Garbage Day: The End of the Movie Theater Experience

Written by Shawn Lotte August 01, 2011

Welcome to Garbage Day where I, Doctor Lotte, will talk about things that I don’t like, and some things I do, but mostly I will talk about shit. Relax, enjoy and don’t forget to take out your trash.

Today’s Garbage: The Downfall of the Movie Theater Experience.

I’m taking a break from talking about movies I hate to bring an important problem to your attention: the movies you go see now are not worth the money you pay. Now I’m not talking about the movie’s worth or some shit like that, rather I am referring to the experience you have at the theater and the quality of the movies you are seeing. Most notably the screen quality and brightness of picture.

First a little story: I recently went to see “Cowboy’s and Aliens” in a newly built theater with all the bells and whistles. During the showing I noticed that the screen was a little blurry and dark. I thought maybe it was just me, but when I asked my girlfriend if she saw it too, she replied yes. To give you an example of how dark the picture was I will say this: in one particular scene one of the characters, a little boy, ran away from an alien and hid behind some object, but I had no idea what. In that moment there was suppose to be a jump scare, but when it happened I could not tell the direction the Alien popped out of, thus it was not scary. I felt the same for all scenes in the dark, and there were many of them. Unfortunately, this was not the way the movie was meant to look and completely spoiled my time with the film.

Notice how dark he is, now imagine that for all the night scenes in the movie. Awesome, huh?

In a recent article by Roger Ebert, he describes the phenomenon of dim image quality as something that has been around for some time. In the past, bad lighting was a case of movie theaters not turning the bulbs in the cameras to their proper wattage, say 3000w, but rather they turned it to 2000w. This was a way to save money and energy. Now the phenomenon is due to something else, something I have been hating on since its beginning. 3D!!!!!  Yes, my friends, the problem stems from 3D – you know that new way to charge you more money for a shitty image? But the issue here is that shitty image is translating to 2D films as well and now everyone has to pay for a shitty picture.

See how awesome 3D is. You can barely tell it's a German Shepard.

Ebert continually cites writer Ty Burr’s article regarding the image quality of films, stating that, “Some 3D projectors, particularly those made by Sony, produce ‘gloomy, underlit’ images of 2D films.” There is a reason for this he continues:

Many theater managers have made a practice of leaving the 3D lenses on the projectors when playing a 2D film.” The result is explained by an anonymous projectionist: “For 3D showings a special lens is installed in front of a Sony digital projector that rapidly alternates the two polarized images needed for the 3D effect to work. When you’re running a 2D 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.”

Furthermore, the act of removing the lens might seem simple, but one theater that was designated to show films for Oscar consideration did not switch the lens and when asked about the picture quality the operator said, “The process of shifting both the lens and changing the silver screen to a white matter screen, which they were equipped to do, was too time-consuming.” It’s not all cameras either; Ebert says the issue is with Sony 4K digital projectors. It appears they are complicated to change the lens, and if not done correctly could shut the machine down.

I guess this is what the Sony 4K looks like. Kind of looks like it would fuck me up if I owed it money.

What does this mean then? Well it means that no matter what you, the audience, does you are going to get the same shit image you would get with 3D. It’s stated that you loss 50% of light with a 3D lens, but some people don’t notice. My friends with me during C&A did not, but I sure as hell did. Maybe it’s a taste thing or maybe, like Ebert says, film critics have a trained eye for this stuff. But if I notice and many others do then it’s there and it should not be taken lightly. It’s not to say we should start picketing or stop going to the movies anymore, but we should let our voices be heard if the picture is not up to the standards we are entitled to.

That’s it for this article, sadly no swearing or craziness only because I don’t take this situation lightly, but if you want some good ol’ Shawn pissin and moanin here you go: STOP STEALING OUR FUCKING MONEY YOU BULLSHIT PIECES OF SHIT MOVIE THEATERS AND LET ME WATCH A MOVIE AS IT WAS MEANT TO BE SEEN, 2D AND WITH A FUCKING GREAT PICTURE.

Love, Shawn


At the end of Ebert’s article he cites Matthew Humphries from with some helpful ways to avoid shitty picture quality at the movies. Here ya go:

• The title of the movie listed by the theater will have a “D” after it if it is being shown on a digital projector

• If you are in a D movie, look at the projector window when seated. If you see two stacked beams of light it is a Sony projector with the 3D lens still on.

• A single beam of light means no 3D lens, or a different make of projector that doesn’t have the issue

• If you see the two beams, then get up and go complain. You paid good money to see the movie, so make a fuss until they either give you back that money or remove the lens. Seeing as that’s an involved and time-consuming process, expect a refund.

Here is Ebert’s article in full:

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  1. Josh Litman

    great article. i guess i was lucky, i watched the film without such an issue, but i can see that being a pain in the ass

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