Why do we love movies? Why is it an artistic medium that, arguably more so than any other, captures the imaginations of people all across the planet? These are questions that have been plumbed in depth by all manner of film critics and film historians. One slightly newer question worthy of dissection regards the re-releasing of classic films into multiplexes, often in fancier formats than were available upon its initial release. Stalwarts may rattle the sabers of purism and decry the prospect. However, there is an argument to be made that there are some films that would greatly benefit from this revisit to theaters. This week, Steven Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark enjoys a theatrical IMAX re-release — and it deserves a second look on the big screen.
Detractors will wash their hands at the appearance of the word IMAX, but the format is perfectly suited to a film like Raiders. Going back to those critical examinations of our collective adoration for motion pictures, one of the phrases you’re bound to see again and again is “larger than life.” While IMAX does literally augment the image area and require a larger size of film, it’s not simply a case of everything bigger being inherently better.
In this case, the phrase larger than life extends beyond the literal sense and speaks to the escapism offered by the silver screen. Raiders of the Lost Ark is at its heart a classic style adventure story modeled after the movie serials of the 1930s and1940s. These were thrilling, sweeping action films that played in segments before the feature presentation in old movie houses. These serials were meant to transport the audiences, who had not the benefit of the Internet, to worlds much grander and more exciting than the one they knew. To this day, we still go to the movies to achieve this escape, and that lasting, universal motivation is at the heart of what makes the entire Indiana Jones franchise, or at least three quarters of it, so spectacular.
Recently, the Alamo Drafthouse hosted a screening of a 70mm print of the third film in the series, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The 70mm format offers a high resolution and more enhanced sound than even the once standard 35mm. In fact, the digital sound of 70mm predates the standardization of the technology. Seeing Indiana Jones battling the forces of evil alongside his father, negotiating his way through a gauntlet of phenomenal adventure set pieces, took on an entirely new life in this format; more so even than if it had just been on the big screen in general.
The relevance of the Last Crusade screening to this week’s Raiders re-release is that IMAX utilizes the 70mm film gauge. The aspect ratio is different, but the aim is largely the same: to create the optimum audio and visual presentation. IMAX pushes the larger-than-life aspect to the extreme and Raiders, like The Last Crusade, will inhabit fresh form in this more grandiose style of exhibition. So not only will it delight longtime fans of the film, but new generations of filmgoers will have the chance to fall head-over-heels in love with a classic in a contemporary venue; the timeless qualities of Raiders being therefore all the more apparent.
Seeing The Last Crusade in 70mm reemphasized the crucial role of the theatrical experience. We’ve become so insulated with our movie watching habits as a culture. We prefer to view films that instantly stream to our television sets or, on an even smaller scale, our phones. The grandeur and spectacle of film as an art form have taken a backseat to convenience and mobility. While not every city has the luxury of an Alamo Drafthouse, the re-release of Raiders of the Lost Ark in IMAX presents an opportunity for film lovers across the country to become acquainted with the kind of unique and passion affirming film-going experience that typifies the revered theater chain.
[Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures]