Halloween Is Total Garbage