01
Jun
11

Dim Bulbs: 3D, Digital Projection, and the Movie Experience

A slew of articles and blog posts came out last week reigniting the hot button topic of movies shown in the third dimension.

So last week a story ran in the Boston Globe blog about area theaters running dark showings of digitally projected 2D films, with the main problem stemming from a 3D lens on Sony digital projectors not being removed for 2D films:

A description of the problem comes from one of several Boston-area projectionists who spoke anonymously due to concerns about his job . . . He explains that for 3-D showings a special lens is installed in front of a Sony digital projector that rapidly alternates the two polarized images needed for the 3-D effect to work.

“When you’re running a 2-D film, that polarization device has to be taken out of the image path. If they’re not doing that, it’s crazy, because you’ve got a big polarizer that absorbs 50 percent of the light.’’

-Excerpt from A movie lover’s plea: Let there be light by Ty Burr, Boston Globe

What makes this story so poignant is that it piles on to the ever growing battle between moviegoers and studios/theater owners. More specifically, it gives us moviegoers even more of a reason to hate putting on those glasses.

My stance on 3D has been this: I hate it. Ok well, I don’t hate it, but I definitely do not prefer paying a higher ticket price for glasses that I don’t want to put on my face. This mainly stems from the fact that I’ve had to wear glasses/contacts since I was in the 7th grade; and let me tell you something . . . you do not wear glasses if you can help it (which is why I pretty much wear my contacts from when I get up till I go to sleep.) So yes, if I can help it, I try not to see films projected in 3D. And I’m sure I’m not the only moviegoer that feels this way.

The Truth of the Matter


Well then the question becomes, “Why do we have these godforsaken glasses to begin with?” Apparently it’s a money thing:

But there is also a deeper problem: 3-D has provided an enormous boost to the strongest films, including “Avatar” and “Alice in Wonderland,” but has actually undercut middling movies that are trying to milk the format for extra dollars.

“Audiences are very smart,” said Greg Foster, the president of Imax Filmed Entertainment. “When they smell something aspiring to be more than it is, they catch on very quickly.”

After a disappointing first half of the year, Hollywood is counting on a parade of 3-D films to dig itself out of a hole. From May to September, the typical summer season, studios will unleash 16 movies in the format, more than double the number last year. . . . . The need is urgent. The box-office performance in the first six months of 2011 was soft — revenue fell about 9 percent compared with last year, while attendance was down 10 percent — and that comes amid decay in home-entertainment sales.

-Excerpt from 3-D Starts to Fizzle, and Hollywood Frets by Brooks Barnes and Michael Cieply, NYTimes

Basically, Hollywood is looking to recoup lost revenue from other areas and they’re making 3D films to offset these losses. Theater owners are being obligated to show 3D and digital films because that’s what Hollywood is impressing upon them.

Local Implications?

So how does any of this affect us here in Hawaii (more specifically Oahu)? Well the cost of seeing 3D films is generally the same nationwide . . . moviegoers here along with our mainland counterparts pay a surcharge (ranging anywhere from $3-$5) to see movies in 3D. After the higher ticket price though, one can only wonder if local theaters here on Oahu may be falling prey to what’s happening in Boston with dim digital projection on 2D movies. This even sparked a small discussion on Twitter last week on whether or not the practice was being applied here:

Conversation begins on the bottom and works its way up.

While as of right now no one can really be certain, I’d like to think that our local cinemas aren’t following this practice. I’ve patroned both Consolidated and Regal Cinemas and haven’t found this to be a problem as described in the Boston Globe piece. As I note in my Twiiter conversation, this may only be an issue with our local Regal cinemas as they use Sony projectors with RealD 3D technology (which are the projectors that the Boston Globe piece calls into question). In the end, though it may be Sony’s design flaw in their projectors and Hollywood’s insistence on producing 3D films that are driving factors, it’s ultimately in the hands of theater operators that us moviegoers have to put our faith and trust in to deliver us movie magic . . .

Their [Ty Burr & Roger Ebert] general concern is correct.  A theater should NEVER be underlit.  There are industry standards for acceptable light levels for both 3D and 2D presentations.  Cinemas should always operate within this range.  Alamo owns a light meter and we check light levels on all of our screens monthly at a minimum, sometimes as much as weekly.  It is a very easy tool to operate, all cinemas should own one, despite the reasonably high price.

-Alamo Drafthouse CEO Tim League, Agreeing and Disagreeing with Roger Ebert on Dim Projection

I think that in the long run what it comes down to is moviegoers standing up for ourselves. One way that we are already showing it is by seeing 2D viewings in lieu of 3D ones. Data has already shown that this past weekend, the highest grossing weekend at the box office so far this year, was skewed towards 2D rather than 3D. Hopefully if trends like this continue, it will send a clear message that moviegoers don’t want 3D.

However, this may not be enough and we may need to be more proactive by bringing attention to bad theater experiences to theater management. Yes, sometimes the “one person can make a difference” mentality can seem a bit cliche’d, but if we don’t do it, who will?

I began by asking if you notice, really notice, what a movie looks like. I have a feeling many people don’t. They buy their ticket, they get their popcorn and they obediently watch what is shown to them. But at some level there is a difference. They feel it in their guts. The film should have a brightness, a crispness and sparkle that makes an impact. It should look like a movie! — not a mediocre big-screen television . . . A movie should leap out and zap you, not recede into itself and get lost in dimness.

-Excerpt from The dying of the light by Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

Next time you go to the theater, think about what that $10+ ticket you’re paying for is getting you. Then decide if it’s worth it to take a stand or not. What’s the value of the movie experience to you?

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1 Response to “Dim Bulbs: 3D, Digital Projection, and the Movie Experience”



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