The VistaVision Day Thread (2/28)

VistaVision was a film format created by Paramount Pictures in 1954. As a lot of people know, American movie studios were struggling in the 1950s. Television had become much more widespread and more popular as a result, leaving film studios wondering what to do. 

They decided to go big. Or wide, rather. 

While some widescreen formats had been invented in the 1920s, they were always viewed as too expensive to use. With the advent of TV however (and the realization that ticket prices could be increased if their product proved popular enough) movie studios could now implement their own formats. And they did

CinemaScope, a format that used regular 35mm film and a special lens that allowed the camera to capture a far wider image was very popular. It was also owned by 20th Century Fox, meaning that any studio wanting to use it had to pay them. 

There were also a variety of 70mm formats, where the film was twice as wide as regular film, which resulted in a sharper image. 

The film format war was as much one of studio against studio as it was movie studios against TV. Paramount decided to go their own way. With VistaVision they created a system that sort of combined the above formats. It used 35mm film (which made it cheaper compared to 70mm) but it ran through the cameras horizontally rather than vertically, making it 35mm high as opposed to wide, giving a much larger (and sharper) image. The advantages were that you didn’t need special lenses to project it and could be projected at a variety of aspect ratios, giving movie theaters lots more leeway than with CinemaScope, say, which necessitated special lenses and the installing of new screens for its much wider image, making it cheaper for them as a result.

The format was used for a variety of films: White Christmas (the first VistaVision movie to be released), The Ten Commandments and The Searchers were among them. Alfred Hitchcock was also a fan, making five movies in this process (among which were North by Northwest, and probably the best-looking VistaVision film, Vertigo). However, it was never quite as popular as CinemaScope, and couldn’t justify the increasing cost used to make films as film stocks got better and less grainy as time went on. It stopped being used in the early 1960s.

However, the format was revived in the late 1970s. In order to make process shots for special effects the people at ILM came up with the idea to use VistaVision cameras, because its larger negative would compensate for the loss of quality you get when you composite those shots. They first did this for this little movie called Star Wars, and would go on to be used on some of your favorite movies, including the other Star Wars films, the Back to the Future movies, RoboCop, and Pearl Harbor, until digitally scanning film took over entirely (of course nowadays film is rarely used anyway and the entire making of a movie is done digitally). 

Anyway, I’ll stop being a nerd. For now. Enjoy your day and happy posting everyone!