End of an era for film as Paramount switches to digital

Anchorman 2
Anchorman 2
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Anchorman 2 has made movie history, but not in the way any of us might have suspected.

If industry gossip coming out of Hollywood is to be believed. it transpires that the Will Ferrell sequel is a harbinger of doom. And the bells are ringing to announce the death of celluloid.

For more than a century movies were released on film, and generally on 35mm.

Now, with the on-going rush towards digital – most multiplex cinemas are now entirely digital leaving just independents and arthouse venues to retain the capacity to screen film prints – Paramount has quietly announced that Anchorman 2 will be its last film release. After this, all Paramount titles will be digital.

Of course, it’s cheaper. Of course, it looks better. Allegedly. Though I personally don’t sign up to that argument. But what this decision will unleash is a torrent of similar moves by the other majors. Soon – maybe as early as 2015 – none of the big studios will be distributing on film.

And just as Kodak announced in 2009 that it was ceasing production of its famed kodachrome film so traditional film is to be consigned to history and the dumpster.

Wait, what’s that cacophonous noise? It’s the deafening howl of film purists’ outrage. For there is an argument growing in volume that film will one day make a comeback, just like vinyl.

Record stores are being revived by aficionados who prefer the authentic sound of vinyl to its sterilised CD equivalent. And, in a similar vein, private archives are looking to the future by accumulating (and hoarding) 35mm prints of past gems.

It says something when filmmakers of the calibre of Martin Scorsese – himself an advocate of film and supreme preservationist – are ignored by the industry. His latest Oscar magnet The Wolf of Wall Street was partly shot on film. How long will that last given Paramount’s stance?

Purists and traditionalists – call them what you will – are not merely clinging on to the concept of film and projectors out of misty-eyed nostalgia. There genuinely is something different about watching a classic movie being projected in the way it was conceived by its maker.

And there is something artificial and antiseptic about the march and appeal of digital. Give me Technicolor and CinemaScope any day of the week.

Studios and distributors around the world have long been dumping their 35mm prints in skips and landfill. Bully for the collectors who save them. But they prevent the destruction of only a percentage. And unlike classic vinyl, which now sells for inflated prices, it’s harder to locate prints of one’s favourite films – and tougher still to see them screened. So just as old-fashioned record emporiums are returning, we will similarly 
see the resurrection of 
the picture palace: a film theatre that plays – drum 
roll – FILM?

I hope so. I really do. And I hope the turnaround comes soon before the notion of film becomes as distant as a cinematic dodo.