Digital Projection Not Always Perfect

posted by danpetitpas on December 1, 2008 at 7:45 am

The public may think digital cinema is perfect but that’s not the case. Quite frequently things go wrong such as during an advance screening of the new Brad Pitt movie “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” when the picture was green and no amount of tweaking could change that. The screening was canceled.

Other recent snafus include a screening of Steven Soderbergh’s Spanish-language “Che” where it played without subtitles for 15 minutes before the showing was canceled. A few weeks later, subtitles from “Che” played during a screening of “Doubt.” In that case, the problem was quickly fixed.

However, digital projection did provide an advantage when a woman became ill during a screening of “Revolutionary Road.” After an ambulance took the woman away, the projectionist was able to rewind the film a few minutes to the audience could get the full impact of the film. If it was film, it would have had to be done in real time, delaying the picture even more.

Read more in Variety.

Comments (24)

PEP on December 1, 2008 at 2:17 pm

I would like to see Doubt with the subtitles for Che. Perhaps it would be like the Dark Side of Oz.

John Fink
John Fink on December 1, 2008 at 7:03 pm

To quote Nelson from the Simpsons “ha ha” – its only a matter of time before we start seeing this type of thing at our mainstream multiplex, with clueless managers and staff who will insist there is no problem. As I’ve said film projection has only been around for the last 100+ years and there are theaters that still can’t get it right. It’s simple to flip on a switch, turn on a server and project digital, but when the big problems happen (like the above), it should be interesting to see how they manage. I say this because a certain theater I know of, and sadly still go to because its close just got a digital projector for Bolt 3-D, and while it looked fine, I’m sure its only a matter of time before they screw things up over there.

markp on December 1, 2008 at 8:05 pm

I LOVE it. I have been saying, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!!!! But all I get are comments how this digital crap is going to be the end all be all. Go ahead, go see your movies in digital. Me, I’ll stick with good old 35MM. Actually 70MM would be even better!!!

Vito on December 2, 2008 at 5:20 am

Ohhhh I have to jump in here.
I am always thrilled when I her of the problems with Digital pojection. Computers will and always will do what ever they please anytime they please, and as a rule we have little or no control over that. The kinds of problems outlined in that article are just the tip of the iceburg, To those who thought missed changeovers and platter jams were bad, Let me quote the great Al Jolson and say
“You ain’t seen nothing yet.
The picture and sound quality is rather good I will admit, but it is not all that much better than good ole film, especially 70mm.
I also believe the guys switching to Digital are doing it for one reason and one reason alone, MONEY. The long range savings are huge for just about everyone from the studios to the theatre owners, but the long range will also bring problems that will make them wish for the day when the had the stabilty of motion picture film.
You know the confidence has to be low when at Radio City Music Hall when ever they run anything Digital a film backup is run at the same time just in case.
Don’t be to quick to put that final nail in films coffin, cause like Dracula it will rise again. At least that is what this silly old man hopes for anyway. Digital instead of film?…Humbug!

markp on December 2, 2008 at 6:08 am

Just to add to what my good friend vito said, and man did he hit the nail on the head, but what about how all these film companies dont want to strike any more new prints for revival houses. I have had the pleasure of running reel-to-reel on occasion, and let me tell you, it is great to be able to make those changeovers so seamlessly. (I’m sure vito would agree) But without any new 35MM prints being struck, I’m afraid revival houses are going to go the way of the covered wagon. Because we all know, none of them will spend the money it takes to convert to digital, and they only use it a handfull of times a year. And THAT gets a BAAA HUMBUG!!!!!

JodarMovieFan on December 2, 2008 at 7:10 am

Of the many times I have seen DP movies since ‘01; in various venues throughout the DC area, two in Hollywood and 3x in NYC, I can count three times that something went wrong with the presentation, but in no way was the movie cancelled or restarted.

Contrast that to the times where the film went off track to lose either 1) picture, 2) sound, 3) both at my local Regal and other chains such as AMC, National Amusement, etc…there’s a big difference. Even if the film was on track and in focus, the print may not be as bright, or may have scratches due to bad handling. So the question is really, do I put up with lousy film projection and a lousy theatrical experience just because its on film that could be out of focus, scratched, or somehow not treated well?

Sorry, I’d rather have digital with all its “faults” such as a cleaner picture and clearer sound, with Team Member Horace Kowkovsky pushing the DLP Projector button, with his popcorn faux butter laden finger then having to mess up with a reel of film, thank you.

In either case, there’s going to be problems with either format. Neither is perfect. As far as the Benjamin Button preview, they were dumb not to have some kind of backup available or pre-screened it to make sure everything ran right.

Bill Huelbig
Bill Huelbig on December 2, 2008 at 8:25 am

They did pre-screen Benjamin Button, twice. But they should have had a film backup.

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IanJudge on December 2, 2008 at 9:50 am

JodarMovieFan highlights why people buy into the “digital presentation is better” mentality: because the major chains have let 35mm film presentation sink so low in quality, people will take a lesser and still unperfected system (digital) just to eradicate the lack of human effort and caring that has resulted in poor film projection. It is a pity, but given the level of mediocrity at the multiplex, I can’t blame the consumer. I do however blame the exhibition industry for cannibalizing and ruining the magical experience of the movies. The digital conversion will happen because 1) the studios save billions, and 2) the majority of theaters don’t even understand the basic nature of the business (film exhibition/presentation) they claim to be in – they are just selling food and advertising now, and if they could get away with just showing slides and selling food, they would do so.

MPol on December 2, 2008 at 11:22 am

Ian M. Judge, thanks for this. Really..thank you. This post says it all in a nutshell. Because of today’s commercialism of EVERYTHING, including the movie business, digital cinema is yet furthur evidence of that..and this coming from someone who admittedly doesn’t really know diddley-squat about the movie business, except for love of movies, especially older ones. Commercialism, imo, has removed pretty much all understanding of the magical quality of seeing real films at real movie palaces, as opposed to the antiseptic-looking multiplex cinemas that continue to dot the landscape of the USA and play mostly schlocky movies of today.

I would supposed that there may be advantages and disadvantages to both film and digital, but I’d hate to see the revival movie houses, such as Brattle, Somerville, etc., go the way of cinema heaven.

CinemarkFan on December 2, 2008 at 11:23 am

If anything, this “Benjamin Button” mishap is a premonition of what’s to come. Hollywood’s disturbing habit of rushing things are slowly but surely catching up to them. They fool people into thinking that digital is “sooo much better”, and they spend all this amount of money to convert these screens, yet they could be restarting a much better format in 70MM. I don’t care what anyone says, but digital will NEVER top the quality of 70MM. Come to think of it, a 35MM print fresh from the labs often top digital.

This is what Hollywood should be looking at

Did I mention that a 35/70MM projector costs about 20/30 grand, and even less if it’s reburbished? And it can last for decades? The new 4k’s are about 150/200k, and could break down in five years. Or in a night.

Giles on December 2, 2008 at 11:48 am

I’ve seen some pretty bad DLP screenings. Nearly the entire ‘Golden Compass’ in DLP had a very distinct and annoying flicker. ‘30 Days for Night’ shut time several times and the audio dropped out at the beginning, resulting in silence for nearly ten minutes. It eventually had to be stopped and restarted from the beginning. Audio dropout during ‘Nightmare Before Christmas 3D’

question: how are these problems occuring, I thought these ‘films’ were on harddrive discs – is it the fault of how the disc was mastered? Or is the system somehow reading it wrong?

Giles on December 2, 2008 at 11:58 am

As for the idea and actual implementation of digital systems in and around the Washington DC area – it’s STILL all 35mm. Hollywood wants to think that digital is the future, but seeing how few chains and studios are not converting, seems to be a major contradiction. AMC and Regal at one point were talking about mass conversions of their theatres nationally, but that appears to have come to a complete standstill – going digital is not all about the “money”.

MovieTix86 on December 2, 2008 at 1:13 pm

Most of the films I have seen in DP have been fine. However, there were a few screenings that were not perfect. When I saw “The Nightmare Before Christmas 3D” this past October, there were flickering and refresh rate issues throughout the screening. Also, the 3D had very little depth compared to the screening I saw last year.

There were several issues during a screening of “Bolt in Disney Digital 3D”. There was a pink hue when the theater snipes were shown at the start of the screening, which prompted the projectionist to stop and replay it. When the snipes were replayed, they still suffered from the problem. Most of the film previews shown afterward were scoped. Only two or three were made to fit the entire screen. The auditorium lights came back up when the movie started. When the lights were switched back off, the pink hue returned for several seconds and then the projector was shut off with sound still running. After about 30 seconds, the projector was turned back on and the rest of the presentation was fine.

MPol on December 2, 2008 at 3:18 pm

Excellent points well taken, CinemarkFan. Thanks.

moviebuff82 on December 2, 2008 at 3:29 pm

During a screening of Ratatouille at the AMC in Paramus, the projection was blurry since I sat too close to the screen. The 3D Nightmare movie was too dark due to watching it with 3D glasses. And during screenings of movies at the Mansfield theater, some of the surrounds did not work and on one of the screens, the picture was a bit upward.

vic1964 on December 2, 2008 at 3:30 pm

I was looking at a 2D show on a Real D set up with a curved screen and was surprised how much the silver screen ruined the image brightness uniformity.It hotspots directly in front of you and follows you when you move side to side!Also the screen is too shiny which spoils it completely for me.If this is the future i will watch my DLP projection at home with BLU-RAY.

markp on December 2, 2008 at 7:41 pm

What’s this?? Justin the biggest of the ‘I love digital’ fans says a digital movie was blurry because he sat to close to the screen?? I guess that means that when all the theatres have digital in a few years (perish the thought) that the first say 10 rows cant be sold because the picture will be blurry. Don’t seem to have that problem with good old 35 or 70MM. Makes you wonder…

What do you think Cinemark?? How about you vito?? Never mind…I know what you all think…and I couldn’t agree more.

CinemarkFan on December 2, 2008 at 11:29 pm

“I guess that means that when all the theatres have digital in a few years (perish the thought) that the first say 10 rows cant be sold because the picture will be blurry. Don’t seem to have that problem with good old 35 or 70MM. Makes you wonder…”

Last year I went to see “Beowulf” in 3D, and the 3D scenes were at times, straning to the eyes. I often had to rub them so I could enjoy it. Hollywood will tell you that it brings lots of crowds, yet it grossed 82 million out of it’s 150 million budget.

And there was a similar thing with “Superman Returns” in IMAX 3D. The picture quailty in the 3D scenes weren’t very good. But…

I had to sit in the front row when I saw “W”, and guess what? No blurry images. Very little grain was visible. And it was a 35MM presentation.

Bill Huelbig
Bill Huelbig on December 3, 2008 at 8:09 am

When the Ziegfeld in NY showed “Goldfinger” in digital last year, I sat in the front row and was pleasantly surprised at how good it looked. I was expecting to see pixelation all over the place, and there was none. Since Justin had a problem, I guess it depends on the theater and the equipment.

Bill Huelbig
Bill Huelbig on December 3, 2008 at 8:42 am

Correction: that “Goldfinger” show was in April of this year, 2008. Time is going by so fast …

Giles on December 5, 2008 at 5:24 am

to further expand on what I said in my prior posting , its also very interesting how different theatre’s systems deliver different results. ‘Meet the Robinsons’ at Regal Rockville the 3D effects were inferior than when I saw it Tysons. ‘Nightmare Before Christmas’ was too dark at Tysons, Gallery Place the image was brighter resulting in a better image (the 5.1 sound was also superior). The IMAX digital presentation of ‘Madagascar 2’ trounced the 35mm print by a landslide, wiht consistent solid bright colours. While DLP presentation of ‘300’, ‘Tropic Thunder’ and ‘3:10 to Yuma’ at Cinema De Lux were excellent, ‘Bolt’ in 3D was disappointing, the image was too dark a result of the glasses and possibly not enough light from the projector but the few instances of brightness revealed the screen’s creases, this wasn’t apparent when ‘300’ was viewed on the same screen, but for ‘Bolt’ they were very apparent and a major deterence.

TLSLOEWS on March 31, 2011 at 8:38 am

Digital.Digital,Digital,Big Deal,just like any other form of projection has its problems.

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on April 2, 2011 at 12:23 pm

YOU said Tis.I would perfer 35mm film.In dirty Film Cans with Dozens of old stickers on them.

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