Monday, August 07, 2006


Even though Blogger magically refused to post the piece I wrote yesterday, and didn't even save it as a draft, I'm not going to rewrite it. Basically, I went on and on about Talladega Nights: The Ballad Of Ricky Bobby, the new Will Ferrell comedy, and in a nutshell, it's funny and you should see it.

Unfortunately, my screening of it was also my first experience with the miracle of digital projection. This is, of course, the wave of the future: movies are downloaded from a satellite link and thrown on the screen. Film is no longer projected; it basically makes your local googleplex into a giant DVD player.

Theoretically, there could be advantages here: this would eliminate battered prints, or the inevitability, when a movie is opening in a thousand theaters, of poor quality prints being struck. Focus shouldn't be a problem, or the brightness of the image.

But. At the screening I attended, there were frequent blips, pauses on screen while the soundtrack buzzed. Computer glitches, in other words. They'd only last for a millisecond or two, but they were there, and irritating. And if this had been projected on film, they wouldn't have been there.

Since I was at a theater owned by Carmike Cinemas, I went to their website to try to find out more about how their system works. What I found were standard press releases, but very little real information. Links to newspaper stories about other Carmike theaters making the digital transition merely showed how clueless theater managers and executives really are, one actually claiming the difference between 35 mm film projection and digital projection was "like the difference between VHS and DVD." Well, no. Videotape looks blurry. Film, properly projected, looks amazingly clear.

And pure--watch a good Technicolor print of, say, Michael Powell's The Red Shoes and you'll be amazed by the gradations of color, how muted the reds are in one scene, only to pop off the screen in the next. This happened because Powell and cinematographer Jack Cardiff carefully chose their film stock, and worked closely with the lab to make sure the negative looked exactly as they wanted it to look. Film is maleable, in a way that digital technology isn't. It may get there, eventually, but right now it looks...well, it looks horrible, frankly.

Okay, I'm a movie geek, and stuff like that is more likely to bother me. But the glitches when I saw Talladega Nights were noticed (and grumbled about) by other audience members, especially as they became more frequent. Still, it's very possible that the public won't complain about things like this. They'll just come to expect it, the same way they expect their computers to crash periodically. With every new supposed advance in technology, our expectations seem be lowered.

Welcome to the future.