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Friday, December 16, 2005

Digital cinema roll-out, Robert Altman, `Hoodwinked,' Pixar, and Kong

I'm traveling in LA this week, doing a bunch of great interviews for my book...cinematographers like Scott Billups and Steven Poster, directors like Randal Kleiser and Robert Greenwald, execs at Paramount who were involved with the Digital Cinema Initiative, Tim Sarnoff at Sony Pictures ImageWorks, Tom Sherak at Revolution Studios, and Glenn Kennel of Texas Instruments.

So just some quick news tidbits for now:

- This news isn't totally unexpected, but it sure takes some wind out of the sails of AccessIT and Technicolor, who've been trying to get momentum for their own digital cinema roll-out plans. The gist: National CineMedia, a joint venture owned by AMC, Regal, and Cinemark, is putting together its own financing plan for projectors and servers. Nicole Sperling writes:

    The plan will be open to all industry exhibitors as well as NCM's founding partners with the goal of driving down digital cinema costs from the sheer size of NCM's network of theaters.

    "NCM's primary objective is to work with manufacturers to reduce the cost of digital cinema equipment through volume purchasing for NCM partners' 13,000 screens and other participating exhibitor screens," Hall said. "NCM will also seek to develop an efficient financing structure for the purchase of the digital cinema equipment that will be open to all capital sources and that will provide a transparent, cost-effective arrangement for exhibitors, distribution partners, capital providers and all other key constituents."

- Sheigh Crabtree of the Hollywood Reporter writes about the HD camera set-up used on Robert Altman's "A Prairie Home Companion."

    Altman wanted to be able to record for at least 30 minutes consecutively without reloading as some scenes in the film are as long as 23 minutes. The HD cameras also came in handy because some of the interior settings had low lighting levels.

    Cinematographer Ed Lachman ("Far From Heaven") headed up the camera department, which used the first-generation Sony HDCAM F-900s with the latest Fujinon HD zoom lenses.

- Here's Variety's review of the first CG-animated film that's being distributed by the new Weinstein Company, "Hoodwinked!" Justin Chang says:

    The Weinstein Co.'s first toon acquisition, which opens today in Los Angeles for a one-week Oscar-qualifying run, is a pint-sized production that could rack up modest family biz when it goes wide Jan. 13, though investors probably won't be marveling, "My, what big box office you've got."

- Roberta Smith of the NY Times has a review of the new Pixar exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art. She says:

    The overall impact is more educational than artistic, and up to a point, it is interesting to learn about digital animation, which could well be as important to the 21st century as film was to the 20th. But unsurprisingly, the exhibition demonstrates that the final magical products - the films are far more engaging than the process.

    The learning curve was steep on opening night, and signs of hit status were rampant. In the museum's new video gallery, people applauded enthusiastically as a video projection roughly the width of Monet's "Waterlilies" cycled through preparatory drawings for the various Pixar features and shorts. Images popped from color to charcoal graininess, or from flat rendering to the startling three-dimensionality that is basic to the Pixar style. Spaces opened and then yawned into infinity: the steep mountains and mesas of the next Pixar feature, "Cars," or the astounding door vault of Monstropolis, the setting for "Monsters, Inc.," or a drifting flurry of Joan Mitchell-like brushwork, also from "Cars," that is suddenly aerated into a spacious cloud. Such transformations, enhanced by unexpected shifts in scale, are momentarily delightful, but they can also cloy because the drawings are so conventional.

    Turning toward the opposite wall, visitors gasped and applauded again as a computerized zoetrope swung into action, using strobe lights and a revolving stage to create a ravishing bit of 3-D animation that orchestrated multiple versions of the characters from "Toy Story 2" into bouncy concentric rings of repeating actions. Woody rides his horse while, circling in the opposite direction, Buzz Lightyear bounces along on a brightly colored ball. Aliens dodge the horse's hooves and catapult repeatedly into holes, thanks to the well-timed landings of Wheezy the Penguin on the end of a seesaw. At the center, parachuting toy soldiers spiral repeatedly downward, like grooms escaping from a wedding cake.

- Finally, I wanted to post this passage from A.O. Scott's review of "King Kong," just because I hadn't before thought much about how acting will change as new technologies arrive:

    The rapport between [Naomi] Watts and [Andy] Serkis is extraordinary, even though it is mediated by fur, latex, optical illusions and complicated effects. Mr. Serkis, who also played Gollum in the "Lord of the Rings" movies, is redefining screen acting for the digital age, while Ms. Watts incarnates the glamour and emotional directness of classical Hollywood. Together they form one of the most unlikely and affecting screen couples since Anthony Quinn and Giulietta Masina did their beast and beauty act in "La Strada."