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Richard Karpala Headshot

It's Too Dark in Here

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After Super 8 I've decided to become a fiend for great projection. That means I actively seek out theaters where the picture looks crisp and the sound is excellent.

I think it's a shame that I have to actively search for them though. I wish there was an online database where people could submit theaters where they noticed the picture was too dark, or the picture was blurry, or maybe surround channels weren't working. Because I would add a theater or two onto that list. And every weekend, before going out, I'd make sure the theater I was going to was not listed.

A big reason we have darker projection today is because of 3D. Roger Ebert outlines here exactly what to look for so you can avoid making the mistake of seeing a film that's too dark.

He advises that if it happens you should ask for a refund.

This is in theory very strong advice. A refund would mean the theater loses revenue. But in practice it's much harder to do, especially when you are on a date. Date night films usually come on the heels of having a nice dinner somewhere. Then you lift up those arm rests, cozy up together, digest your food and...enjoy a darkly projected film.

Asking for a refund and leaving--or even just seeing a different film at the same theater--is more hassle than it's worth. Your date will think you are inconsiderate at best, and a total a-hole at worst.

She's had a great night, why blow it by making a dramatic spectacle out of something just because the picture is too dark? Very valid considerations.

My date said Super 8 looked fine. She enjoyed it. She had a great time. Meanwhile, I sat in my seat for two hours sulking because I wanted a refund and would have LOVED to walk out of there and make a stern point about seeing a movie under barely optimal lighting conditions. I demand to get what I pay for!

After the movie I approached the manager, who I noticed looked too young to be managing anything. I asked him (calmly, respectfully) why the picture in Theater 5 was so dark. I know why it was dark of course, thanks to Ebert's helpful blog post, but I wanted to see if he could answer the question for himself. Who knows, maybe he reads Ebert's blog too.

"Maybe that's just the way they shot it," he said.

Of course! I should have thought of that. They spent $50-80 million dollars to make it look dark.

I had to check his badge again, just to verify that it was still the manager in front of me.

"I think it's because of the 3D projector," I replied.

"It's not in 3D."

"I know, but it's still a Sony 3D projector you're using. Haven't you had any other complaints?"

"Nope. You're the first one."

Translation: I'm the crazy one here.

I wanted to tell him this was the film's opening day. But he probably knew that. He was the manager, after all. They know these things. But maybe this one didn't. I could educate him! I could pull up Ebert's blog post and read it out loud to him!

But I looked back at the exit doors, where my date was standing, getting impatient with me. So I turned back to the manager and thanked him for his time.

I didn't put up a fight, and I didn't get my money back. I was already looking like a jerk in front of my date. God knows what she would think of me if I started a shouting match with the manager of the theater.

The next day, I saw Super 8 again (without a date, of course). This time the projection was brighter, and the sound was bigger. I didn't feel very good about the experience though. Instead of feeling vindicated, I was bummed out.

I absorbed everything I needed to know in that first sitting: Abrams was no Spielberg.

The moral is...Ebert is right. The light is dying literally, and figuratively. When you break the wallet to see a movie, whether it's a family outing, or a date, you deserve an experience that almost floors you. I don't mean in 3-D. I mean an enormous screen where you see pristine, crisp digital projection.

I saw Rango at a press screening months back, and the picture was astounding. High resolution digital projection on a big screen is rich eye candy and well worth the money.

Going to the theater still has brighter days ahead.

Find a theater that boasts about its picture and sound, and go there.

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