- Movie theaters aren’t doing enough to ensure that their audience is seeing a movie the way it is meant to be seen.
- Many theaters have little quality control over things like screen masking and projector brightness, and it has begun to hurt the moviegoing experience.
- We talked with two projection experts to help us understand what is going on inside the booth.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Following is a transcript of the video.
Narrator: Which looks better? This, or that? Well, what if I told you that you may have been paying a premium to see the worst version.
You know those black bars you sometimes see on the top, bottom or sides of a movie? They occur because movies are filmed at different frame sizes, or aspect ratios. “Lady Bird”, shot in widescreen should appear differently than “Star Wars”, which was shot in Cinemascope. A Cinemascope movie on your TV will have black bars on the top and bottom, while a movie theater masks the frame with retractable curtains. These curtains at Night Hawk Cinema in Brooklyn absorb the light and create a frame around the projected image. But take away the curtains and…
Chapin Cutler: When you don’t have masking what happens is you’ve got this gray area of screen which isn’t reflecting picture, it’s not reflecting the image. It just sort-of sits there and looks ugly. There is a move afoot by some theater circuits, I guess in order to save money, that have decided that, that’s a waste of money and they’re not gonna do it.
Narrator: That’s Chapin Cutler. He’s been working in the projection and theater business for over 40 years. The empty screen space can be distracting and takes away from the immersive experience of seeing a movie on the big screen.
Another problem? Projector brightness, which can be affected by the age and cleanliness of the bulb, along with any dirt or smudges that may be on the window of the projection booth. Some “Solo” attendees reported seeing extremely dark almost unviewable projections with a few saying that they had to struggle to see what was on screen.
Chapin Cutler: If the standard that’s been established for the amount of light that is supposed to be on the screen isn’t there, then not only does the picture look dark but you don’t see anything that goes on in the shadows. All of that information disappears.
Narrator: And if there was a 3D showing in the theater before a standard 2D showing a lens meant only for 3D movies may still be on the projector making the image two thirds darker than it should be.
Joe Muto: Showing something like that with a very low light level is gonna take away from it. If that’s the experience you walk away with that’s going to impede your positive judgment of the film, and that’s just gonna ruin it for you.
Narrator: Hurting both the team behind the movie and its viewers, and possibly creating customers who may not come back to that theater for a sub-par experience.
The issues aren’t limited to “Solo.” The past few years have seen numerous reports of theaters not doing enough to ensure quality screenings. Standard 2D movie tickets average about $US9.00 ($AU12) in the U.S. And almost twice that in places like New York City. But is the price of admission worth seeing a movie that is not being shown the way it is meant to? You can get a full 4K movie for 15 bucks. Why bother with what may be a questionable theater presentation if you can get cinema-like quality at home?
The picture may be bigger, and the sound may be better but if you’re having a bad theater experience, take note. If a theater has a dark blurry picture or leaves empty areas of the screen unmasked try a different theater. Many are still working hard to bring you the best picture possible.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in July 2018.