Hollywood Returns To 70Mm Photography With `Far And Away'

Is the new Tom Cruise movie, "Far and Away," the first theatrical movie since David Lean's "Ryan's Daughter" (1970) to be filmed in the crisp, detailed 70mm process?

"Far and Away" is being advertised, rather confusingly, as "filmed for the first time in Panavision Super 70." It's hard to tell precisely what that means. The press kit claims it's "the first feature film ever to be photographed with the new Panavision Super 70 camera equipment." But how is that different from the Super Panavision 70 equipment that was used three decades ago to shoot "Exodus" and "West Side Story"?

Aside from the fact that "Super" and "Panavision" have been transposed in the title, it's because the new movie uses a 70mm film stock recently developed by Eastman Kodak - although the new stock does not always yield as breathtaking an image as "Ryan's Daughter." Only a few sequences in "Far and Away," among them the Oklahoma land-rush finale, demonstrate what 70mm can do for a spectacular sequence.

This does, however, seem to be the genuine article: the first major-studio production shot entirely in 70mm in some time - although, to make matters even more confusing, it's not the only movie presented in 70mm in 22 years. Many movies shot in 35mm, such as "Howards End," are routinely blown up to 70mm to take advantage of 70mm's six-track stereo. The special effects in such movies as "Terminator 2" are shot in 70mm, then blended with 35mm live-action footage.

One effects-heavy movie, Disney's "Tron" (1982), may have been filmed entirely in 70mm, although even such an authoritative book as Robert E. Carr and R.M. Hayes' "Wide Screen Movies" (McFarland and Co., published 1988) can't say for sure: "There is much confusion regarding this film . . . It is possible the whole film was produced in Super Panavision 70."

As Carr and Hayes point out, the golden age of 70mm cinematography produced some of the clearest images in the history of movies. When it was abandoned two decades ago (at about the same time Hollywood temporarily gave up on stereo sound), a developing technology was crushed. If you saw the recent 70mm reissues of "Lawrence of Arabia," "West Side Story" and/or "2001: A Space Odyssey" at the Cinedome, you know how wonderful standard 70mm can look - and sound.

Even more technically advanced are the IMAX documentaries that play the Omnidome Theater and the Eames/IMAX Theater at the Pacific Science Center. They're filmed in a 70mm process that literally dwarfs all Hollywood productions, including "Far and Away." Because the IMAX cameras and projectors feed the 70mm film stock horizontally, they can make use of a much larger frame. The first feature-length IMAX movie, "Rolling Stones at the MAX," is continuing through the summer at the Eames/IMAX Theater.

FESTIVAL OLDIES: Several vintage films are on the Seattle International Film Festival schedule, including a couple of restorations, two long-unavailable movies and a Russian compilation film that explores the Cold War mentality of the 1950s.

Robert Wise's 1949 boxing classic, "The Set-Up," will be shown in its original 35mm black-and-white form, at a free screening at noon tomorrow at the Egyptian. It's part of a Wise retrospective that continues on Saturday afternoons.

Youssef Chahine's tragic 1958 Egyptian love story, "Cairo Station," was previously shown here at the Arab Film Festival two years ago, when Times reviewer Michael Upchurch called it "a masterpiece . . . the performances are superb, the pacing tight and the camerawork is masterful." A newly restored version will be screened at 7 p.m. Sunday at Neptune and 9:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Harvard Exit. Also on the program is Chahine's 1991 documentary short, "Cairo."

Another restoration is "Betty Blue L'Integral," a three-hour restoration of Jean-Jacques Beineix's Oscar-nominated 1986 art-house hit starring Beatrice Dalle as a mad woman who loves a struggling writer (Jean-Hughes Anglade). Including nearly an hour of previously unseen material, it plays at 9:30 p.m. Thursday at the Egyptian.

The American premiere of "Goodbye Boys," a long-suppressed 1966 Russian film about adolescents in a small seaside town, is scheduled at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Harvard Exit. William Friedkin's "Rampage," a serial-killer drama that was shot in 1986 but never publicly shown (it's never even been released to cable or video), turns up at 9:30 p.m. next Friday at the Neptune.

"The Scorpion's Garden," which plays at 9:30 p.m. Thursday at the Broadway Market Cinemas, makes use of footage from such Soviet classics as "Potemkin" and "Storm Over Asia" as well as a 1950s Russian espionage drama called "Corporal Kotschetkov's Case." According to Amos Vogel, writing in the current issue of Film Comment magazine, "this surreal optical poem provides us with an opportunity to see some truly unbelievable Soviet educational and propaganda films, soggy musicals and story films that illuminate, in flashes of ridiculous and horrifying power, the stultifying nature of the regime."

AROUND TOWN: A new video about AIDS, "In the Midst of Winter," will have its west-coast premiere at 9 a.m. Thursday at Swedish Hospital (for information, call 386-2502). Jeff Natter, education coordinator of the Northwest AIDS Foundation, calls it "an extraordinary achievement." Laurie Lind's excellent new film about coping with the loss of an AIDS victim, "R.S.V.P.," plays as part of a package of gay movies at 5 p.m. today at the Harvard Exit. . . . 911 Media Arts Center, 117 Yale Ave. N., will screen Antero Alli's feature-length documentary video, "Archaic Community," at 8 and 10 tonight. Tickets are $5. Alli will also be teaching workshops tomorrow and Sunday. For information, call 781-5691. . . . The Queen City Film Festival, held every week at the Dream Theater, 1108 Pike Street (Pike at Boren), is showing "The Rolling Stones on Film," at 7:30 and 9:30 tonight and tomorrow, and the 1955 Joan Crawford soap opera, "Autumn Leaves," at 5:30, 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. Thursday. Tickets are $4 at the door . . . Ingmar Bergman's 1980 drama, "From the Life of the Marionettes," plays at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Tacoma Community College, as part of the college's International Film Festival. Tickets are $4 at the door. . . . Eleven-year-old Seattle actor Mario Sweet stars in "North of Pittsburgh," which has its American premiere at 7 p.m. tomorrow at the Broadway Market Cinemas, as part of the Seattle International Film Festival. The movie was shot in Vancouver.