Blame James Cameron: 3D Might be Keeping You From Seeing a Good Movie

Let’s face it, there wouldn’t be such a rush to turn everything — and I mean EVERYTHING — into a 3D movie if it wasn’t for James Cameron and his “Avatar” making a bazillion dollars at the box office. Most 3D movies look like total and utter shit. If you give me a choice, I’ll always pick the 2D movie. There are two reasons for this, one being technical, the other being completely selfish:

1) Most movies weren’t MADE to look good in 3D, and are “made” 3D through expensive, millions of dollars-costing post-conversion.

2) I spent thousands on laser eye surgery so I could see things clearly without glasses. And now you want me to wear a pair of uncomfortable and disposable plastic glasses for two hours in the dark? No thank you.

As it turns out, there might be a third reason: movie theaters aren’t bothering to show the movies correctly, and as a result, you, the patron, are seeing a movie in much darker light than it should be. Essentially, they’re robbing you of seeing the film as the director intended.

This issue came to light (ahem) only after a Boston Globe reporter named Ty Burr realized that the 2D screening he was in looked noticeably darker than it should be. After a survey of his theater’s screenings that uses digital projectors, he realized that eight of the theater’s 19 screens were showing their movies in poor light. How poor? About 50% of the screen’s brightness was missing. That’s pretty bloody poor.

So what’s the problem? Your theater’s digital projectors are also 3D projectors, equipped with two lens to make the 3D “magic” happen. The problem is that most theaters and their projectionist don’t bother to remove that second (3D) lens when showing 2D movies, which is what they’re supposed to do. Why not, you ask?

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.’’

So how can you tell if your favorite local theater is cheating you by showing a darker-than-it-should-be screening of a movie? The problem seems to exist only with Sony’s digital projectors, which the company gave away for free in return for free pre-movie ads. So if you suspect your movie is perhaps a tad (or a lot) darker than it should be, and you’re watching a movie shown on a digital projector (the ticket you buy should have a “D” after the title), Burr advises you to look back at the projection booth.

If you see two beams of light, one stacked on top of the other, that’s a Sony with the 3-D lens still in place. If there’s a single beam, it’s either a Sony with the 3-D lens removed or a different brand of digital projector, such as Christie or Barco.

As a result of Burr’s articles, many notable movie critics have picked up on it, including Roger Ebert, which should help shed more light (ahem) on this issue for a while.

I have to admit, I don’t have this problem with my local theater, and I always see digital showings whenever possible. Maybe my local chain doesn’t have any of Sony’s wonky projectors in stock, or their projectionists are just smarter.

The other problem is, what do you do if you’re being screwed over with a dark screening? Sure, you could complain, and they would probably give you your money back without too much fuss. And then what? Go to another theater? You already paid your popcorn and you already spent the gas driving there, and obviously there isn’t going to be another theater close by, or else you wouldn’t have gone to this particular theater in the first place. And you probably already have a girlfriend/significant other/friends with you and she/he/they may not care as much as you do. Should you sit there and take it, or make a scene and ruin your entire night?

It’s quite the conundrum, that’s for sure…

"Just for the record, we blame James Cameron, too. Sorry, James."