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3-D Press Screenings Cause Problems All Over the Country

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by Matt Singer
May 4, 2012 6:38 PM
6 Comments
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"The Avengers."

As film -- literal film, light through celluloid -- is hurriedly phased out and replaced by digital projection, one of the most popular arguments in favor of the transition is image consistency. Every time a film runs through a projector, it gets damaged. The longer a print stays in circulation, the worse its image degrades. Digital movies, on the other hand, experiences no such decay. A file is a file, and you can play it once or one thousand times and it will look exactly the same at every single viewing (assuming you don't, say, accidentally delete the entire movie). It is a model of consistency.

3-D, on the other hand, is the epitome of inconsistency. From screening to screening, and even from viewer to viewer at the same screening, no one experiences it the same way.  If you get the perfect seat at a screening with perfect projection, you might get a big kick out of the 3-D effects.  But how often does that happen?

Not too often. And it seems to be happening less and less frequently at press screenings. In fact, there's been a rash of recent incidents involving press screenings of "The Avengers" that were marred by bad 3-D projection.  In Boston, Eagle Tribune critic Greg Vellante complains about the dim image and murky colors at his "Avengers" screening, and as he notes, Boston was also the sight of another plea for projectorial sanity last year, when the Boston Globe's Ty Burr wrote about the lack of light at local 3-D screenings. And in Los Angeles, Movieline's Jen Yamato filed a dispatch on a "near-disastrous 3-D screening" at the city's upscale Arclight Cinemas. Arclight uses special active shutter 3-D glasses that work with an infrared signal broadcast inside the theater to switch shutters inside each pair of glasses and do other things which I do not pretend to understand which result in the illusion of three dimensional imagery. At Yamato's particular "Avengers" press screening something went wrong with the glasses, which sent numerous critics scrambling to the lobby to find a functioning pair. Yamato says she spent "15 minutes" running back and forth "sorting through literally dozens of pairs" until she found one that worked. Good luck trying to fairly and accurately review the movie after that.

Things can go wrong at any screening. Films can break, projectors can die, bulbs can burst, and fire alarms can go off.  But 3-D is just so much more accident and imperfection prone, that you're stacking the deck in favor of failure.  What's worse, the studios are stacking the deck in favor of their film's failure with critics. And that's dangerous. In the case of Vellante, he decided his experience had been too compromised to write something. But other folks reviewed the film, and bashed the 3-D (like James Verniere of The Boston Herald). Odds are, if you dislike the way a movie looks you're more inclined to dislike everything about it. 

It's in the studios' best interest to present critics with the best projection possible so they can get the best reviews possible. At the moment, that doesn't necessarily appear to be 3-D projection. Granted, they're releasing these movies in 3-D and they want people to see them in 3-D because that's a more expensive ticket than 2-D. But if they can't even get it right at the press screening, when the eyes of the distributor and the media are on them, what hope do they have to get it right at an 11 am Tuesday afternoon matinee when no one's paying attention?

Read more of Greg Vellante's "Critic, Smash!" and Jen Yamato's "'The Avengers' and the Case of the Near-Disastrous 3-D."

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More: 3-D

6 Comments

  • Matt | May 7, 2012 11:33 AMReply

    Having critics sit through this is nonsense. My theater has just about the same number of 3D as 2D screenings of The Avengers. Critics should also be able to choose whether they screen in 2D or 3D, as long as they specify this in their review.

  • Rosie | May 7, 2012 1:53 AMReply

    I first saw "AVATAR" in 3D and immediately regretted doing so. The movie did not require 3D to look good. I've tried hard to avoid 3D ever since the 2009. I have not always succeeded. But whenever I saw a movie in 3D, I have come to the conclusion that such an effect is a waste of time. Thankfully, I avoided a 3D screening of "THE AVENGERS" . . . and managed to enjoy the movie very much. When will filmmakers realize that 3D is only effective at amusement park attractions.

  • TC Kirkham | May 6, 2012 11:17 AMReply

    I have to be honest - the best 3D shows we've seen have been press or freebie sneak screenings. A lot of the times they go out of their way to make them as good as possible, and this includes AMC Boston Common, where I assume Greg Vellante had his experience. They're notorious for screens too dark, 3D off, etc and many a critic from Ty Burr to Jeffrey Wells have spouted off on them for it. But for our 3D experiences there, they've been the best. Now we were forced to buy 3D tickets for "The Avengers" because we bought them way in advance and our theater - Showcase Revere - doesn't even put the 2D on sale until one or two days before. And I have to say, while I loved the movie, I would have preferred the 2D; the 3D was virtually non-existent, and that's probably because this was a converted film - they're always worse than movies shot in the 3D process. Two such movies that had excellent use of the 3D were the goofy sci-fi thriller Darkest Hour and the dance doc Pina - excellent 3D in both of them. My wife and I generally have a rule - if it was shot in 2D, see the 2D version if at all possible, because the 3D will be less than perfect. If it was shot in 3D we usually risk it because it usually shows better quality in the 3D shots. The whole conversion problem is what I don't get when it comes to Peter Jackson's decision to shoot "The Hobbit" in 2D then convert it - it's going to be sub-standard that way, and if any film could really make excellent use of the 3D effects, it's anything from the Tolkien library turned into a film. Personally, I have to agree with Surprise- until regular 3D can match the scope and quality of what IMAX puts into it, and until those theaters that do a shoddy job of presenting 3D get their act together, it's not going to ever be a huge success...and I like the "community" idea too...:-)

  • Surprise | May 5, 2012 7:51 PMReply

    Finally. I now know it's not me. Most of my experiences in watching 3-D movies have been unpleasant to say the least. Murky, dark screen screens, images that don't quite cohere, and, not to forget, having to wear those dorky glasses. The only really worthwhile 3-D film experience I had was at an IMAX theater, watching one of those films that immerse you in an ocean-going experience. You know the one, where the water laps right up in front of you and dolphins and sharks swim by. That was great.

    Confronted by movies on cell-phones, the internet, and large screen home theaters, movie studios/theaters are turning to 3-D productions to augment their revenues, but it's the wrong strategy.
    3-D technology is not there yet in the theaters; movie directors are, for the most part, not inspired by the technology, and are simply including it in production because they have to; 3-D technology is becoming more available on home theater systems, so their special technical niche is not as secure as first thought.

    The only thing that will save movie theaters is focusing on their inherent strength: bringing people together in community to watch films. Movie theaters need to rethink their basic function. It's not offering films on the widescreen: it's creating communities around the experience of watching films.

  • Steve Warren | May 5, 2012 3:43 PMReply

    Good points, but..." 11 am Tuesday afternoon"?

  • Lnh | May 4, 2012 7:49 PMReply

    Good!
    This is how the public sees these movies, so it's about time the critics started rating the theaters. Owners don't seem to care as long as seats are filled. My at-home experience is better, so theater owners better start to care about more than concessions or I won't go back!

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