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70mm 'Patton' strikes with military precision

First, the facts: "Patton" (1970) is not only one of the best American movies, but one of the best uses ever made of 70mm widescreen photography. A newly-restored 70mm print of "Patton" has been created by 20th Century-Fox. Here comes the crucial part: The only non-festival booking it will have in the country begins July 3 at the Music Box Theater, 3733 N. Southport. This is a rare opportunity to see a great film in a spectacular presentation. The experience of "Patton" is fresh in my mind because I was able to show it in April on the opening night of my Overlooked Film Festival at the University of Illinois at Urbana. It was perhaps the single best experience I have ever had in terms of superb picture quality. The film was shot in Dimension 150, a process using special lenses that gave perfect focus and clarity even to the edges of the huge screen. 

The opening shot is a stunner. Academy Award winner George C. Scott walks up some steps to stand in front of an American flag, and when you see the movie on the big screen you realize that Franklin J. Schaffner, the director, composed it so that Scott seems life-sized as he stands there to begin his speech. The illusion is eerie. The movie tells the story of the saga of the most controversial and maybe most brilliant of our World War II generals, "Blood and Guts" Patton, famous for outrunning the enemy by driving his troops to the edge. He was taken from command after a notorious incident where he slapped a soldier with shell shock, saying he had no sympathy for cowards. The Nazis could not believe the U.S. would sideline its brilliant leader, and Patton was used as a decoy on D-Day: Wherever he was, the Nazis assumed, that's where the attack would be. 

I've included "Patton" in my Great Movies series, and my full essay can be found online at www.suntimes.com/ebert/greatmovies/. In these days of low-resolution digital projectors and visual compromises, it is startling to see how good a movie can look. It's a pretty good bet "Patton" will never again play Chicago in 70mm.

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