Call to Action: Bad Theater Experiences

November 26, 2006

I know this topic has been discussed endlessly earlier in the year, but I have a strong urge to bring it up again because of my own bad experiences. Also because our site is all about improving the theatrical experience so that when you go to the theater and watch a movie you love, it's incomparable to anything ever possible at home. I love when that happens, and I love when I'm watching a film and am just drawn in to its visual and aural excellence more than anything I've ever felt before. I'll admit I am a bit spoiled. When I go to press screenings and there's 10 of us in the audience, they tend to put a bit more effort in making sure every little detail is perfect. But that makes it much worse when I go and experience the complete opposite.

Yes, a good time at the theater during Pirates of the Caribbean 2!

Recently I went and saw The Fountain again on its opening day with a regular crowd. A great film, and I wanted to relive the power of it again, as the experience of it is only possible in a theater on a huge screen with amazing sound. However I noticed the problem right off the bat - out of focus during the trailers, and I mean really out of focus. So I run out and tell the manager nearby to get a projectionist up there to fix it. I go back in and watch him try and tweak the focus during the trailers. Text is the only thing to test focus on, and finally some comes up, and it's a complete blur, so he tries to quickly pull it back before the text disappears. Eventually after 5 minutes he leaves and the result: it's worse than before he started. I had to sit through The Fountain completely out of focus, and it was awful. I know those projectionists have to monitor 14 screens between 2 of them, but seriously, is he that blind? How hard is it to take just a few minutes to make sure it's in focus. Even do it before the trailers start so he's not rushing during the movie and making it worse.

Next I went to see The Queen again, another great film. This time everything about it was off. The focus was awful again; letters had really fuzzy edges. The framing was completely wrong, the heads were always cut off; I felt like I was watching the top 1/4 of the screen the entire time. And even the sound was bad, really hollow and quiet. A completely ruined experience for what is a beautiful film (that I had luckily seen before). And again, I don't want to run out and miss any of the movie, and even if I had, what can they do? At that point, without risking completely stopping the movie, they can only do so much, and that likely wouldn't have fixed it.

These two bad theater experiences completely ruined my time there. And the worst is I felt everyone around me could not have enjoyed the film as much as possible. You can't get immersed into a film when it's such an awful experience. And in turn you start to dislike the movie. All I want to do is promote the better movies and hope that other people go see them and enjoy them as well. And when I sit there and realize everyone else can't have as good of a reaction because the experience is appalling, then any hope for that film is nearly destroyed. It's biting right back at the studios, because their movies are losing viewers all because of simple problems from the theater.

It seems like it's not improving at all - only getting worse. Theaters think they can continue to take more and more advantage of you. You pay $10-$15 for a ticket and in turn you're served countless ads everywhere you go, overly-expensive popcorn, and the worst of all, an experience not even worth half the cost of a ticket. The least they can do is put a little bit of extra care and concern into the experience, and improve it with a bit of effort. Yea they have minimum wage staff, but promote incentives and better motivation just to get them to improve your experience. Get qualified projectionists and individuals who feel bad themselves when they know an audience isn't viewing a movie at it's optimum level (I know I would). Simple things like those - why can't they work on that? Where is all that $3 candy and $6 popcorn money going?

It's now time for a call to action. I invite all of you out there to post a comment with your awful theater experiences, because this is part of the process to help publicize and eventually improve the system. Please make sure you mention the name of the chain. Particular theater chains that are worse than others need to be ousted. They need to recognize their problems and improve! I can't stress enough how much you all will enjoy your theater experiences and movies much more once you begin to experience them the way they should be seen.

Bring out your bad experiences!

Find more posts: Editorial, Feat, Opinions



I had one of the worst experiences watching The Fountain. At the beginning, the image wasn't fully on the screen, it was halfway. Throughout the movie, the image on the screen would lower itself. In the scenes in the operating room, I could see the boom mike lowering on numerous occasions. In some scenes in the future, it looked like there was tape or something on the top of the tree, and it was blacked out at the top. I tired not to let this bother me, but it was so obvious that I couldn't. This all occured at Famous Players Parmount Chinook in Calgary, AB.

Jeff Warner on Nov 26, 2006


Up until recently I'd really almost never had a bad projection, and I got to the movies a lot, but the theatre I go to the most just got bought by Cinemark, who apperantly decided they'd run the theatre into the ground. I've seen The Fountain three times since it came out commercially (once before at CIFF), and all three projections have been of varying degrees of crappiness. During the first one, they let the entire Blood Diamond trailer play high on the screen, showing only the bottom half, luckily someone complained and they fixed it right before the movie, but then he framed it a little low. Not horrible, I could deal with it. The second time, I went with two friends, one of whom had already seen it like I had, the trailers, etc. were framed high, as soon as the movie started and it was cutting off Rachel Weisz's head, I went and complained, someone briefly came up apperantly, and just moved the framing up and down, back to where it was. I complained to the manager afterwards and he gave us free passes. I also think they've started dimming the bulbs. (I saw it the third time at another theatre, where it was out of focus, and slightly misframed.) Yesterday I saw Borat again with someone who hadn't seen it, and the sound for the pre-movie crap started playing over the slideshow, then slowed down and stopped. After 15 fucking minutes, they started showing THE ADS, which made us both late afterward. Besides the occasional drop out at the Music Box in Chicago, I've never had horrible projections, but I've had 4 incompotent screenings since Wednesday.

NTinsley on Nov 27, 2006


When I saw The Family Stone, it was as if only one audio channel was active, the one that played an occasional sound effect. You couldn't hear dialogue, or music or anything just a faint sound of static when actors opened their mouths. We walked out after about 20 minutes and after having reported the problem twice and no changes we made (though they may have been attempted, we'll never know). We got free passes for use at another another film and time of our choice, I would have rather just got my money back but whatever. It's such a pain to have to go get someone to fix a movie because then you've missed something, they just need to get it right when the film starts.

Owen on Nov 27, 2006


Ouch, that sounds bad Jeff. I really hate when the frame dops and splits in half like that. Completely ruins any movie and it happens all too often. That's not as much too blame on the theater as it is poor equipment or just random happenings. That happened to me watching Borat in an early screening (with a full crowd) and the entire naked-fighting scene was split. It completely destroyed the scene, I didn't laugh at all, rather frowned. And I just looked around realizing everyone here had completely lost one of the best scenes in the film. Agh!

Alex Billington on Nov 28, 2006


When I saw The Fountain for the first time, the framing was low for the entirety of the film, no matter how much we pleaded with the theatre manager. As a result, there was no way to see the subtitles, and no translation of any of the mayan. What a waste.

Igor Zhukovsky on Dec 4, 2006


I recently started work at a theater and I've noticed that a lot of times the Ushers don't shut the doors when movies start so you can hear other movies while watching yours, so I started to shut the doors when they forgot. The projectionists do a pretty good job here, I haven't seen any problems with the projection. My biggest complaint though with theater experiences is the crowd. Everyone feel they need to talk during a movie and treat it as background visuals for discussion. It gets really annoying, so I've finally started to walk up to people and telling them to be quiet and let them know I work there, but it rarely seems to work, and I don't want to go get the ushers to remove them because they would probably get a second chance anyway and I don't want to miss the movie. It's a hard problem to fix.

Drew on Dec 4, 2006


I am a motion picture engineer. Theaters are doomed in my opinion. My High Definition monitor is sharp as a razor, bright, crisp, with incredible color, and it completely blows me away even when running DVD's. My surround sound is also awesome. Theaters are now consistently out of focus, dirty optics, mis-framed, bad sound control, bad keystoning especially on big-screen-short-throw auditoriums, dim and dirty lamphouses running on half power to save their xenon lamps, you name it. Why? I don't think they give a shit anymore. BlueRay and HiDefDVD will be the nail in the coffin.

Hal on Mar 12, 2007


--"Get qualified projectionists and individuals who feel bad themselves when they know an audience isn't viewing a movie at it's optimum level (I know I would). Simple things like those - why can't they work on that? " Oh, how I yelled a resounding "YES!" to this comment above!! I am a lover and respector of movies AND the theater experience. I've worked for the Regal Cinema company back in 1999 and now, after realizations through other bad job experiences, I am about to work for them again. Even if it is to sell popcorn, even if to sweep the floor--I always believe that people that go to the movies are entering a totally different world (whether scary, funny, etc.) and I wholeheartedly agree that it is the theater staff's responsibility to make sure the guests are transported there, to give them the very best experience possible. After all, going to movies is one great way of escaping the outside troubles. When I was a projectionist back in 1999, there was nothing I adored better than to make people happy by running movies. So exciting to watch people's reactions to films. I actually feel very honored to be working in a movie theater again, because this is a passion deep in my heart and I am excited to jump right in. Dang, if only I could be in charge of ALL the theaters.....I would make sure that anyone who would work for me would take to heart the true reasons that people go to movies.....to take a break from the world, to have fun, laugh, cry--whether it is by yourself or bringing your group or family to feel closer. Even though I am not going to be doing my first love of running movies at the moment, I am still going to make sure one gets the very best, even if it is to hand them the very best, nicest looking "overpriced" popcorn ever!

Dawn T. on Aug 21, 2007

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