In the documentary "Side by Side," Keanu Reeves sets out to chronicle the history of film production and gather opinions from Hollywood’s greatest directors regarding film's conversion to digital production. I have no clue why Reeves was the one to do this but the final product is very compelling. The documentary combines a historic look at the evolution of filmmaking technology with strong (and contrasting) opinions on each phase of that evolution. Reeves used all of his Hollywood connections to assemble a wide array of famous directors, cinematographers, and film editors including Martin Scorsese, George Lucas, David Fincher, Richard Linklater, Danny Boyle, David Lynch, and The Wachowski Brothers. One of my favorite segments of the documentary explores the optical printer and the old school way of creating visual effects in films like "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." I don’t know how anybody ever figured out how to create film. It is remarkable. I have such an appreciation for the complexity of photochemical color timing and the new possibilities that came with digital color manipulation. You would think that every director would be in favor of the potential created by new technology but it is actual rather polarizing. Each time a director offers insight into a technical aspect of filmmaking, their comments are supported with a clip from one of their movies that demonstrates the topic. In addition to learning so much about film production, we get to revisit many amazing movies. It even digs in to the rise of 3D films. I love Joel Schumacher's commentary on the 3D fad and why it is can enhance a film but isn’t always appropriate: "With Avatar, there's a reason that film is in 3D. Because it is taking you on an experience. It isn't something that was added on for money or a joke or a gimmick. It's there because it was created that way." James Cameron also has an interesting response to the criticism that movies aren't "real" anymore because of digital backgrounds and effects. Even though they are are adding things that aren’t physically filmed, is it any less real than filming an evening outdoor scene in the middle of the day inside of a Hollywood soundstage with fake rain and boom mics out of the view of the camera? So much of this film is about comparison, whether it is comparing the opinions of the directors or the physical appearance of the films. It talks about the different cameras available today and shows examples of films shot with each camera. It also shows examples of recent movies that were shot on film. The content may be a little dry for those who aren’t interested in film or digital technology but it creates an interesting story. It's a shame that the few swear words (including four f-words) were included in the final cut. They don't add anything to the commentary but prevent this documentary from being appropriate for all ages. “Side by Side” is worth a watch due to the amount of information that it reveals through the opinions of the people who make the movies.
[Pictured: It is sad to see the use of film fading away but exciting to see the new possibilities created with digital technologies]