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Great Movies Return to the Big Screen at Music Box's 70mm Film Festival

This weekend marks the start of the Music Box Theatre’s 70mm Festival, where the best theater in Chicago will be showing some of the best films ever made, in the way they were meant to be seen: on the largest screen possible, and in a true movie-house. For cinephiles, a 70mm film presentation is the best way to get the full experience, to practically feel the texture of masterfully-crafted movies that have been amazing viewers for decades. 

Below are a few highlights of the festival, which runs from Friday, September 14 to Thursday, September 27. [For tickets and showtimes, click here]

The festivities start tonight at 7:30pm with “West Side Story,” which returns to the Music Box with its incredible print. As someone who saw the film in that form a couple years ago, I can’t recommend it enough as an excellent refresher for the Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise adaptation of the Broadway hit (of which Roger welcomed into Great Movies status in 2004). With its unforgettable musical sequences, explosive color, and exhilarating scope, it’s an excellent start to the festival but just one of many titles we highly encourage cinephiles to check out. ["West Side Story" will be shown Friday, Sept. 14 at 7:30pm; Sunday, Sept. 16 at 6:00pm; Monday, Sept. 17 at 2:30pm; Tuesday, Sept. 18 at 2:30pm. For tickets, click here]

This year’s favorite will feature another 70mm festival favorite, David Lean’s “Lawrence of Arabia.” But those who make a point to see the film whenever it comes to Chicago are in for a treat, as Music Box will be showing a new 70mm print with DTS Sound from Sony Pictures Repertory. It’s a movie that demands to be seen on the big screen. In his 2001 Great Movies review of the film, Roger made a point to say that “to see it in a movie theater is to appreciate the subtlety of F.A. (Freddie) Young’s desert cinematography—achieved despite blinding heat, and the blowing sand, which worked its way into the camera.” But as he added, “what you realize watching ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ is that the word ‘epic’ refers not to the cost or the elaborate production, but to the size of the ideas and vision.” 

For movie-lovers, Roger was adamant that they see “Lawrence of Arabia” on the big screen. He wrote: “To get the feeling of Lean’s masterpiece you need to somehow, somewhere, see it in 70mm on a big screen. This experience is on the short list of things that must be done during the lifetime of every lover of film.” ["Lawrence of Arabia" will be presented on Saturday, Sept. 15 at 7:00pm; Sunday, Sept. 16 at 7:30pm; Tuesday, Sept. 18 at 7:00pm; Wednesday, Sept. 19th at 2:00pm; Thursday, Sept. 20 at 2:00pm. For tickets, click here]

If American legends are more your flavor, the Music Box will be showing a 70mm print of Franklin J. Schaffner’s “Patton,” which Roger gave 4 stars and indoctrinated into the Great Movies section in 2002. Roger went even further in a blog post titled "70mm 'Patton Strikes with Military Precision" to say that “Patton” is “not only one of the best American movies, but one of the best uses ever made of 70mm widescreen photography.” Though Roger was happily wrong when he said that “It’s a pretty good bet that ‘Patton’ will never again play Chicago in 70mm,” we encourage you to take his advice: “This is a rare opportunity to see a great film in a spectacular presentation.” ["Patton" will be showing on Saturday, Sept. 15 at 11:30am and Thursday, Sept. 20 at 7:00pm. For tickets, click here]

Fans of John Carpenter will be excited to know that his classic “The Thing” is coming to the Music Box’s 70mm festival, and will even be screened late at night on opening weekend. While Roger may not have been excited about “The Thing” returning to theaters, (he famously called it a “great barf-bag movie,”) our own Matt Zoller Seitz thoroughly endorses the film as being “one of the greatest and most elegantly constructed B-movies ever made, serious yet subtle in exploring themes of paranoia, mistrust, identity and camaraderie, and aces at scaring the hell out of you." ["The Thing" will be playing Friday, Sept. 14 at 11:30pm; Saturday, Sept. 15 at 11:59pm; and Wednesday, Sept. 19th at 7:30pm. For tickets, click here]

One of the best traditions you can get into as a Chicago-area cinephile is returning to “2001: A Space Odyssey,” which Roger welcomed into his Great Movies collection back in 1997. Kubrick's essential masterwork is now back at the Music Box with a 70mm print that has DTS Sound from Warner Brothers. Every year that I’ve seen “2001: A Space Odyssey” at the theater it’s been a full-house of devotees and newcomers. It’s about the closest that cinema comes to going to church, so don’t miss out on seeing a Kubrick classic in a format that makes you feel like you’re waltzing through space. ["2001: A Space Odyssey" will be playing Monday, Sept. 24 at 7:00pm and Thursday, Sept. 27 at 2:30pm. For tickets, click here]

But that's just a taste: the 70mm Film Festival will feature presentations of Jim Henson's cult classic "The Dark Crystal," Michael Cimino's underestimated "Year of the Dragon," James Ivory's "Remains of the Day," Lawrence Kasdan's Western "Silverado" in a 70mm blowup print, "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country" and a little movie called "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade." We'll see you there. 

The Music Box Theatre's 70mm Film Festival runs from September 14 to September 27. For more information and to get your tickets, click here.

Nick Allen

Nick Allen is the former Senior Editor at and a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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