3D - love it or hate it, it's taking over as a mainstream cinema projection format, and the necessity of having 3D projectors on tap has driven many theaters to transition to digital equipment in more of their screening rooms. A better experience for all, right?
But some moviegoers — film directors among them — have complained that digitally screened versions of current films have seemed underlit, or washed out. An investigation by The Boston Globe turned up a projectionist (who spoke to the paper anonymously; he's known for now only under the pseudonym "Deep Focus") who placed the blame on misuse of Sony's 4K projection system.
Turns out the 3D lens is so difficult to remove and remount (and doing so requires authorization from above; something difficult to obtain on a screening-by-screening basis, especially in theater chains with no clear policy on the matter), that projectionists in many Boston-area theaters (and, we assume, nationwide) simply leave the 3D lenses on for 2D showings. The results? Significantly less light makes it to the screen, and the resulting image — dim and washed out to begin with — is noticably softer in focus. Another anonymous source described the results as "serving people pigeon burgers and telling them its grade-A beef."
One is reminded of Walter Murch's objections to the resurgence of 3D cinema — its inherently smaller, darker image — but Murch never suggested that 3D would, ultimately, leave 2D cinema in the dark. The question is, of course, whether the majority of moviegoers notice — or care. Consumers have been willing to accept less from digital formats for some time now, and the ever-steepening price of cinema admission may well bring with it a healthy dose of self-deception — and the Boston investigation turned up few attendees at the affected theaters who were able to point to any deficiencies in their experiences.
The Globe was unable to get a comment on the issue from Sony, and the major theater chains the paper's reporting team did speak with suggested that no policy was in place to govern 3D projector use for 2D screenings. Doubtless more information will emerge in the coming days, and we're anxious to know more.
(addendum, May 31, 2011 - Tim League of Austin's Alamo Drafthouse Lamar and Village points out that though the Sony system does make lens swapping a challenge, the problem can be addressed by swapping out the polarizing filters alone, a much simpler process — the answer may really lie in theaters making regular checks, training staff, and establishing clear policy on their own.)
— Michael Berk
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