Movies Pedantry Technology

Those limited edition film cell things are really stupid

Despite some slight reservations, I bought the complete Star Wars saga on Blu-ray the other month (I presume they call it a ‘saga’ rather than the more technically accurate ‘hexalogy’ because the latter sounds both a) stupid, and b) a little too Harry Potterish).

Being as it was a big bastard 9-disc edition of the saga (which takes up less space than the 4-disc edition of the original trilogy we previously had, I would like to mention), they felt compelled to include in the set one of those single film cells as some kind of ‘limited edition’ dohicky.

As much as I think they can look pretty cool – I admittedly have four frames of Jurassic Park at home, although those were pinched from a presentation reel after the film snapped whilst preparing the screening – the idea that these are something special and unique, as the marketing people often seen to claim, is complete rubbish.

To explain – it’s not like these are original film negatives or anything. They were not passing through the camera during filming. The cells have not been within mere metres of the stars of whatever film they’re from whilst they were acting the scene you can see. They’ve probably not been near the stars at any point at all.

In fact, the cells are most likely from the exact same prints as you see in the cinema, making them approximately as common as muck. Just in case you wanted to see the sums that got me to this conclusion:

Every film runs at the same frame rate – 24 frames a second (fps). So, for every second of a film you see at the cinema, 24 of those little film cells are shooting past. That’s 1,440 a minute, or 86,400 an hour, or roughly 130-172,000 frames for the average 1.5-2 hour film.

If the sheer number of frames is difficult to picture, let’s look at it another way. 24 fps translates as somewhere in the region of two or three feet of film in a second. A single reel of film is usually about 1,800 metres or thereabouts, and most standard Hollywood fare will run for six or seven reels – which works out to about 11 kilometres of film for a single movie.

That's a lot of film.

And that’s for just one copy of the film. Most big blockbusters these days open in somewhere in the region of 3,500 or more cinemas. The 2008 film Jumper, picking one partly at random although with a slight Star Wars connection, opened in 4,600 screens, meaning 4,600 copies of the film had to be produced and distributed – which, by my maths, works out at roughly 582,922,000 (nearly 583 million) frames of film, or 49 million kilometres.

When you look at your single cell at about an inch in length, you will see just how small a part of the whole it is. Remember, when talking about ‘limited edition’ stuff, ‘one in a million’ is bad. ‘One in a million’ isn’t really that limited at all.

It’s not quite that simple of course. Not every frame is usable for this purpose; some contain titles, or fades to black, or blurred action that doesn’t look that good as a single frame. Also, in my experience, major cinema chains don’t exactly treat their copies of the prints that well, and they are heavily abused during their time on cinemas, being screened multiple times daily for months, and usually end up being held together by tape by the end of a theatrical run.

So I’m pretty sure they make prints exclusively for this sort of memorabilia. My single Star Wars frame – which looks like it’s from Episode III – is almost certainly from a print deliberately produced for this purpose. This is because the film is in the Cinemascope aspect ratio of 2.35:1, or the ‘very’ widescreen format that still has back bars when viewed on a widescreen TV; due to the technicalities of screening this type of film the image is distorted on the print (see the image right) and corrected by a lens on the projector. However, the cell I’ve got contains letterboxes and the image is correctly proportioned (not unlike the image at the top of this post). Also, the film only contains an analogue soundtrack – the waves on the image above – and none of the more advanced digital soundtracks (the blue strips and the black specks between the sprocket holes on said picture).

This is probably getting a bit technical. But as I warned some time ago, I love this stuff and can talk about it for hours.

The future of these little bits of memorabilia looks a bit uncertain when you consider that I read an article a few months ago that said that the world’s last film camera had rolled off of the production lines somewhere. The film industry is moving inexorably towards an all-digital system, from shooting to screening, and that does sadden me a little. Compared to film, digital projection looks cold, clinical, inorganic. Plus, film smells so much better. I love the photochemical scent of it, and that – along with the heavy mechanical sounds of a running projector – is something you only get from being in the projection room.

With new films being all-digital, will there still be the desire for these film cells? Surely they will lose their only appeal when modern films have as much in common with a sprocket hole as an iPod does with vinyl?

Maybe when film resolution gets high enough, they will start releasing larger print movie stills, which also have the added bonus of being visible from across the room.

Life Pedantry

An extra hour in bed my arse

Image: photostock /

It’s that time of year again. The clocks have reverted from the cheery optimism of British Summer Time back to good old Greenwich Mean Time, accompanied – as usual – by the cheery reminders that “you’ll get an extra hour in bed” from newsreaders, weather presenters and the likes.


Very few people got an extra hour in bed. Only those who wake to an alarm clock on a Sunday morning get an extra hour in bed. Everyone else, who wakes either to a child, a pet or simply their own internal body clock, will get up the same time as usual, which is of course an hour earlier. Back when I worked in retail and started my shift at 8am on a Sunday morning, I would’ve enjoyed an extra hour in bed – provided I remembered to adjust the alarm clock before I went to sleep. Last year, when it was my body clock that got me up, I was up and awake on a Sunday morning at 6am.

So instead of getting an extra hour in bed, you get an extra hour awake to manually change all of the clocks in your home. And unlike spring, where adjusting the clocks amounts to pushing the “+hour” button on whatever digital timepieces you have, you have to instead push said button either 11 or 23 times depending on if you have a 12- or 24-hour clock. Analogue clocks, of course, you just twist anti-clockwise, although I did hear somewhere that was bad for them – but that’s probably one of the many weird and largely apocryphal bits of advice my mother has imbued on me over the years.

And then what happens is Sunday afternoons – one of the most depressing times of the week, and what Douglas Adams referred to as ‘the long dark tea-time of the soul’ – drag on endlessly. When it feels like six o’clock it’s only five o’clock, when it feels like five o’clock it’s only four o’clock and too early for supper.

There is talk of doing away with changing the time in summer, and more talk still of throwing the clocks forward an extra hour and going ‘European time’. This really isn’t going to sort anything. I find the amount of daylight available at a certain time of day helps me judge the time of year at a level looking at a calendar can’t (not least because the only calendar on the wall in my house still says February 2010). The fact that it’s now getting dark as I arrive home from work is a nice reminder at an almost subconscious level that Xmas, and my birthday, are coming (although this might be technically a vitamin D deficiency rather than some subconscious awareness). I guess it speaks volumes that, at an age that is rapidly approaching 27, I’m still looking forward to my birthday and Xmas.

Fail Headlines Life Pedantry

Today's poorly worded subheadline

Sometimes when I read a headline, such as this one, I’ll instantly see what’s wrong with it and chuckle.

Other times, however, I’ll read it and think hang on, something doesn’t seem quite right here, and it’ll take me a second before I latch on to what’s wrong about it.

Take this headline, for instance. Take a closer look at the sub-heading.

Yes, I know I’m being pedantic with this one. But when I looked at this I thought, surely if he was swimming he would’t have drowned, would he? A more correct subheadline would be “Boy drowns while failing to swim in a quarry”.

This is the sort of stuff I think about all the time.

Life Pedantry Uncategorized

Dear nature: you'll get over it

Barely a month goes by where we don’t see a story in the media about how daffodils are blooming earlier or fruits are ripening sooner because of atypical weather. It happens every year. Sometimes it’s in spring, sometimes it’s in summer, sometimes it’s even in winter, but the gist is the same whenever the story is posted: climate change is confusing mother nature.

Take a story from today’s Metro, for instance:

Dry spring, hot summer, mild winters. We hear it all the time. What people seem to forget is this: it’s still here. The biodiversity of this planet has suffered through much over the last few billion years, but it always struggles on. Sure, there has been a massive turnover of species over the years, but life in general will usually carry on regardless.

I guess I generally don’t worry much when the media churn out the same old scare stories.


Making an Impact

That isn’t Impact. It’s Bureau Grotesque.