Sub-par light levels have been a problem that has plagued the theatrical screening experience for some time. Theater chains with an eye more towards reducing operating expenses than towards making sure that films are being presented with the right amount of light going through the projector. Three-D movies are an even bigger problem, as they need more light to be projected through to the screen to counter the light-dimming aspects of the 3D sunglasses. The result has been pictures that often look murky and not as crisp as they should, which is especially bad for 3D films as that degrades the 3D effect.
Michael Bay is taking a stand though. On the eve of the release of his latest film, Transformers: Dark Of The Moon, the director has been contacting executives at the major theater chains “to implore them to show Dark of the Moon in a way that burns out projector bulbs more quickly but makes 3-D look brighter and sharper,” according to the New York Times.
(A note of correction to the Times, though – It’s not so much a case of projecting the movie at the proper brightness will burn out the projector bulb faster as it will impact theater chains’ usual tactic of projecting movies dimmer to make the bulb last longer.)
Bay and studio Paramount are also upping the ante for Transformers by shipping out its digital prints of the film mastered at almost twice the brightness of standard 3D projection to some 2000 screens. As Bay told Variety –
We have created a special version with extra sharpening, color and contrast. It is a superior look in the format. The brighter the image, the brain processes in a different way (sic) and the result sharpens and makes it more vibrant.
Hopefully between that and the increased brightness of the projector bulbs, audiences will be treated to a 3D experience that exceeds their already diminishing expectations. (Let’s leave whatever expectations one has for a Michael Bay film for another discussion.)
Of course, Paramount, and by extension other studios, has a right to be concerned about their 3D films not being presented correctly by exhibitors. Filmgoers have been growing increasingly disenchanted with 3D films in part thanks to under-whelming presentation of films shot in 3D and bad post-production conversion of 2D films into the format. Complaints have been made that the standard upcharge on a ticket to a 3D film, which can reportedly range anywhere from $2.50 to $5.00, audiences are feeling that they are not getting value for that extra price. And the complaints aren’t just anecdotal. Ticket sales for the 2D version of Disney’s Pirates Of the Caribbean: On Strange Tides outsold admissions for its 3D counterpart and early sales for Warner Brothers’ Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 2 look to be following the same trend.
And it is not just at the box office that studios are taking a hit from bad 3D backlash. The stock price for DreamWorks Animation, who have been very aggressive in their promotion of 3D, has dropped nearly 18 percent in the last month. RealD, one of the leading technology firms behind the format, has seen its shares drop 24 percent.
Meanwhile, over at Deadline, Nikki Finke has been reporting this as Paramount trying to “bully” exhibitors into carrying the 3D version of Transformers for a certain amount of weeks in order to squeeze other studios’ 3D films off of available screens. While there are a few actual points in her article, you have to take into account that Finke has had barely a kind word to say about Paramount over the last several years. It’s more than likely that her reportage has been slanted to make Paramount look like bad guys beating up on studios that have execs with whom she’s on more favorable terms.
It remains to be seen if Transformers: Dark Of The Moon will be the shot in the arm that 3D needs. But with numerous films coming out in the format through the rest of the year and beyond, studios are hoping that their investment in the process won’t be for naught.