Opinion – Why I Don’t Like Digital Film Projection But If You Do I’m Cool With That

Last week I saw the new Kevin James film, Here Comes The Boom and experienced something unprecedented. It wasn’t the film that amazed me (Staple sports film. Predictable, entertaining, worth ticket price.) but the digital projection itself. As the adverts and trailers “rolled” I noticed that the quality of the visuals was abnormally bad. I assumed that this was just a pre-film thing (surely no one would ever screen a film in this bad a quality…) but when the film began I couldn’t help but be distracted by the stupidly pixelated imagery that persisted throughout the entire thing – Kevin James meets Minecraft. Okay, it wasn’t Youtube circa 2006 but it was bad enough that I felt reasonably cheated out of my money.

After the film I brought this up with my friend, thinking it to be a pretty big issue with him too but he was mostly unfazed and claimed to not really notice it that much. After discussing, we came to the conclusion that as the “online generation”, we are so used to streaming and downloading pixelated entertainment from the internet that our tolerance of such things is quite high. But should it be? Especially for something we paid for?

This isn’t my first run in with digital projection either. Twice in the last 15-ish months I have had to postpone seeing two films (Real Steel and Moneyball for those interested) because for one reason or another there were “technical difficulties” with the digital copy of the film or projector itself.

Surely three disgruntlements with digital projections in my many years of cinema-going shouldn’t irritate me enough to write a 700-word article bemoaning the tech though, right? Maybe not, but then I have – so far – had zero bad experiences with a traditionally projected film so moan I shall.

My Here Comes The Boom experience probably isn’t an isolated incident either. There are many money-strapped cinemas in the UK, and whilst I haven’t had the chance to experience all of them it probably wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume that there are other projections like this all over the country.

To be clear, I am not saying that all digital projection is bad. However, with great technological advancement comes great responsibility: the same day I saw Here Comes The Boom I saw Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part II on my own (a story for another time) in the same cinema. This was also a digital screening. Breaking Dawn Part II actually spends half of its run-time zooming into things and showing off super high quality detail (because Bella’s a vampire now!) and this second projection was just fine – impressive, actually. So why was there such a huge difference in quality in two screens at the same cinema? Surely there should just be one standard? I paid the same price for both films.

We are constantly harassed by anti-piracy adverts that refute the ever-bettering quality of downloads yet I can go to the cinema and pay for something equally “bad”?*

*- I understand that the point of those adverts is to highlight the illegality of downloading but they rely heavily on promoting the quality of the real product too.

Perhaps the most relevant anti-piracy advert to this argument is the one with the poor fellow who loses his friends for having a mildly bad quality download as a voiceover barks “Don’t be a downloady Brian! Nobody likes the guy with the bad quality illegal DVDs!” This is true, but as the quality of downloaded material increases, the line between the real deal and the ‘knock-off’ is quickly blurring, and if there are enough people in enough cinemas frequently receiving the same quality for something they could have got for free at home cinema could soon be in trouble.

Of course, this argument boils down to speculation and opinion; after all, my friend said he wasn’t that bothered by the quality of Here Comes The Boom and enjoyed the film nonetheless (a variable  in this opinion could be that I paid for his ticket, though). Maybe I only feel this way because I – perhaps ironically – already miss the imperfections, cigarette burns and old feel of real film being projected. Those things were a sign that I was at the cinema: they were experiences I couldn’t get anywhere else. I am all for paying for digital projection if it can maintain a high quality everywhere and have a smaller chance of mishaps, but as it stands, to me the score is at 3-0 to traditional film projection.

How about you? Have you had bad experiences with either type of projection, or do you reckon I am just talking a load of crock? Contribute!

Out Now – 9th November 2012

We have actually seen three of the films out this week!

Somehow Ben Affleck has managed to make a film about the 1979 Iran hostage crisis into a funny Hollywood satire that doesn’t make light of the serious drama of a real-life international incident. It’s a strange beast but good.

The Sapphires
Three country song-singing Aboriginal sisters and their cousin get turned into a soul group by a bar worker, before travelling to Vietnam to entertain the troops. It might not be Stephen Colbert getting a buzzcut in Iraq on Obama’s orders but it is a joyful watch.

People Like Us
After his estranged father dies, a salesman discovers he has a half-sister he knew nothing about. It possibly gets a tiny bit incestuous. Now is that a story that’s going to make it into the Christmas newsletter?

Here Comes the Boom
To make money for extra curricular activities at his school, a biology teacher becomes a mixed martial arts fighter. Hang on, isn’t this a sillier version of Warrior?

Love Bite
In fictional Rainmouth, a werewolf is eating virgins. This may be the one time an orgy is declared as a public service.

Alps (limited release)
To help people with the grieving process, a business offers a service where people impersonate recently deceased loved ones and recreate classic scenes from their past life. Tim says that if Charlie Kaufman were to make a Greek film, it would look a lot like this.

Grassroots (limited release)
This is the perfect time to release a film about a grassroots campaign to get someone elected to the Seattle City Council. It’s not like anyone’s got American politics fatigue and is relieved the Presidential election circus is over or anything. Hello Cobie Smulders!

The Joy of Six (limited release)
A set of half a dozen (see what they did there?) short films out of Soda’s New British Cinema programme. Some bright new directors, including Romola Garai, and some established acting talent. Hello Judi Dench!

Mother’s Milk (limited release)
The combined power of Jack Davenport and Tom Hollander star in this drama about the troubled relationships within an English family. Stiff upper lips at the ready please.

My Brother The Devil (limited release)
Yet more gritty drama from the East End – this time British Egyptian teenage brothers have to survive the streets of “gangland London”. It sounds familiar but this might be the one to see: at the time of writing, 16 critics have given it a 100% fresh rating.

East End Babylon (limited release)
A “rockumentary” that tells the history of London’s East End over the past 100 years, leading to the formation of local band The Cockney Rejects, which seems more than a little self-important. They apparently united their joint passions for music and West Ham and released a punk cover of West Ham’s song “I’m forever blowing bubbles”, one of the more unlikely choices for a football terrace chant.

Aurora (limited release)
A 42 year old man, “troubled by obscure thoughts, drives across the city to a destination known only to him”. I am no more enlightened by this than you.

Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan (limited release)
Documentary about stop-motion king Ray Harryhausen, who is now 92 years old.