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The Day Disney Denied Tarantino’s Dome Dream

While we mourn the demise of ArcLight Theaters, let’s never forget the battle between The Hateful Eight and The Force

Monday’s tragic news of the ArcLight Cinemas calling it quits has released a flood of fond memories from Angelenos who have visited the upscale theaters.

At the center of many of the remembrances was the affection movie lovers have with the Cinerama Dome, the unforgettable looking staple on Sunset Blvd since 1963.

An advertisement in the Los Angeles Times by Pacific Theatres celebrating the opening of the Cinerama Dome in 1963.

When it was unveiled nearly 60 years ago, Pacific Theatres beamed at how beautifully decorated the cinema was; how the seating was “custom-designed for unbelievable comfort,” and that its “lavish lounge and powder rooms” were noteworthy and awesome.

Bathrooms aside, what many film fans have loved was that extra-wide screen and the all-encompassing images that have been projected onto it.

When it was last renovated, the ArcLight boasted the upgrades, among them the 70mm delivery system.

“The Dome is equipped with a Kinoton projector (FP75E) with DTS 6-channel and 6-track discrete magnetic sound allowing 70mm films to be screened. The original three-portal projection booth has been retained, and now houses three restored Cinerama projectors. The Dome can play 3-strip Cinerama with 7-channel Cinerama Stereophonic, 35mm Magnetic sound.”

While that might not mean much to the casual moviegoer; for cinefiles, 70mm junkies, and those who love actual film projection as opposed to digital, it’s everything.

One of those aficionados is Quentin Tarantino who went the extra mile for his 2015 release, The Hateful Eight, by filming the post-civil war western in 65mm through vintage Panavision lenses; with the goal of being screened in 70mm theaters… as the gods intended.

Oscar-winning cinematographer Robert Richardson on the set of The Hateful Eight manning one of the Panavision 70mm cameras. ““When we saw Sam Jackson in a closeup — or anyone — it just aided the skin. It’s remarkable… It’s stunning.” he said.

Tarantino’s dream was to present the Samuel L. Jackson-led film in 100 theaters that could display it in the rare 70mm format.

How rare? It would be the first anamorphic 70mm theatrical release in nearly 50 years. Other Ultra Panavision 70mm releases have included Ben-Hur (1959), Mutiny On The Bounty (1962), It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), and The Greatest Story Ever Told (1964), with the last being the Oscar-nominated epic, Khartoum (1966).

“How The West Was Won” at the Dome in 2012. Credit: Daws Bros

The one theater that Tarantino had in mind from the get-go was the legendary Cinerama Dome in Hollywood, naturally.

In early December of 2015, the film had two L.A. premieres. The first at The Crest in Westwood had technical problems with the 70mm projection and was forced to switch to digital half way through the presentation, embarrassingly.

The next week the film was screened at the Dome for the official premiere, and film writers like Pete Hammond pronounced it a huge hit. “At the Dome it was complete nirvana for movie nerds including its director Quentin Tarantino, who clearly was blown away by what he saw on that huge screen,” Hammond wrote.

“‘I made The Hateful Eight for the Dome,’” Tarantino told Hammond. “This is the first time seeing it at the Dome for me too, and it was like I hadn’t even seen it before, not like this.”

Tarantino said he booked a two-week exclusive run at the Dome with the ArcLight starting on December 25, 2015.

The deal was allegedly secured until Disney reached out to the ArcLight to extend their time at the Dome for their latest blockbuster, Star Wars: Episode VII, The Force Awakens, the director claimed.

The ArcLight told Disney it couldn’t extend because it had a contract with The Hateful Eight, Quentin said.

According to Tarantino, Disney pressured the theater chain with an offer it could not refuse. Either extend The Force Awakens at the Dome, or Disney would pull the Star Wars cash cow from all of the ArcLight theaters that Christmas.

Tarantino went on the Howard Stern show and vented.

“I grew up in Los Angeles, so I always thought of the Cinerama Dome as a real big deal,” he said, noting that the film even starts off with the vintage Cinerama logo.

“They’ve got the biggest movie in the world,” Tarantino said of The Force Awakens, which broke the record for the fastest movie to reap $1 billion in sales. “We’re talking about one effing theater.”

And then he drove it home in regards to Disney.

“They are going out of their way to fuck me,” he said, and invited all of the entertainment press to ask the movie studio about its “extortionist practices.”

But one sole outlet, Deadline, claims Tarantino had not been fucked at all, and that the chain had, indeed, not been extorted.

“…many sources tell Deadline that Disney secured the Dome months ago to play the Force Awakens through the holidays,” the entertainment website reported without revealing its sources.

“This was further reflected in the fact that the Dome was an option to prospective Force Awakens ticket buyers when they went on sale on Oct. 19,” reporters Anthony D’Alessandro and Anita Busch wrote. “Apparently, Tarantino only recently learned about the booking situation and decided to voice his protest on Stern.”

The Force Awakens (2015)

A few months later when Tarantino was asked if he was still angry with Disney and where he stands with the studio, he was clear.

“No, they fucked me over,” he told the NY Daily News. “I would never work them in any way, shape or form after what they did to me.”

In 1993 Disney bought Miramax for $60 million. The next year Tarantino released Pulp Fiction for Miramax, the now-classic film that grossed over $215 million from a budget of just $8.5 million.

“They fucked me over and I made them a lot of money for Pulp Fiction, and that really is a bad way to treat a former employee who has worked very well for them,” he said.

Now that the Dome’s future is uncertain many are hoping for Tarantino to snatch it up like he did with the New Beverly theater a few miles west.

If somehow the writer / producer / director can pull off such a purchase it would be quite the Hollywood ending to this drama.

But the Dome is unlike the New Beverly in many ways. For one the Dome’s lease on the Sunset near Vine location has got to be steeper than the much smaller footprint of the New Beverly on Beverly Blvd. Whoever buys that theater is going to have to put a lot of butts in seats, or have deep pockets to consider it a loss leader.

Of those with deep pockets are streamers like Amazon and Netflix who are probably salivating over the opportunity to utilize the iconic dome and surrounding cineplex to showcase their original films while boosting For Your Consideration cred right in the heart of Hollywood.

The El Capitan Theater on Hollywood Blvd.

Is there a better advertising ploy than a long run at the Dome in the minds of Oscar voters, many of whom pass by that location with warm memories forever in their hearts?

And what if Disney themselves decided to pull the ultimate checkmate by swooping up the property themselves?

Why wouldn’t they want the opportunity to present the entire Marvel catalogue on the Hollywood ArcLight’s big screens — and not just to tourists but fans who rarely get the chance to watch their favorites the way they were intended to be seen?

Disney is no stranger to running a Hollywood movie theater as it already owns the single-screen El Capitan on Hollywood Blvd.

Why wouldn’t the studio want its long list of animated and live-action classics presented the way it choose at a nearby multiplex, along with new releases from Marvel, Pixar, and Disney Pictures?

Indeed, such a move by the Mouse could make the Dome, and the cineplex behind it, the center of the literal Disney / Marvel cinematic universe just a few miles away from where Walt Disney first got his start in nearby Los Feliz.

No matter who wins this prized plumb, there will be many losers. Some might remain hateful forever.

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