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The Dying of the Light 27 May 2011 01:27 #36265

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The Dying of the Light
By Roger Ebert on May 24, 2011 9:46 PM

Do you remember what a movie should look like? Do you notice when one doesn't look right? Do you feel the vague sense that something is missing? I do. I know in my bones how a movie should look. I have been trained by the best projection in the world, at film festivals and in expert screening rooms. When I see a film that looks wrong, I want to get up and complain to the manager and ask that the projectionist be informed. But these days the projectionist is tending a dozen digital projectors, and I will be told, "That's how it's supposed to look. It came that way from the studio."

The most common flaw is that the picture is not bright enough. I've been seeing that for a long time. In the years before digital projectors, the problem was often that tight-fisted theater owners weren't setting the Xenon bulbs in their projectors at the correct wattage, in the mistaken belief that dialing them down would extend the life of the expensive bulbs.

Not true. If you ran a 3000W bulb at 2000W, you'd extend its life by all of 2.3 percent. Yet when Martin Scorsese used people around the country to actually check theater brightness, he found most of the theaters involved were showing an underlit image. An Eastman Kodak spokesman told me in the late 1990s: "The irony is that their only real achievement is to cheat the customers."

That was then. This is now. Driven by a mania to abandon celluloid in favor of digital, increasing numbers of chains are installing 3D-ready digital projectors. As everyone can tell simply by taking off their 3D glasses, the process noticeably reduces the visible light from the screen. I got emails from readers saying the night scenes in "Pirates of the Caribbean" were so dim they were annoying.

Ah, but what if you saw the movie in 2D? As it happens, a lot of people did; Gitesh Pandya of reported: "less than half of the Pirates weekend gross came from 3D screens, with more opting for the 2D version." He attributes that to moviegoers being "cautious with their dollars." After the weekend, David Poland of ran the numbers and determined 60% of sales were in 2D and 40% in 3D: "Not only is this a clear rejection of 3D on a major movie, but given how distribution is currently designed, it makes you wonder whether Disney cost themselves a lot of gross by putting their film on too high a percentage of 3D screens."

There may have been a reason consumers shied away from 3D. An expertly written article by Ty Burr in the Boston Globe reports that some 3D projectors, particularly those made by Sony, produce "gloomy, underlit" images of 2D films. His article must have hit a nerve; and I've seen it posted and referred to all over the web. The newspaper found dark images on eight of the 19 screens at the high-end AMC Loews Boston Common on Tremont Street.

Burr wrote: "This particular night 'Limitless,' 'Win Win,' and 'Source Code' all seemed strikingly dim and drained of colors. 'Jane Eyre,' a film shot using candles and other available light, appeared to be playing in a crypt. A visit to the Regal Fenway two weeks later turned up similar issues: 'Water for Elephants' and 'Madea's Big Happy Family' were playing in brightly lit 35mm prints and, across the hall, in drastically darker digital versions." His observations indicated the problems centered on Sony projectors: "Digital projection can look excellent when presented correctly. Go into Theater 14 at the Common, newly outfitted with a Christie 4K projector, and you'll see a picture that is bright and crisp, if somewhat colder than celluloid."

He says there is a reason for this: "Many theater managers have made a practice of leaving the 3D lenses on the projectors when playing a 2D film." The result is explained by an anonymous projectionist: "For 3D showings a special lens is installed in front of a Sony digital projector that rapidly alternates the two polarized images needed for the 3D effect to work. When you're running a 2D film, that polarization device has to be taken out of the image path. If they're not doing that, it's crazy, because you've got a big polarizer that absorbs 50 percent of the light.''

Fifty percent! It can be worse than that. I quote: "Chapin Cutler, a cofounder of the high-end specialty projection company Boston Light & Sound, estimates that a film projected through a Sony with the 3D lens in place and other adjustments not made can be as much as 85 percent darker than a properly projected film." Your best bet is apparently to (1) find a theater that doesn't use digital at all, (2) doesn't use Sony projectors, or (3) still projects light through celluloid the traditional way.

Digital projectors have been force-fed to theaters by an industry hungry for the premium prices it can charge for 3D films. As I've been arguing for a long time, this amounts to charging you more for an inferior picture. The winners are the manufacturers of the expensive machines, and the film distributors. The hapless theaters still depend on concession sales to such a degree that a modern American theater can be described as a value-added popcorn stand.

I have an email from a Hollywood professional who writes me: "During the last awards season, I went to an Industry screening of 'The Social Network' at Sony Studios, in their James Stewart facility -- what they said was their best screening room. The movie looked dark and muddy; truly awful. Then I looked back and saw that the picture was emanating from a twin-lens rig. After the show, I complained to the projectionist about the image. He explained that the process of shifting both the lens and changing the silver screen to a white matter screen, which they were equipped to do, was too time-consuming. So he told me that his supervisor authorized showing the movie to Academy voters through the 3D lens, which looked like shit. And this is at Sony Studios. Just imagine how bad it is in the real world. It is as if the Industry is courting self-destruction."

Sony refused to comment on the Boston Globe article. At my recent Ebertfest, one seasoned director called the projection in the 90-year old Virginia Theater in Urbana-Champaign "the best I've ever seen." That's because we use two of the best projectionists in the nation, James Bond, who consults on high-level projection facilities, and Steve Kraus, of Chicago's Lake Street Screening Room.

Ty Burr writes: "So why aren't theater personnel simply removing the 3-D lenses? The answer is that it takes time, it costs money, and it requires technical know-how above the level of the average multiplex employee. James Bond, a Chicago-based projection guru who serves as technical expert for Roger Ebert's Ebertfest, said issues with the Sonys are more than mechanical. Opening the projector alone involves security clearances and Internet passwords, 'and if you don't do it right, the machine will shut down on you.' The result, in his view, is that 'often the lens change isn't made and audiences are getting shortchanged'."

The problem isn't with all digital projectors, and seems most common with the new Sony 4K projectors, which has lenses too difficult to adjust for most of the (semi-skilled) multiplex projectionists. It is possible to project a high-quality digital image, and I've often seen that done. But only if theaters insist on it, and manufacturers like Sony make changes allowing their lenses to be changed as needed.

The movie industry feels under threat these days from DVDs, cable movies on demand, a dozen streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Fandor and Mubi, and competition from video games. Decades ago, it felt a similar danger from radio (it introduced talkies) and television (it introduced wide-screen). The irony today is that it hopes to rescue itself with 3D, which is not an improvement but a step back in quality. The fact that more people wanted to see "Pirates" in 2D than 3D is stunning. The fact that 3D projectors in some theaters are producing murky and dim 2D pictures makes me very unhappy.

I began by asking if you notice, really notice, what a movie looks like. I have a feeling many people don't. They buy their ticket, they get their popcorn and they obediently watch what is shown to them. But at some level there is a difference. They feel it in their guts. The film should have a brightness, a crispness and sparkle that makes an impact. It should look like a movie! -- not a mediocre big-screen television.

When people don't have a good time at the movies, they're slower to come back. I can't tell you how many comments on my blog have informed me that the writers enjoy a "better picture" at home on their big-screen TVs with Blu-ray discs. This should not be true. Nobody at Ebertfest confused the experience with sitting at home and watching a video. A movie should leap out and zap you, not recede into itself and get lost in dimness.

I despair. This is a case of Hollywood selling its birthright for a message of pottage. If as much attention were paid to exhibition as to marketing, that would be an investment in the future. People would fall back in love with the movies. Short-sighted, technically illiterate penny-pinchers are wounding a great art form.

Click on the link below, and read the comments. A lot of reaction from the public.
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Re: The Dying of the Light 27 May 2011 12:58 #36269

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The light problem described here is a result of poorly trained staff. It is not a problem with the equipment. The same kind of projectionists who fail to use the right lens or screen for a 2D digital movie also played poor 35 mm shows. These are the folks who ran dim bulbs,failed to focus films and had misaligned shutters.
Blame the staff not the equipment.
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Re: The Dying of the Light: the debate is ON! 27 May 2011 13:22 #36270

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Posted: Thu., May. 26, 2011, 4:00am PT
Studios must revisit d-cinema
Audience experience not what it could be

In the 1960s, Arch Oboler, whose pic "Bwana Devil" had kicked off the 3D boom of the 1950s, spoke to Variety about what had gone so wrong with 3D in those years.

"3D went down the drain," he opined, "because audiences got cheated." Among other things, he pointed to sloppy projection, noting that in one Gotham screening, he'd found the two eyes 20 frames out of sync.

Digital production and projection were supposed to have solved a lot of those problems but I've begun to think the movie industry is cheating its customers again, and if it doesn't stop, the "soft" box office we've seen so far is only going to get worse.

At studio screenings, 3D movies look reliably sharp and reasonably bright. But when I saw "Thor 3D" at the ArcLight's Cinerama Dome in Hollywood, it was shockingly dark and fuzzy. My wife took off her Xpand 3D glasses and refused to put them back on. "Too dark," she whispered.

There was so little parallax (i.e., so little actual 3D) in it that you could watch comfortably without glasses. So the Arc Light is charging a premium price for a subpar presentation of a movie that's barely 3D in the first place. That'll make anyone feel cheated.

Then came the Boston Globe article that accused exhibitors of projecting movies dimly because they weren't bothering to swap out the 3D lens on their Sony "3D on 4K" projectors when they show 2D movies. The Globe article gets a lot of tech details wrong(Sony notes that even through the 3D lens, the movie should be appropriately bright as long as the projector's polarizing filter has been flipped out of the way.), and it scapegoats 3D, but the point that movies are simply way, way too dark is undeniable.

Cinematographer Roger Bailey told me "Sometimes when I'm on vacation, I'll go into a multiplex just to check out the screens, and I'm appalled at how bad the projection is."

Said Bailey: "It's unbelievable that in an age when we think we have unbelievable technology, and the studios are talking about eliminating 35mm film prints in the next 18 months, that they haven't begun to sort out the problems that have been caused by digital projection."

On the other hand, last week's "Transformers 3" 3D presentation at Paramount and a screening of "Kung Fu Panda 2" at the Mann Chinese 6 looked crisp and adequately bright.

In fact, 3D has simply exacerbated an existing problem: lax exhibition, undermined by greed and sloth. At Paramount, James Cameron noted digital projectors have gotten brighter to support 3D, but some theaters use the new projectors as an excuse to turn down the projector lamp so it will last longer. Echoing that, Sony 3D maven Rob Engle recently tweeted "A modest proposal ... Every 3D digital cinema package should be delivered with a brand new projector lamp included."

This isn't just an exhibition problem, though. The problems begin well up the chain.

Rob Hummel, president of Legend3D, says one problem with my "Thor" experience was that I'd seen it at the ArcLight, which uses Xpand. "There's a problem where people create DCPs (Digital Cinema Packages) for RealD and Dolby," Hummel says. "RealD and Dolby have a 2-stop light loss. At the Cinerama, you're watching with Xpand glasses; they have a 3-stop light loss." In other words, watching a RealD DCP through Xpand glasses means seeing it half as bright as it should be.

Hummel, who worked for Prime Focus while it was converting "Clash of the Titans" said there had been only one 3D DCP created for that movie. "Jim Cameron did dozens of DCPs for 'Avatar,'" said Hummell, "optimized for each specific theater." If studios don't bother to master for all the exhibition formats, and theaters charge extra for substandard projection, aren't they all cheating their customers, the audience?

Ray Feeney, one of the industry's leading technologists, says the studios can solve these problems -- if they choose to.

When d-cinema specs were being developed, Feeney says, there were fears of a free-for-all, with proliferating formats and technologies. So the studios created the Digital Cinema Initiative to impose standards. "The DCI went to the point of saying if you don't put in servers that will put up DCPs, and things like that, we won't give you our movie," Feeney says. "They used access to their content to enforce the behavior that they desired."
The DCI succeeded brilliantly for 2D, but it didn't address 3D. So 3D formats and technologies are proliferating. "We are living the problems in 3D that DCI was created to solve," Feeney says.

Feeney calls for the studios to establish a DCI 2 to address 3D and other exhibition woes. "There are things that can be done," he says. "But they're not simple things. They involve a willingness to actually speak truthfully about what's out there, not just what people would fanatically hope is actually happening."

Steven Poster, prexy of the ASC, warns that if the industry continues to abuse the audience, they'll give up on seeing movies in theaters. "The quality of the 3D Blu-rays that are coming out on 3D television is extraordinary. They have to match that in the theater. Every element of every image informs the audience," Poster says. "If they can't see those elements, if they're too dark, or it's too uncomfortable, where are they going to go? They're going to go home to their TVs."
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Sony Responds to "too dark" etc. 27 May 2011 13:28 #36271

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Sony Digital Cinema 4K projection system information: The Facts

Sony projection systems are designed to deliver a bright image, with stunning resolution, for the moviegoer.

Hopefully, the below information will clarify the inaccurate information that is currently circulating on the web.


Sony projection systems are capable of both 2D and 3D projection with a 3D lens or 2D with a 2D lens.
3D projection utilizes RealD technology.

Lens technology:

Sony projectors do not rapidly alternate two images. Our system displays both left and right eye images at the same time, all the time.
Polarized glasses allow the viewer to continuously see the left image with the left eye and the right image with the right eye, thereby mimicking the way our eyes naturally see in 3D.
Some other systems alternate the images, but Sony systems do not.
Sony 3D systems are not the only ones with two beams of light. Any double-stacked system would have two beams, as would a RealD XL cinema system on other projectors.

Lens change:

It takes less than 20 minutes for a trained technician to change the lens.
Sony has a system in development to make the change even simpler.
If there are cases where it is not possible to change the lens, the 3D lens will play back 2D content.
If the system is setup for 4.5fL (studio recommended) in 3D, it will play 2D content at about 14fl without glasses and filters, which falls well within the SMPTE spec of 14fL +/- 3flL.
RealD filters for Sony systems only reduce the light by about 20%, because light out of the Sony projector is already polarized, unlike our competitors.
Removing the 3D glasses has the most effect on the visible light.
Changing a lens does not require entering the projection system. Lenses are changed from the front of the projector.
There is no security risk, nor is there danger of shutting down the system.
Projector operators are required to login, on all digital cinema systems, by the DCI Specification.


While we are not at liberty to discuss the details of specific customer transactions, most of our customers work with integrators, using the well-known Virtual Print Fee (VPF) model.
We sell our projectors to those integrators.
Sony is also an integrator, offering VPF agreements directly to exhibitors.
We do not negotiate the exchange of projectors for pre-show advertising.
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Re: The Dying of the Light 27 May 2011 16:43 #36277

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CGM wrote:
The light problem described here is a result of poorly trained staff. It is not a problem with the equipment. The same kind of projectionists who fail to use the right lens or screen for a 2D digital movie also played poor 35 mm shows. These are the folks who ran dim bulbs,failed to focus films and had misaligned shutters.
Blame the staff not the equipment.

According to many people on film-tech, it does seem to be an issue of poor design on Sony projectors as it requires a high level password in order to make the switch from 3d to 2d. Something that is only done by qualified technicians (not well-trained booth personel). There is also much discussion about these Sony projectors being replaced already by other manufacturers.
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