Hollywood’s Achilles Heel: Movie Print Quality

Hellboy II: One Sheet movie poster

I just got out of the theater from seeing Hellboy II, which I enjoyed quite a bit, but was really struck by how poor the film itself was. Not the storyline, not the effects, not the audio, but the print quality, the celluloid that they project.
If you’ve seen a modern movie, you know what I’m talking about, jerky cuts, rough focus spots, dirt in the print, and more. A very analogue experience, but not in a good way, especially for a film that just begs to be in true, clean, pristine high def.
After the film ended, I went and talked with the manager (of the AMC Flatiron Crossing Mall theater, in Broomfield, Colorado), and she really didn’t give a damn about my complaint about film quality.
Me: “Hi. Just wanted to talk about the surprisingly poor print quality of Hellboy II, which I just came out of the theater from watching. Are you aware of the problem?”
She: “We just replaced the Hellboy II print last week. It was in pretty bad shape prior.”
Me: “Maybe, then, you need to tell corporate that you need new prints every week so that movie patrons have the best possible experience.”
She: “Do you know how much those prints cost?”
Me: “The problem is that if you can’t project a very clean image, it becomes harder and harder for you to compete with my fancy home theater, where my HD player looks gorgeous.”
She: (shrugs)
Me: “When are you going to be able to go digital in this theater?”
She: “Oh, gosh, not for at least three or four years.”
Me: “Ah, well, thanks for listening.”
I also peeked in at Journey to the Center of the Earth and saw that this fancy, expensive, new theater didn’t have the 3D projection system upgrade (called RealD, it requires a new projector and new screen) either, which surprised me. The Century Boulder theater got the upgrade for Journey, and it’s a smaller market.
Film projection quality is a major issue for Hollywood and the continued health of the movie theater business. When I can patiently wait a few months for a Blu-Ray high-def release of a movie for about the price of two evening-showing tickets and then keep the film forever, I can’t duplicate the full sensory experience of a large theater, theater sound system and sense of community that comes from sharing a movie watching experience.
But if the films are going to be visibly dirty, choppy or otherwise marred, then I will continue to be jarred out of the requisite suspension of disbelief, the need to be involved with the movie world and storyline, and be brought back to the theater room itself, and that’s a big problem.
This is why savvy people like Mark Cuban, owner of the Landmark Theater Chain, is pushing so aggressively for movie theaters to go all digital. Once that happens, they can have dramatically higher resolution than Blu-Ray and there’s zero degradation of the print from projection to projection.
Ironically, it’s exactly like the transition from LP to CD or VHS to DVD. Digital wins over analogue and it’s time Hollywood got on the ball.

One comment on “Hollywood’s Achilles Heel: Movie Print Quality

  1. I too have noticed some issues with print quality. Recently, I have only seen Indiana Jones 4 and The Dark Knight. The Dark Knight looked great, but I do think that theater managers could care less about a/v quality since most movie goers don’t know what file stock looks like.
    I know it is going to happen, digital projection, but I don’t know if I love that. There are certain qualities to film that make it enjoyable. Things that let you know you are watching a film… the grain, the cue marks. While Blu-ray does look fantastic, it can have issues as well. Just look at Patton.
    I can’t wait for the day that I have a dedicated home theater. Never will I go to the movies again.

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