In the 23 years since “Fantasia 2000” became the first studio movie to get a theatrical release in IMAX, the format has been associated primarily with expensive spectacles like “The Dark Knight Rises” and “Avengers: Endgame.” But March 14 — Pi Day — sees the IMAX premiere of an independent film shot on a $60,000 budget. To celebrate its 25th anniversary, Darren Aronofsky’s “Pi” screens in IMAX auditoriums around the country, preceded by a live-streamed Q&A with Aronofsky, cinematographer Matthew Libatique, and other special guests at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.
“When we sold ‘Pi’ 25 years ago in Sundance, we truly never imagined this day would come,” Aronofsky told IndieWire. Back then, Aronofsky and Libatique chose to shoot their film on 16mm black and white reversal stock, both for economic and aesthetic reasons.
“It was a relatively rare stock to shoot, but the contrast and grain it could achieve were unparalleled at the time,” Aronofsky said. “The only issue was that the same film that passed through the camera was the positive, not unlike Polaroid film. To protect the image, we treated it like a negative and never projected it. To make a release print, we had to cut this positive negative old-school style with splicers and hot glue, shoot it with 35mm negative, and print off of it 35mm prints.”
From the Archives: A 1998 Interview with Darren Aronofsky and Sean Gullette of ‘Pi’
That meant that every version of “Pi” was degraded a minimum of three generations before it was ever scanned for home video. With the help of his “The Whale” distributor A24, Aronofsky decided to use the 25th anniversary of the movie as an excuse to revisit it and see if there was a way to get closer to the source material.
©Live Entertainment/Courtesy Everett Collection
“We were so curious to see what the original 16mm film looked like,” he said. “Since the film was originally completed photochemical, we never did a DI, so after we scanned it at 8k, we were able to dive in and polish the film like never before.” Aronofsky added a few subtle visual effects and cleaned up what he called “some old mistakes,” resulting in a “Pi” that retains its original grittiness but has a clarity far beyond what its fans have ever experienced.
“My favorite reaction has been from my friends at IMAX, who were a bit afraid to show me the size of the grain,” Aronofsky said, “but of course, I more than loved it.” In terms of the sound, the original “Pi” was delivered with what was at the time a state-of-the-art surround mix, which has now been remixed for Dolby Atmos and provides a truly immersive experience when heard in an IMAX venue. “The results were a joy, and we really wanted to share it with all the fans and hopefully make some new ones,” Aronofsky said.
Pi screens in IMAX auditoriums around the country March 14. For more info and to purchase tickets, click here.