Digital `Star Wars' heralds the end of flickery flicks

POPCORN, cuddling couples and the gentle whirr of the projector. A night at the movies wouldn't be the same without them. But the summer release of Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace will mark a new era in cinema history. The end is looming for the film reel, that most potent of Hollywood symbols.

Within five years celluloid film and the projector will be consigned to history and cinema as we have known it for more than a century will never be the same again.

Since the screening of the first silent film, cinemas have relied on mechanical projectors. Now George Lucas is preparing for the new millennium by showing his latest blockbuster on digital projectors.

For while the movie industry has changed dramatically since the first motion-picture whirred into life, its reliance on mechanical projectors and reels of celluloid film has remained unchanged. Now experts believe digital projectors will revolutionise the industry.

The decision by Lucasfilm to screen the latest instalment of the Star Wars saga using the new technology is a bold move that has the rest of Hollywood watching closely to see how the film is received.

It will be shown in four different cinemas in two as-yet unnamed American cities, testing two different types of digital projectors.

Mr Lucas gave his reasons at a cinema industry convention last month: "I'm very enthusiastic about the digital cinema. The quality, the savings in cost and the ability to do things that just aren't possible today."

He plans to produce the next two Star Wars films using digital technology throughout. The films will still be shot on traditional cameras loaded with film, but will then be transferred to a digital format allowing speedier editing and production, although in the future film may be replaced by digital cameras.

Mr Lucas is convinced cinema audiences will benefit from cleaner and sharper images, which won't show the wear and tear that hits celluloid film after about 30 plays.

The switch to a new format also means a new system of distribution for film. Currently studios pay a distributor to make prints of a film and distribute it to cinemas around the country. These prints often come on reels that are five feet in diameter, and can weigh as much as 60lbs.

Digital projectors will allow films to be distributed either by magnetic tape, a CD-Rom or via satellite and played at the touch of a button.

Jerry Rodgers, head of the National Film and Television Archive's telecine division, expects digital projectors to start appearing in cinemas within five years.

"Economics will be the driving force and costs seem to tumble when digital technology is used. Producers are going to see better financial returns from digital that will move them very quickly into the new environment," he said.

"But Hollywood will also need to get involved. There needs to be some controlling influence and more than likely that will be Hollywood."

Those who stand to lose most are not as enthusiastic. The introduction of digital projectors in cinemas will cost, at current prices, around pounds 65,000 per screen. This represents huge costs for cinema owners whose investors will not be keen to spend further money so soon after investing in new multiplexes.

The owners claim that the money distributors will save by not having to ship films to cinemas should pay for the digital projectors.

Richard Segal, managing director of Odeon Cinemas, said: "I have been involved in this business for 10 years and projection of this sort has always been five years away. What's happened now is that the technology works, but the cost of taking it to every screen in every cinema around the country is prohibitively expensive.

"I think cinemas would definitely be looking to the distributors to pick up these sorts of costs."

However the distributors in the UK, Carlton Communications and Rank, neither want extra costs, nor to lose the money they make from producing duplicate celluloid prints.

These prints, which cost around pounds 1,300 per reel, would become redundant with the introduction of digital projectors, thus reducing a major part of their business.

They claim digital projectors aren't yet able to match celluloid in image reproduction, and believe it will be closer to 10 or 20 years before they begin to appear in the local multiplex.

But whatever the timescale, one thing is certain; for Lucas, and other directors behind the Hollywood studios' effects-laden blockbusters, the digital revolution will open up a galaxy of cinematic possibilities.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Professor David Nutt wants to change the way gravely ill patients are treated in Britain
people Why does a former Government tsar believe that mind-altering drugs have a place on prescription?
Norway’s ‘The Nordland Line – Minute by Minute, Season by Season’ continues the trend of slow TV
television The BBC have commissioned a series of programmes doing away with high-production values, commentary, script or drama
Arts and Entertainment
Jonny Evans has pleaded not guilty to an FA charge for spitting at Papiss Cisse
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
Kate Moss will make a cameo appearance in David Walliams' The Boy in the Dress
The image released by the Salvation Army, using 'The Dress'
Liverpool defender Kolo Toure
football Defender could make history in the FA Cup, but African Cup of Nations win means he's already content
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Consultant - London - £65,000 OTE.

£65000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Engineer - central London ...

Recruitment Genius: Physiotherapist / Sports Therapist

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Physiotherapist / Sports Ther...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Advisor

£8 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives / Advisors are required...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operative

£14000 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable