Spielberg on IMAX rerelease of ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’

[From The New York Times’ Arts Beat blog]

That’s a Big Boulder, Indy: Steven Spielberg on the Imax Rerelease of ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’

By Dave Itzkoff
August 14, 2012,

It’s the kind of revelation that would melt the face of any die-hard Indiana Jones fan (this time, with joy): “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” the 1981 adventure film that introduced that globe-trotting archaeologist, will receive a one-week Imax release next month, Lucasfilm said on Tuesday.

“For me, it’s always been the bigger the screen, the better,” Steven Spielberg, who directed “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and the three subsequent “Indiana Jones” sequels, said Tuesday in a telephone interview. “It’s the only marked contrast we have to the generations that are seeing our movies on phones and hand-held platforms. It’s a complete relief to be able to see a film that many people have just experienced on a palm-sized platform technology, suddenly hurled at that them on an Imax-sized screen.”

Lucasfilm, the studio of the “Indiana Jones” executive producer George Lucas, said the Imax version of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” will receive a one-week theatrical release beginning on Sept. 7, in advance of the Blu-ray release of the Indiana Jones movies, which will go on sale Sept. 18. A list of theaters that will be showing the film can be found online at Imax.com.

Mr. Spielberg, who with the sound designer Ben Burtt supervised the conversion of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” to Imax, said that no special effects or other visual elements of the film were changed. The audio, he said, had been enhanced for surround sound: “When the boulder is rolling, chasing Indy through the cave, you really feel the boulder in your stomach, the way you do when a marching band passes by, and you’re standing right next to it.”

But Mr. Spielberg — who is also in the process of converting his movie “Jurassic Park” to 3-D for an anniversary rerelease next year — said he had “no plans” to do Imax conversions of his other films, whether earlier efforts like “Jaws” or “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” or any of the “Indiana Jones” sequels.

“‘Raiders’ is a movie of my own, that I can actually stand to watch from beginning to end,” Mr. Spielberg said. “In that sense, it has a special place in my heart. I don’t rewrite it in my mind; I’m not kicking myself for what I didn’t do. I’m just going along for the ride like everybody else. It’s one of the few films that I’ve directed that I can sit back objectively and observe and enjoy with my family or whoever I’m with, or even alone. Most of my other films, I’m hypercritical of them.”

In these edited conversation excerpts, Mr. Spielberg talks about the process of bringing Indy to an even bigger screen and – of course – the prospects of an “Indiana Jones 5.”

Q. How does a film that wasn’t shot for Imax get converted to be shown that way?

A. There’s two fronts, on any successful conversion, to Imax resolution, which is significantly clearer and sharper, with much more depth and fidelity than the movie appeared in theaters in 1981. So the first tier is where you take the DI [digital intermediate] and you enhance the resolution to Imax resolution. The second tier is that the sound is significantly different. They take the stems that we gave them, and they put them through their 12,000 watts of digital surround sound, and it’s a totally uncompressed experience.

You kind of feel the sound in your chest, like when the boulder is rolling, chasing Indy through the cave. You really feel the boulder in your stomach, the way you do when a marching band passes by and you’re standing right next to it.

Q. How long ago did you have to get started on this process?

A. Ben went to work on the sound conversion over a year and a half ago, knowing that we were coming out on Blu-ray. This was Greg Foster’s idea, actually – he’s the head of Imax [Film] and it was his idea to give “Raiders” an interesting launching point before the Blu-ray hits the streets, to come out in all 275 of Imax’s North American theaters. I remember the days when we used to go to the Cinerama Dome or the Ziegfeld in New York, to see the 70 millimeter exclusive engagements. When I first started watching “Raiders” on the big Imax screen not too long ago, it reminded me of those old event-ized days.

Q. It’s funny – “Jaws,” which just came out on Blu-ray, was on about that many screens when it first came out, and that seemed massive for the time.

A. I think it came out on 425 screens on opening day, which was the largest and widest release in history. And now that just seems like an art film. That’s like an independent film release. But movie-going habits have changed, and people want things significantly faster than ever before, and they get tired of things significantly faster than ever before. The shelf life that movies experience in theatrical venues is much shorter. “Raiders of the Lost Ark” played for 14 months in some theaters, and that was just in first run. That just doesn’t happen any more. I’m glad to have been alive in part of that era, but now this is an era of supersonic entertainment at supersonic speeds.

Q. “Raiders” has its iconic scenes, like the boulder chase you mentioned, but it also has some wonderfully horrific moments, like when the Ark of the Covenant is opened. Do you think about how those moments will play at Imax size?

A. For me, it’s always been the bigger the screen, the better. It’s the only marked contrast we have to the generations that are seeing our movies on phones and hand-held platforms. It’s a complete relief to be able to see a film that many people have just experienced on a palm-sized platform technology, suddenly hurled at that them on an Imax-sized screen.

Q. In the same way that directors are now converting some of their previous movies for 3-D, could you see other films of yours being re-released in Imax if “Raiders” is successful?

A. “Jurassic Park” is the only film I’ve agreed to convert into 3-D, so I’m working on that right now for a 20th-anniversary release next April. But there’s not a lot of movies I want to go back into my archives and do this for. “Raiders” is a movie of my own, that I can actually stand to watch from beginning to end. In that sense, it has a special place in my heart. I don’t rewrite it in my mind, I’m not kicking myself for what I didn’t do. I’m just going along for the ride like everybody else. It’s one of the few films that I’ve directed that I can sit back objectively and observe and enjoy with my family or whoever I’m with, or even alone. Most of my other films, I’m hypercritical of them. I don’t have any plans to re-release “Close Encounters” or “Jaws.”

Q. And not with any of the Indiana Jones sequels, either?

A. I have no plans, and I had no plans to release this in Imax. Greg Foster called George [Lucas] and me and Paramount one day, and came up with this idea, and so this isn’t even something that I was dreaming about. This is someone else’s dream that I climbed aboard.

Q. As with the Imax release of “Raiders,” the Blu-ray releases of the Indy films are just upgrades in presentation – there are no other changes to the movies?

A. No, there’s no aesthetic changes to the films. I’m not going back and doing to any of my movies that are now coming out on Blu-ray what I did when “E.T.” was reissued for the third time and I made some digital changes in the picture. I’m not doing that any more. I’ve resigned myself to accepting that what the film was at the time of its creation is what it always should be for future generations. I’m no longer a digital revisionist.

Q. That’s something you learned from your experience with “E.T.”?

A. I learned from the fans. And now of course, we have the other group of fans who only know the other “E.T.” with the digital augmentation and that has become their standard for receiving that story. The only thing I think we can do is continue to manufacture and put out both versions. But it’s too complicated to that with any of my other movies – I’m pretty much going to release those films the way they were originally made.

Q. Your friend and partner on the Indy movies, George Lucas, feels differently, and has made changes to his “Star Wars” movies as they’ve been released in new formats. Is that O.K.?

A. It is. It’s a director’s prerogative, and a director needs to decide that for him or herself. George has decided that he can make digital changes to upgrade the special effects to 21st-century standards and that’s fine. But I’ve just decided not to do that, and since I have control of the “Raiders” movies, and by the way, to George’s credit, he never once called me and suggested that I do any digital enhancements. He was not knocking on my door, saying, “Steve, you’ve got to do this, you’ve got to do this.” He never said a word.

[snip to end]

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