One Simple Thing Theater Owners Are Doing to Ruin Your Watching Experience

By  · Published on May 23rd, 2011

It hasn’t been a great start to the year for movie theater owners. There was the bizarre dust-up between the National Association of Theater Owners and the studios which advocated a shortened window of exclusivity before launching their films in homes On-Demand, but more so than one event, there’s a general feeling of outrage at higher ticket prices (which, as John Gholson explained on Reject Radio, have almost nothing to do with theater profits now) and higher-priced hotdogs. Plus, there’s the overall miserable experience that most theaters deliver.

Now has a truly disheartening story about theater managers not even bothering to switch out lenses between 3D and 2D films. The result? That 2D movie you saved money on by refusing the 3D up-charge is 50% darker than it should be. Read the entire article for the full take (and definitely listen to that Reject Radio episode for more illumination), but this seems indicative of a larger problem going on in movie theaters – a lack of incentive to make anything enjoyable.

Audiences are coming for the movie, and theaters are delivering little else in the way of enticement. It’s no wonder that ticket sales are dropping. With the transition from reels to digital projectors, gone is the knowledge that came with understanding how the projection process really works. It took serious understanding to be behind the glass, but now it requires pushing a few buttons and reading an Archie comic.

That’s why, when traditional reels are used, the result is usually a broken frame (or reels put together in the wrong order, which actually happened to Neil, Luke Mullen and I when we saw Gamer). It’s also apparently part of the reason why some aren’t interested in simply replacing a lens.

Either that or its sheer laziness. Or, and I hate to even speculate this, a sly con from theaters who want to punish 2D movie-goers for not buying 3D. (But why would they when ticket sales matter so little to their bottom line?)

As for the first two options, theater owners can do little to change their own fates. They have no incentive to do even a modicum of work to make the theater-going experience a better one. They’ve proven that the only control they have is to raise the price of Slurpees and hope people go for them. Studios hold all the power in the relationship, and theaters have been content to take the table scraps for so long that they find themselves without leverage of any kind to make changes.

The ones who get hurt? The audience. Us. So what can we do about it? The only thing we have in our power: complain. If your movie seems like it’s too dark, tell the manager you want your money back. Tell them you won’t come back to the theater until they learn to project their movies correctly. You don’t want a free pass, you won’t buy their concessions, you’ll bad mouth them to everyone who will listen.

This whole thing is so absurd that I’m curious to hear from theater owners to gain some rounded perspective on this. It all just seems so dire, so unbelievably irresponsible and lazy.

Regardless, if you pay for the ticket, you should get the best experience possible. Maybe it’s time we started doing more to demand it.

What do you think?

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Movie stuff at VanityFair, Thrillist, IndieWire, Film School Rejects, and The Broken Projector [email protected] | Writing short stories at Adventitious.