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.’’
After multiple requests, Sony declined through a spokesman to respond to questions about its digital projection equipment. Executives at the major theatrical chains are equally unwilling to discuss the matter. When contacted for this article, a spokesman for Regal, the nation’s largest multiplex operator, e-mailed the following statement: “Patron response has been overwhelmingly positive toward digital cinema and all of the associated entertainment options provided by this technology.’’
A spokeswoman for Norwood-based National Amusements, the ninth-largest chain in the country, responded to detailed questions by saying “We are not experiencing any issues with the Sony 4K systems.’’
If they talk about it at all, the chains claim that individual multiplex managers are the ones to decide whether to switch out the 3-D lens for 2-D showings. Dan Huerta, Vice President of Sight and Sound for AMC, the second-biggest chain in the US, said, “Obviously, if we know there’s a 2-D movie that’s going to be shown through a 3-D lens, we would have to make sure that the manager or a technical person could make the call.’
Digital is the future — the Common plans to be all-digital by July — if only because it saves studios millions of dollars a year on processing film prints. Why, then, did Regal and AMC sign contracts in early 2009 — and National Amusements in June 2010 — with Sony, the one manufacturer whose projectors feature the external 3-D lens that’s too expensive and difficult to easily remove for 2-D showings?
The reason appears to be a basic business quid pro quo. Sony provides projectors to the chains for free in exchange for the theaters dedicating part of their preshow ads to Sony products. Unfortunately, the 3-D boom took off in late 2009 and Sony had to come up with a retrofitted solution. Said the Phantom Projectionist, “To me it feels like they’re serving people pigeon burgers and telling them its grade-A beef.’’
But what if audiences don’t notice or don’t care that they’re eating pigeon burgers? When queried by a reporter, moviegoers exiting showings at the Common recently were hard-pressed to pinpoint problems with what they’d just seen.
An older couple leaving the under-illuminated 7:15 “Win Win’’ showing thought the film looked fine; another patron praised its “creative lighting.’’ Walking out of the 7:05 showing of “Source Code,’’ Gerry Jurrens, 62, of Kingston, N.J., admitted that “in some places it seemed a little grainy, but it still looks better than what I’ve got at home.’’
Educating audiences and overcoming this inertia can be difficult. Boston Light & Sound’s Cutler said, “We have a tendency to walk in the door, we’ve paid our money, bought our popcorn, and we want to sit down and watch something. We’re loath to get up and leave because we’ve put that much effort in.’’