Movie Technology: The Continuing Battle of Film vs. Digital

Roger Deakins cinematography The Assassination of Jesse James
One of Deakins' best moments captured with a film camera - The Assassination of Jesse James

Film possesses a certain texture that is unrivaled by digital cameras. A talented editor or colorist can easily manipulate digital footage to look more like film, but this seems contradictory in nature. Do we alter digital footage this way because audiences are still not ready to see the true power of digital? It is possible. It seems more likely that those in charge of financing and distributing movies are not prepared to risk their investments on technology that they themselves are not ready to embrace entirely. But the look of a product on film is ingrained in our collective vision to the point that we don't notice it until we see something different.

Many audiences today argue that a crisp image without the grain associated with film is better-looking. Audiences evolve just as fast as the technology presented to them. But a large contingent of those moviegoers still want the classic look, regardless of the content of the film itself. That audience won't be going away for awhile yet - and neither will the classic film look.

The most important difference between film and digital might be seen on set. Film reels run out of film. Digital cards run out of space. But when a reel runs out, it is done forever. When a card runs out, it can be dumped and re-used rather quickly. This pushes production along financially in a number of ways.

127 Hours cameras

127 Hours benefited from shooting digitally in a scene when James Franco re-enacts Aron Ralston's exhausting attempts to escape from being trapped by a boulder. Instead of shooting multiple takes with different efforts, director Danny Boyle kept the camera running for over an hour, allowing the real emotions of Franco's own personality, coupled with his performance as Ralston, shine through in a more genuine fashion. The Social Network used the highly coveted RED camera to get not only a contemporary look, but provide director David Fincher ample opportunity to get multiple takes - something he is dubious for.

No matter how efficient digital filmmaking becomes, there will always be a huge contingent of filmmakers who prefer the "old-fashioned way." To supplement that, the movie theater business has yet to fully conform to digital projectors. Many theaters have at least one or two projectors that can present certain films in the format, but generally studios transfer even digital movies onto film reels to play at movie theaters. Needless to say, the movie theaters are the wild card during this transitional period in the industry.


As those at the top of the industry make the move to digital or give 3D filmmaking a try, the evolution of digital will continue. Martin Scorsese, currently filming Hugo Cabret, is amongst those at the top of the game who are currently giving 3D and digital a try. Those who hope for future movies shot on classic film can rest assured that some filmmakers will fight the revolution - like Wally Pfister and Christopher Nolan.

How do you feel about this transitional period in the industry? Can you tell the difference when watching digital versus film? Do you care? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Source: /Film (Roger Deakins interview)

Ghostbusters maze at Halloween Horror Nights
Halloween Horror Nights is Adding Ghostbusters for the First Time

More in Movie News