Video Re-Play
The Rookie
Review by Ross Anthony

Oh, I'm so excited about this film. It's pretty good family entertainment, but what's really got me jazzed is that the film is not a film - it's videotape. Hollywood's been using tape in pockets and short segments for a while now, but this may be the first whole film from a major Hollywood production studio - videotape from end to end! The future is here.

I've been paying keen attention to the development of videotape for the "film industry" over the past few years. During that time I made the outlandish prediction that by the year 2005, 50% of the films we see will have originated on tape.

A fellow reviewer friend of mine called me crazy at that time, and when I turned to him and said "The Rookie" was shot on tape he said "You're nuts - that's in the future."

Actually, there's no mention of video usage in the credits or press kit ... so why do I think it was shot on tape?

  1. Most noticeable in the panning, objects tracking across the screen jitter. (This occurs in film to, but less pronounced). Particularly apparent in the swing of the bat shot from above - perhaps a high shutter speed on the cam.

  2. Close ups look very good usually on tape, but mid-distant shots show some pastiness. The scene with Jim and wife on the porch is a good example of variation in resolution. In that sequence, I'm guessing two cameras were used. The one on Jim looked great. His colors are strong, the pores in his face are clear. But the wife is pasty, features muted. Either the same camera on different nights and drastically different settings or different cam, possibly different formats all together.

  3. Lastly, the overall color quality waned. The image color simply wasn't splendid, rather washed out. Now there are low quality film stocks that have the unfortunate distinction of delivering this effect; however, I wouldn't expect a Disney film to be cutting corners there. And coupled with the other factors, I'm convinced this film was shot on tape. Not just any tape ... not what's known as DV, but high definition, probably 24p. (For more on formats check out an earlier article of mine: Formats Article)

And what's equally exciting, people won't notice. Even my reviewer friend, he didn't notice. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying tape is some how subordinate to film (well, it is currently, but only for a little longer - soon everything will be tape and I'm fine with that). I'm just excited to see it tried by a big company.

Now, I have no way of knowing this, but I'm theorizing, that the average theatergoer's enjoyment of this film (err ahhh tape) will be only slightly impeded by this slightly impeded image quality (all subconsciously for the most part). Myself and others, who are far-too-format-minded for our own good, might experience a bit more of the negative The Rookieeffect. Actually, because of my peaking curiosity, I couldn't help but be distracted by these exciting differences.

As for the production itself ... pretty good! Dennis Quad is awesome, the story inspiring, dialogue crisp and localized. If you take "The Natural" and make it real - complete with diapers and crying toddlers as "the old guy" tries out ... you'll get "The Rookie." Mostly strong, but the project does lag at times, certain sequences beg further editing and a nun/oil allegory only almost works. A B+. (If the image quality were gorgeous it's theoretically possible that I'd have given it an A-).

Btw, Dennis Quaid is from Texas, so he didn't have to learn a new accent. Also he's left-handed just like the real Jim Morris (pictured with Dennis here). And interestingly enough producer Mark Ciardi pitched for the Milwaukee Brewers in 1997.


Within a few days after posting this article, crew members and even an extra have written in to correct my error. Reprinted here with his permission are emails sent by the DP (director of photography). To John and all who wrote in, I say, "Thank you for your feedback and for setting the record straight." RA

Date sent: Mon, 01 Apr 2002 10:26:50 -0800 My name is John Schwartzman ASC, I'm sure you are aware that in addition to being the director of photography on The Rookie, I was also the DP on such films as Pearl Harbor, Benny and Joon, Armageddon and The Rock. I was very surprised by how off base a critic could be, if you know anything about digital technology then you would have immediately recognized that it would have been impossible for the The Rookie to have been shot digitally by virtue of the slow motion photography, something that can't be done on video. I have no doubt that your reviews a sincere, but you really shouldn't speak of film from a technical standpoint because you knowledge is too limited. When you speak of inferior film stocks, what I think you are referring too are lower contrast stocks such as Kodak 5277 vision 320t. This film was shot with the same set of lenses that I used on Pearl Harbor, but whereas on that picture the look I was going for romantic, on The Rookie the look I was going for was the reality of west Texas, washed out and depressed, not The Natural.

I became aware of your article by Roger Ebert, who emailed me, I'm sure you provide a great service to your readers, and I am sure that you will post your corrections. The only thing I can think of is that The Rookie is being projected on the newest TI 2k DLP projector at the El Capitan, and that somehow you thought digital projection was the same 24p recording, but as you know there are currently only 50 DLP's on line in the US, although George is trying to boost that to 150 before Return of the Clones is released. I look forward to your response sincerely John Schwartzman ASC

Date sent: Mon, 01 Apr 2002 10:33:33 -0800 Ross I re-read your review, and one of the shots you mentioned was in fact a shot that was fixed digitally, and like an optical it has a duped quality to it. The shot of Rachel on the porch was soft(out of focus) so we digitally fixed it the best we could, rather than use a lesser performance. Since this movie was made of 9 million below the line, one quarter of the visual effects budget on Pearl Harbor, we didn't have the money to fix it properly, at the time the studio didn't realize how good this film was and when they did it was too late we had to shoot the IP(interpositive), so I could take it to ILM to do it properly. John Schwartzman ASC

Date sent: Mon, 01 Apr 2002 10:38:18 -0800 Ross, If the image quality were gorgeous, something I have a reputation of doing better than any other DP working today, the movie wouldn't have worked, this is the Last Picture Show, not The Natural. I'm sorry you didn't connect with the look the way A.O. Scott, Ken Turan, Joe Morganstern, and USA Today did. P.S. I'm very glade you show so much interest in Cinematography, in addtion to American Cinematographer, call local 600 and have them send you the International Photographers Guild magazine, it's pretty good. John Schwartzman ASC

Date sent: Tue, 2 Apr 2002 00:39:06 Hi John, Thank you for writing in and setting the record straight. As a matter of fact, we did screen the film at the El Capitan ... and no doubt the film was digitally projected. Have you seen the film projected both ways? Notice any differences? In the meantime, I'd like to reconcile my error by posting your emails at the end of that article. May I have your permission for that? again, thanks for the feedback. It's certainly only fair that we reviewers are open for review by filmmakers and talent.

Date sent: Tue, 02 Apr 2002 10:21:52 -0800 Thanks for your reply, I by no means meant too infer that your critique of my cinematography was in error, you are entitled to your interpretation, only that from a technical standpoint I wanted to set the record straight. I am actually looking forward to the day when digital surpasses film in terms of image quality but right now we are not close. 16mm film a superior resolution, color and depth to the best the Panavision/Sony 24 p system has to offer. George shot Return of the Clones on digital video because every shot required compositing on an inferno, and that requires you to scan the photo-chemical film image to a digital file, much like a flatbed scanner does, this is both slow and expensive, however the quality is better. Since Clones is entirely in a digital format all the shots will look the same, as opposed to the digital shot of Rachel on the porch which jumped out at you, the difference in quality between 6.5K resolution of silver atoms on a piece of film and 2k, the best digital scan we could afford. Our original film image had 3 times the information then the digital fix, it could have been much better but that it studio economics.

I have seen the film projected both ways and I must say an anamorphic dupe print still looks better, but we are at the end of that technology, the digital projection looks pretty good and is only going to get better. As you know the studio's are pushing for this because the savings of shooting on tape are minimal to the costs of making release prints. Disney spent 12 million dollars purchasing raw stock and making dailies, they spent over a hundred million making prints and shipping them, only to then store 10,000 Pearl Harbor prints in a salt mine, if you were the studio what would you be pushing for? The interest in digital as an originating media comes from the fact that our DV cams are getting better and with final cut pro 3 and a dvd burner you can make great quality images for the world of NTSC tv but not hi def or theaters, just look at how bad last years Anniversary Party looking the great John Bailey asc shot that.

Thanks again for your interest, if you have any technical questions email me or call the American Society of Cinematographers, we are always happy to share. John Schwartzman

Date sent: Tue, 2 Apr 2002 11:55:10Thanks again John for the insider insight. I've seen footage shot on 24p then transfered to film for projection. Then the same footage digitially projected. I was impressed. Not, as gorgious as film, but for the first time -- acceptable (that was over a year ago) on the big screen. That left me to thinking that digital projection was true. I may have also seen some 35 projected digitally too ... but I just don't recall specifics. I must say, I'm quite surprised by the digital artifacts presented at that el capitan screening of the Rookie. I'm happy that they went unnoticed by your average viewer (even reviewer); and the two-shot on the porch is completely understandable given your explanation; but the jitter in the pan? Where did that come from? Wouldn't the film to digi transfer run frame by frame without + or - games? Were you able to view the film at the elcapitan as well?

Anyway, I've still got to make some sort of amendment to my article, conceding my error in guessing that the production originated in the digi world. I'd like to do that by including your responses -- not only because it's fair, but because I'm also fascinated by this whole discussion, so I suspect readers will be too. A hardy education (I come from a teaching background). Would that be okay with you? Ross.

Date sent: Tue, 02 Apr 2002 13:14:24 -0800 Please use whatever you would like. The jitter is what we call strobing and this is due to the aspect ratio 2.40/1, the wider the aspect ratio the more susceptable you are to strobing. Watch the opening of The Last Emperor projected and you'll see it. The rule of thumb for an anamorphic frame is 7 seconds to pan an object from one side of the screen to the other, lens choice and lighting also have an effect. This strobing is sometimes called a "picket fence" effect. John


Date sent: Fri, 05 Apr 2002 22:29:59 Slo-motion is absolutely not only possible, but done each and every day very effectively on video "in the camera" (actually in the recorder portion). And completely tranferrable to film, if you go down a generation (which is nothing with a digital/component signal).In fact, in slo-mo, video actully picks up more grayscale and looks even closer to film, when viewed on a video monitor or TV set. Slo-mo video can be tranferred like any other image to film, and as digital imaging gets better, the "look" begins to approximate film. It comes down to lines of resolution and colemetry (color efficientcy). Hi-Def is about 1125 lines of horizontal res and a film image is over 2500. So video still looks different. Not bad, just different. When you transfer to film for projection, it can look remarkably good from Hi-def. The "magic" of film comes from the grayscale, which is much higher in film (because of more res)than even Hi-def, and grayscale is picked up in the transfer.Kodak made some experimental 2500 line cameras and they looked awesome. Virtually indistingushable from film, and I think Lucas may be using that type of camera. But they're finicky, very expensive, not good in weather, hard to fix, and you can't bang them around with forgivness. And since right now, you got to go to film for distribution, it's easier to just shoot the thing on film at the moment, and take advantage of digital, non-linear editing. It's changing slowing though, and there will be a day......Anyway, sorry to be boring, but it happens to be a subject near and dear...Best, Larry Gitlin, Producer/Expert in Digital Media

(To read about a major release that really was shot 100% digitally click here and/or read my Star Wars Episode II article.)

  • The Rookie. Copyright © 2002. Rated G.
  • Starring Dennis Quaid, Rachel Griffiths, Jay Hernandez, Beth Grant, Angus T. Jones, Brian Cox, Rick Gonzalez, Chad Lindberg, Angelo Spizzirri, Royce D. Applegate.
  • Directed by John Lee Hancock.
  • Screenplay by Mike Rich.
  • Based on the real life story of Jim Morris.
  • Produced by Gordon Gray, Mark Ciardi, Mark Johnson at Disney.


Copyright © 2001. Ross Anthony, currently based in Los Angeles, has scripted and shot documentaries, music videos, and shorts in 35 countries across North America, Europe, Africa and Asia. For more reviews visit:

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Last Modified: Saturday, 16-Sep-2006 07:55:44 PDT