Noah J Nelson on Monday, May. 23rd
Movie theater tickets are so expensive these days that I often find myself wondering why I bothered going to the theater. Add in the jerks in the crowd who forget that they aren’t at home, or who just have to answer their cellphones, and I really wonder why I bother.
But it’s worth it for the high quality visual experience you just can’t get at home, right?
That is, if your theater isn’t cutting corners on the exhibition of the film. The Boston Globe’s Ty Burr tore the lid off a little movie house grift that’s going on his turf, and you just know it can’t be local. The theater chains justify the prices by way of that experience, luring us in with the promise of high quality digital projection:
Why, then, do so many of the movies look so terrible? This particular night “Limitless,’’ “Win Win,’’ and “Source Code’’ all seemed strikingly dim and drained of colors. “Jane Eyre,’’ a film shot using candles and other available light, appeared to be playing in a crypt. A visit to the Regal Fenway two weeks later turned up similar issues: “Water for Elephants’’ and “Madea’s Big Happy Family’’ were playing in brightly lit 35mm prints and, across the hall, in drastically darker digital versions.
The uniting factor is a fleet of 4K digital projectors made by Sony — or, rather, the 3-D lenses that many theater managers have made a practice of leaving on the projectors when playing a 2-D film.
I used to work in a theater for a few years, even graduating up the chain to the level of projectionist. When the digital projectors came in, it marked the end of an era. It made it a lot harder to have late night staff screenings for one. It was also supposed to be a lot easier to deal with.
As Burr breaks it down in the Globe article, that just didn’t wind up being the case. Those Sony projectors have an all but jury rigged 3D lens system put on top of the projector that requires a skilled projectionist, often a union guy, to swap out the lens. We all know how much chains love dealing with unions.
So who gets punished? That’s right- us. The folks plunking down a month’s worth of Netflix fees on one film. It’s numbskull thinking like this that has killed the American cineplex. When the only competitive advantage you have is quality you better do everything in your power to keep that edge.
Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out what just might be the most depressing piece of the article: the bit where the theater patrons the Globe talks to can’t tell the difference. Maybe they’re just getting what they deserve.
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