Quentin Tarantino appeared on The Howard Stern Show this past Wednesday and made a stunning claim that is at once shocking and unsurprising. Tarantino stated that his upcoming film, The Hateful Eight, had a contract with ArcLight Cinemas to play at their famed Cinerama Dome in Hollywood, exclusively, for two weeks. This would be just two weeks after ArcLight was scheduled to show Disney’s now released Star Wars: The Force Awakens in the same theater. According to Tarantino, Disney went to ArcLight and demanded they not honor the deal they had with The Hateful Eight and would thusly continue to play Star Wars in the Cinerama Dome past the initial two weeks and throughout the holiday season. ArcLight Cinemas wanted to refuse but was strong-armed when Disney threatened to pull Star Wars entirely from the popular theater chain if they didn’t keep the movie in the Dome. Understandably, ArcLight acquiesced, unable to justify losing what might be the biggest film in history when all is said and done.
Note: This article is based entirely upon the interview as given by Quentin Tarantino on The Howard Stern Show and is published before any response has been given by Disney.
So, you might have some questions: What does this one theater matter to Tarantino? Why would Disney go to such lengths to secure this theater for as long as they could? What can we really believe? What does it all mean?
Firstly, if you’re unfamiliar with Los Angeles or the ArcLight Theater chain, the Cinerama Dome is the crown jewel of the company’s screens. Apart from the Chinese Theater, also located in Hollywood, the Dome is arguably the biggest drawing and most famous theater in Tinseltown. Having opened in 1963 and boasting state-of-the-art sound and projection, the Dome has since been declared a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument in 1998.
It is also one of the very best theaters and most readily equipped to screen a film in 70mm. Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight is already famous for having been shot in the 70mm format, a dying breed of cinema since the advent of digital photography. The movie is scheduled to open in limited release on Christmas Day, featuring a “roadshow” presentation in theaters capable of screening in 70mm which also features a longer cut of the film containing scenes specifically photographed to encapsulate all of what makes 70mm such a gorgeous format. To put it simply, the Cinerama Dome is arguably the best possible theater to show a movie in 70mm. Taking this away from The Hateful Eight undoubtedly puts a dent into the movie’s earnings and also deprives large numbers of folks form seeing the film as it was meant to be seen.
Projecting in 70mm has become a lost art, with very, very few theaters still maintaining their projection system having switched out (ironically beginning with George Lucas’ Star Wars: The Phantom Menace in 1999) to digital projectors. Those still with the equipment are very unlikely to have kept up training for skilled projectionists to present the films. This isn’t something where an usher, fresh from replacing the butter “flavoring” in the concession stands just presses “Play” and goes out back to smoke a joint. Projecting a film is a lost art and going about it the wrong way could present catastrophic screenings with a myriad of problems. HitFix’s Drew McWeeny detailed the events of such a catastrophic screening of The Hateful Eight at a different LA theater intended for members of the press. The theater was forced to switch to the digital version after the 70mm print had become too problematic to continue with. This was a press screening designed to be reviewed by people who really matter when it comes to marketing, grosses and awards. Imagine what happens when this film print is being shown multiple times a day to the general public? Personally, I’m not trusting Jeff the Buttery Usher with my 70mm celluloid.
The thing is, Disney knows this. They know just how special the Cinerama Dome is to LA moviegoers. It is a gigantic theater where each screening brings in thousands of dollars in income. Star Wars is going to be the biggest movie of the year and is almost guaranteed to sell-out marquee theaters for quite some time. I don’t believe it’s so much Disney going after Tarantino or his movie, it’s the fact that they want their movie shown on the biggest, best screens for as long as possible. After two weeks, the movie won’t yet be cooling down.
Tarantino himself stated in his Stern Show interview that he doesn’t hold The Force Awakens or its director, JJ Abrams, to blame for this debacle. It’s very reasonable to believe the creative forces behind the movie had no input or idea as to what Disney would try to do when it came to distribution techniques. I’ve no idea where the blame really belongs or where this decision ultimately came from, but it would be too easy to merely pass blame on some slicked-out suit fresh off greenlighting the 10th Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Releasing a movie as large as The Force Awakens presents huge issues across all fronts of marketing and distribution. I’d like to believe that this all is the result of a small bit of oversight coming from an aggressive department.
At the same time, if this mustache-twirling exchange did occur between Disney and ArcLight and Disney knowingly kicked Tarantino’s film from the schedule, it truly is a sad day for film fans as a whole. Star Wars will live on. It will echo throughout eternity until the actual Luke Skywalker, galaxies away (yes, in the future and not a long, long time ago) finds a DCP of Episode MCMLLV in the sands of New-Tatooine. Tarantino’s film prints will be long gone but his impact on the medium will also never be over or forgotten. It’s probably likely that Future Space Luke finds a Stormtrooper action figure in the sand instead of the actual film. The impact Star Wars has on the world’s culture is gargantuan and will outlive us all tenfold. Each Tarantino film is something slightly more special. It is a footprint in clay where Star Wars is a fabricated mold.
I don’t for a second want to diminish the impact Star Wars has had on my life and I’m forever grateful of its existence and how much has been created in its wake. I bought my tickets for The Force Awakens as soon as I possibly could and am knowingly giving money to the corporation that is also taking something equally important away from me. Is that hypocrisy? Maybe but it shouldn’t matter. If the people at Disney truly loved film and valued the artistic endeavor, they would celebrate Tarantino’s movie and not slash its tires. Not playing The Force Awakens in the Dome for more than two weeks won’t put the slightest dent in its grosses. It’s a drop in the worldwide bucket. For The Hateful Eight, the Dome is its livelihood. I’ll be seeing The Hateful Eight in 70mm wherever it’s most readily available but I’ll also be wishing I could be having that experience in the glorious Dome, where it’s meant to be seen.
Please, Disney, JJ, whomever you may be, give the Dome back to film.