Gary Teetzel is on top of the links again today, reporting first on the storm of excited stop-motion fans talking about a new restoration of Willis O’Brien’s 1925 The Lost World. Reading all of the posts is a bit confusing, but the new version appears to be of much better quality, and as much as ten minutes longer than anything we’ve seen. That claim wouldn’t mean much if the frame rate were simply being slowed down; but those that have seen it say that numerous new scenes are involved, with new animation. The disc is coming from Flicker Alley and the extras include a new Bob Israel score, new transfers of three other Willis O’Brien animation items. And Gary links to a restored clip that shows scenes with original tinting. To me it looks almost too good to be true.
And as promised, Gary reports on his screening of the new Pirates of the Caribbean in the new “ScreenX” format from South Korea. It doesn’t seem to be so much a new format as an enhanced screening experience. I haven’t seen it but it sounds rather like the feature on old flat Disney animation movies, that fill in the pillarbox extremes on widescreen TVs with ‘related’ visual information, something like art illumination in ancient books. Here’s Gary’s report.
On Tuesday, May 30, I went to see Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales at the CGV Cinema in Los Angeles’ Koreatown to experience the film in “ScreenX.” First developed in South Korea in 2012, the process is a modern twist on Cinerama: additional picture information is projected onto the side walls of a movie theater to give viewers ultra-wide, panoramic visuals — a full 270 degrees of image. ScreenX has been used on several South Korean feature films and in-theater advertisements; Piratesmarks the first Hollywood feature to receive a (very limited) U.S. release in the process.
It should be noted up front that the entire film did not utilize the system, but rather just 10 to 15 minutes sprinkled throughout the runtime, not unlike the selected scenes Christopher Nolan shot in IMAX for the last two Dark Knight films. Furthermore, in a small handful of instances the walls did not depict contiguous image, but general “atmosphere,” such as flickering flames.
So how was it? First, a few negatives. Since the system projects directly onto theater walls and not smooth screens (at least in the venue where I saw it), one might note a distracting detail now and then, like the auditorium’s speakers. Also, since the film was shot with only the front screen in mind, visuals on the walls sometimes draw the eye away from where the central action is. A few establishing shots using the process are relatively brief and don’t give the viewer enough time to take in the full image.
In spite of those drawbacks, the system was at times very impressive, and did indeed deliver the ‘immersive’ effect promised in the ballyhoo. The best sequences came just before the climax, in which the characters explore some fantasy environments. Several shots linger long enough for viewers to take in dazzling sights all around them. It’s very effective and adds a touch of welcome old-fashioned showmanship to the proceedings.
Ultimately, though, one walks away from ScreenX feeling its application to narrative features to be limited. Even if filmmakers planned to use the format from the get-go, it’s unlikely that audiences would want to sit through an entire feature that demanded they constantly turn their heads right and left to follow the action. It would be ideal for travelogues or perhaps some experimental shorts–but when was the last time you saw a travelogue or a short subject in a mainstream theater?
For more information on ScreenX, check out their website. For Angelenos interested in seeing the process for themselves, the ScreenX version of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is still playing at the CGV Cinemas in Koreatown and Buena Park. Note that the film has English audio, but Korean subtitles. — Gary Teetzel
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson