The State of Cinema: Poor Projection Quality is Here to Stay - Unless You Make a Difference

December 8, 2007
By Alex Billington

It's been mentioned as one of the major problems with movie theaters these days, but usually gets pushed to the bottom of the list below rowdy teenagers and over-priced concessions and tickets - poor projection quality. In theaters all around the world, movies play out-of-focus, framed incorrectly, with low volume or bad sound, and no one says anything or even cares. Back in April I even wrote an article when a screening of Disturbia turned out terrible at a local Landmark theater and it aggravated me enough to say something about it. Thanks to a recent post at Jeffrey Wells’ Hollywood Elsewhere, we get one of the best explanations as to why this issue persists.

A reader first sent in a letter complaining about a screening of Sweeney Todd that was a disaster in terms of projection, and in turn another response from Wells and the reader came about with some great points. Here's the underlying dilemma with cinema projection, as described by Hollywood Elsewhere's reader:

Wrecktum remarked that "the biggest travesty" affecting the poor-projection-standards problem in the nation's theatres "is that audiences never care. They'll sit through a movie with green scratches on all reels, digital sound dropping out every few minutes, the image hanging half off the screen…bad splices, bad dirt, bad everything. And they don't seem to mind."

I couldn't have found a more perfect explanation as to why this issue consistently occurs. Jeffrey Wells kicks in his own statement too, saying: "The underlying factor is that most moviegoers don't seem to even notice when projection standards are poor (largely because they've never seen films projected the right way, as they are in studio screening rooms and theaters like L.A.'s Arclight), and of these 99.9% would rather suffer in silence than speak up."

Wouldn't you feel much more satisfied spending $10 on a ticket if you could distinctly tell the difference between the visual and aural quality at your local theater and your 72? HDTV at home? I know I am much more satisfied, but that's cause I'm a bit spoiled by screenings at the best theaters in the world, like the Arclight and on studio lots as Wells mentioned. I've been sent DVD screeners of movies and have refused to watch them because I want to see them at the movie theater where the visual quality is just that much better. But I want to fight for everyone else, because I hate going down to my local movie theater to catch some movie and I watch it with barely audible sound and a completely out-of-focus picture - it destroys the experience for me and everyone else.

"If only 10% of moviegoers had my attitude (i.e., politely but firmly pointing out problems if they exist), projection would be improved all around because squeaky wheels always get the grease." Here's where we need all of you to take action. If you don't speak up and make sure your theater, wherever it is, has got their projection quality under control, then poor projection quality will be here to stay forever. And once you finally see that one movie with perfect projection that one time, you'll quickly start to realize how bad everything else looks and how much you really want to watch every movie you see with perfect projection. Then you'll start to realize your ticket price is certainly worth it.

As much as I can sit here and complain and point out the obvious issues with the state of cinema these days, I can't be the only one going out and changing the world. There are just too many movie theaters and too many stubborn movie theater managers for me to achieve that alone. The sooner everyone starts improving the state of cinema together, the sooner we will all start enjoying the experience more. It's been said enough (by me and others like Jeffrey Wells), and those of you know who it, preach it - the experience at the movie theater is unique and worthwhile if everything is right, and that starts with making sure the projection quality is perfect.

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