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Old December 28th, 2010, 07:01 PM   #1
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I enjoyed "The King's Speech", but how much do audiences care about visual quality?

I saw "The King's Speech" at a nearby multiplex cinema on Boxing Day. The cast was brilliant and it had an intriguing premise (an Aussie having to prepare an ill-equipped prince to be a king). I don't think I've ever seen Geoffrey Rush put in a bad performance and he was outstanding here. As were Colin Firth and Guy Pierce as the brother princes. And Jennifer Ehle's attempt at an Aussie accent was very good, I thought. (And I'd be lying if I said I didn't get a kick out of seeing her share one scene with Colin Firth.)

Now to the visual quality of how the movie was projected. I'd seen the trailer beforehand on Apple TV and so I knew that the visual quality of the movie itself was excellent. On the trailer, it showed a clip of Geoffrey Rush sitting on "St. Edward's chair" (at least I think that's what it was called) and he comments about some initials which are carved into it and you can see these carvings very clearly and distinctly in the trailer.

The actual movie itself (as projected in this particular cinema) was out-of-focus, dim and murky. I understand how a 35mm film can be projected out-of-focus, but I've been scratching my head over why it was so murky/dim. Perhaps a projector globe on its way out? Anyway, I was really, really shocked at how bad this made the movie look. From the quite blurry establishing title to that shot with "St. Edward's chair" looking more like a dark blob (and you couldn't see the initials at all), I found this aspect quite off-putting. (Yet I still enjoyed the performances, writing, directing, framing, lighting and art direction.) However my wife didn't seem to mind the "blurry and dim" aspect at all. And neither did the rest of the audience. They broke into a spontaneous round of applause at the movie's conclusion.

So I'm re-evaluating my ideas a bit. When you think about the time and effort that goes into the color grading of a movie! How much does this really matter to the audience? I know it matters a lot to us (those of us on the boards). I could see the good work of the colorist in the trailer. But what I saw at the cinema looked like an underexposed, blurry negative which had been directly printed and released to cinemas. And nobody (except me) seemed to mind.

Maybe it depends on the type of movie? This one was historical and shot deliberately with shallow depth of field. It would have made a good stage play. (And perhaps it was originally?)

Perhaps people expect more visually from a movie which they expect to be "cinematic". Something that will transport them into "another world" (such as pre-war Austria with "The Sound of Music" or outback Australia with "Crocodile Dundee", etc.).

With the release of the first RED Epic camera, there is a lot of current discussion about the best compression ratios to use for the best "practical" quality. Is it 5:1 or 8:1? And would anyone really need 3:1?

Right now I'd consider such things as being only relevant to the perception of people in the industry. Even if you shot 20:1 I doubt the audience would particularly notice. Especially for a "filmed stage play" type of movie.

I'm sure that there are certain thresholds of "acceptable visual quality" for a cinema release as far as an audience is concerned. Exactly what they are is what I'm now less certain of!
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Old December 28th, 2010, 10:55 PM   #2
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David, I know what you mean, it probably was the print and I care about those things to the point of complaining to the managers and even the distributors.

Why not follow this up with the theatre manager who, if he/she is conscientious, might take it further.

Great entertainment tho, wonderful watching 2 masters at the top of their game .. Colin Firth and Geof Rush will have to duke it out for best British actor.

As it was all about speech, did you notice the voice tracks were very carefully processed to cope with lousy sound systems around the theatre circuits. And I particularly enjoyed those early BBC radio studios and mics. The Beeb (and Abbey Road) still have their original gear squirrelled away.

Might be worth buying or renting the Blu-ray.

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Old December 28th, 2010, 11:17 PM   #3
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David.


I happen to concur with a small urban myth going around that optical projection is being deliberately degraded to condition us for the inferior all-electronic threatrical distribution coming our way.

Electronic will then look comparatively superior and audiences will swallow the lie. We are already getting it with 2K digital intermediate.

Try an older pre-DI 35mm print on a properly maintained projector, with good optics on front and a carbon-arc lamp and you will realise just how far the mighty 35mm projection system has fallen through belt-tightening and neglect.

Soft projection focus, overaged cold-arc lamps. (any colour you like as long as it is a khaki-green hue with grey whites), stains on the screen, worn-out gates with the image walking and hopping, pops in the soundtrack because the splices have not been inked, anamorphic lenses going off-horizon and being left in that state for weeks on end.

Part of this is due to multiplexes flogging their projectionists with one man having to wrangle multiple projectors.

There is not enough time, or maybe the inclination to do focus trims during the show, to set the lens once and forget it on the assumption that it will eventually sharpen up part way through the movie as the barrel warms up.

Audiences "might not be all that bright. Neither are they all that dim". (plagiarising Rolf Harris here). Theatrical exhibition will become pretty much moribund when electronic exhibition kicks in. Tickets will have to go up to recover the cost of the tech. The novelty will soon wear off.

The experiential edge theatrical exhibition had over playback on domestic video will diminish. As distances to venues increase with the smaller outfits closing down, people will not travel, especially with oil prices on the rise again and wages being screwed down.

Major industry players apparently want to "vertically integrate". That is as I understand things, setting their production, distribution, exhibition train up and automating as much as possible so that the revenue harvest from the whole chain is entirely theirs. Even if the overall yield reduces, they are compensated by taking it all, not just a share.

They need to take care not to be too ruthless and attempt to eliminate the home viewer rental market. The existing DVD-Video conduit may last longer than they think in the face of on-line theatrical exhibition and direct distribution to customers via pay per view streaming.

Obsolete tech might just remain competitive through costs having been amortised and being able to be cheaper. The industry attempt to cashcow the consumer with Blu-Ray has muchly fallen on its face. 3D may yet suffer a similar fate.

If the production industry withdraws product from the DVD-Video conduit, alternative players and a few competent indies may just fill the gap viably and keep that conduit going in competition. If enough appliances continue to be sold and disks used, the enterprising third parties will continue to make them.

Handshadows on cave walls by firelight had their day.
Live theatre, circuses etc., came and diminished to a struggling entertainment form
Opera came and diminished to a niche entertainment.
Light opera came and diminshed to a niche entertainment.
Mass-produced controlled-action drama ( movies ) may be scaling to niche and the baton passed to -
Mass-produced individual interactive personal entertainment.


The deterioration in the quality of the theatrical movie experience might just be analagous to the loss of vigor which preludes a species extinction.

Last edited by Bob Hart; December 28th, 2010 at 11:26 PM. Reason: error
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Old December 29th, 2010, 06:29 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Allan Black View Post
... did you notice the voice tracks were very carefully processed to cope with lousy sound systems around the theatre circuits. ...
Hi Allan.
You make a great point about the sound quality! In fact, I now think it was key to why the audience was so content to ride along with the movie despite the poor projection and/or print quality. Nothing screams "unacceptable" or "amateur" to an audience more quickly than bad sound. I thought the sound in "The King's Speech" was superb and allowed the audience to fully pick up on the nuances in the performances of this top-notch cast.

And I'll definitely check the movie out when it is released on Blu-ray, so that I can see it with the proper visual quality that its director, DP and colorist originally created it with.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Hart View Post
I happen to concur with a small urban myth going around that optical projection is being deliberately degraded to condition us for the inferior all-electronic threatrical distribution coming our way.
We are already getting it with 2K digital intermediate.
Hi Bob.
Personally, I think that both 2K DIs for 35mm film and 2K digital projectors are mistakes. I have seen 4K digital projection (from a 4K DI of a classic film) and it is superb. A much better theatrical experience than 2K. I think that 2K has just been more expedient, in the eyes of the studios. It's "more economical" and probably there has been false data floating around that 2K "is more than good enough", rather than any deliberate attempt to degrade the viewing experience.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Hart View Post
Try an older pre-DI 35mm print on a properly maintained projector, with good optics on front and a carbon-arc lamp and you will realise just how far the mighty 35mm projection system has fallen through belt-tightening and neglect.
Agreed.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Hart View Post
Major industry players apparently want to "vertically integrate". That is as I understand things, setting their production, distribution, exhibition train up and automating as much as possible so that the revenue harvest from the whole chain is entirely theirs. Even if the overall yield reduces, they are compensated by taking it all, not just a share.
It's ironic, isn't it? There's a great book called "The Genius of the System" by Thomas Schatz. It's got the best summary of why the studio system went up and also why it went down. I'd done a lot of research into this area before I came across this book. But this book "has it all".

At its peak, the Hollywood studio system was 100% "vertically integrated". You had the "New York office", which ran the theatre chains and did all of the financing and distribution of the movies. The New York office would forward the annual budget to their studio on the West Coast (Hollywood). The studios were literally movie-making factories with their stable of contracted writers, directors, DPs, actors, art directors, etc. churning out up to 50 "A" pictures per year (for a large studio).

But, of course, the New York offices got greedy and would force independent theatre owners to take "unwanted" packages of movies. (E.g. "If you want Casablanca, you also have to take these eight "B" movies.") So the independent theatres brought a lawsuit using the old Anti-Trust legislation (originally brought in by Teddy Roosevelt in the early 1900s to break up the Rockefeller monopolies, I think) and by the late 1940s the cinema chains were forced to divest themselves of their studios. The studios stopped contracting people and, over many years, the actual studios (movie-making factories) disappeared.

Today, what we call the Hollywood "studios" - Universal, Paramount, Warner Brothers, Columbia (Sony), MGM, etc. - are simply the old "New York offices" which have been transplanted to the West Coast. All they do is finance and distribute (marketing is included under distribution, of course).

That's why I find it so ironic. If they were able to "vertically integrate" again, they would have a chance to return to what "made them great" in the first place and perhaps set up some genuine studios (as movie-making factories) again. But isn't the old Anti-Trust legislation still in place in the United States?


Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Hart View Post
They need to take care not to be too ruthless and attempt to eliminate the home viewer rental market. The existing DVD-Video conduit may last longer than they think in the face of on-line theatrical exhibition and direct distribution to customers via pay per view streaming.

Obsolete tech might just remain competitive through costs having been amortised and being able to be cheaper. The industry attempt to cashcow the consumer with Blu-Ray has muchly fallen on its face. 3D may yet suffer a similar fate.
Yes, I'm not sure where the current trends are going to head (Blu-ray/DVD/on-line, etc.) I've recently been "covering my bets" and buying "Combo Packs". These have a blu-ray disc plus a DVD disc plus a digital copy. I load the digital copy onto iTunes and can play it onto my plasma through Apple TV (plus load it onto my iPhone). I'm just hoping that at least one of these formats will still be widespread in 5-10 years time. It's a real drag when you have to purchase movies for a second time because the format becomes obsolete (as happened with VHS tapes). I've gone totally cold on 3D though. I was once very keen on it, but watching Avatar left me with the impression that it "hurt my eyes" (or "strained" my eyes) and I've been passing on every 3D movie since then. And the future indie stuff that I make will be 2D (but hopefully 4K).
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Old January 3rd, 2011, 04:08 PM   #5
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David, thanks for the rundown of the Hollywood studio system that book sounds interesting .. those old/great movies still play on Foxes Turner classic movies. Sometimes if there's 'nothing on TV' and I come across an old favourite, I'll watch it to the end, even if there's only 1/2 hr to go.

So I think that's where the delivery thing is heading.

There'll eventually be a giant on line repository with ALL the movies ever made, and you type (and pay) in your selected title .. and probably the date/time you want the movie to start. Later they'll all be 'on demand' when the servers get big enough and technology catches up.

This'll probably start before the next delivery system comes following Blu-ray, which is so slow in being accepted by consumers, newer versions of it will be hard drive video recorders so you can record your favourite movie selections, keeping the 4K quality, special features and all.

At Expo in Shanghai last June, we saw 3D without glasses and while it's still in it's infancy there was enormous interest in it and obviously that's where 3D is heading like it or not.

Maybe from that giant movie repository (in the sky) you'll be able to Blu-ray record the 2 or 3D version .. with advs $$, without advs $$$.

Cheers.
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Old January 4th, 2011, 09:26 PM   #6
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Stanley Kubrick worried about bad projection. He save all of the fan mail that he received and he organized and sorted it according to location. When he heard a rumor about a film of his being badly projected, he'd go to his fan mail file and find the nearest person to the theatre. He'd then call them and ask them if they would do him the favor of going to the movie theatre in question, watching his film and report back to him personally as to how it looked. After he got the report back, he'd call the theatre and raise holy hell with the owner.

Can you imagine getting that phone call? :)
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Old January 5th, 2011, 06:24 AM   #7
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Hi guys, newbie here :)

I watched The King's Speech last night in a cinema on Sydney's north shore, thought it was a fantastic movie (Colin Firth fan here, and David I'm with you on the Jennifer Ehle connection!), but it was let down by the worst visual quality I've seen for some time.

Problems:
- image appeared to 'jump' up and down on the screen (particularly noticable at the start and end of the movie where only text appears on the screen)
- out of focus, but not consistently
- yellow discolouration in some scenes

I was a projectionist about 10 or so years ago, so I understand common projection problems, but this seemed too severe for bad projection. I've also seen bad prints before - this was uncommonly bad. It was bad enough that a friend who was with me complained within the first 2 minutes of the film starting.

We sat through it as we figured it would improve - it didn't. Afterwards we sought out someone to give feedback to - a staff member got a projectionist on the 2 way who mentioned that there was nothing they can do as it was a print quality issue, something about how Paramount had been printed the film plus the fact that the print had been used previously in the UK for some weeks beforehand, and had been water damaged (hence the yellowing).

My husband spoke to the duty manager, who mentioned they'd had quite a few complaints, but that this was a widespread issue with prints of this particular film across the country. He suggested we send an e-mail complaint to Paramount, and (somewhat reluctantly) gave us some complimentary passes.

Such a shame that the 'big screen' experience was a let-down, but I'll definitely get this film on Bluray when it comes out.
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Old January 5th, 2011, 09:26 AM   #8
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Given the yellow tint described and the movement of the frame in the gate, I wonder if Australia has not again been given hand-me-down prints which have been "rehabilitated" after being in distribution elsewhere. We were sometimes on the far fag-end of the distribution stream of movies at country cinemas about 30 years ago.

I had a print of the remake of "Rocking Horse Winner" which gave me incredible grief. It was not a mainstream movie and my guess was that a minimal number of distribution prints were struck and each print worked harder over an extended distribution period to many cinemas.

It was dragging in the gate and leaving this sticky scunge cooked onto on the rails. There was a waxy coating on the film and it was coming off in spades, building on the rails and pushing the film off focus it was that bad.

The stuff was also coming off onto the reproducer roller. A yellowish grubby appearance was apparent from time to time on the screen.

Apparently this stuff was put on the print to fill the scratches so they were not apparent on the screen.

We were using old C&W projectors, which despite age were maintained in good condition. The film path is supported as was a common camera-style construction method of the times by a centre spine with sprockets and intermittent on one side and the gears etc on the other.

The centre also carried the bearings. The film broke twice. The drag was bending the intermittant shaft support at the spine so much that the film would walk off the intermittant. Modern projectors of more robust construction like Cinemeccanicas might not be so affected as ours were.

The number three reel was really bad. We gave up on it as the print was being torn up and it was ruining our machines.

I wonder if Paramount has been caught out and struck too few prints for a film more popular than they might have estimated, or the beancounters are forcing a pennypinch, working fewer prints harder, "rehabilitating" them to extend their life. Whatever, the company's brand has been damaged here. I wonder if they really care. It annoys me when the efforts of the people at the creative end become so diminished.
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Old January 23rd, 2011, 06:46 PM   #9
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Did you guys see this ... Amanda?

Mosman theatre Sydney closes :(

Cheers.
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Old January 28th, 2011, 08:32 PM   #10
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great thread! my daughter loved the King's Speech, and she also loved avatar, 2 totally different films. Notwithstanding the comments about poor quality which i agree with, its clear to me the storyline and compelling acting is what is absolutely crucial, not the color grading! Also the sound at the cinema we saw it was poor, and my daughter commented how she thought we had better sound on our home system!

they should have given Jennifer Ehle a bigger part!
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Old February 5th, 2011, 08:34 PM   #11
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I found a really good interview with the DP and gaffer of The King's Speech where they discuss how a number of scenes were lit plus other creative decisions which defined the visual look of the movie:

ARRI Group: News
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Old February 7th, 2011, 02:45 PM   #12
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Thanks David, and a chance to hear those voices again. The Kings vocal clicks reverberating in Wembley stadium .. masterstrokes. Nice cut on the promo too.

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Old March 5th, 2011, 05:20 PM   #13
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Re: I enjoyed "The King's Speech", but how much do audiences care about visual qualit

I saw Brad Bird, director of such films as "The Incredibles" and "Iron Giant," speak at a local film festival. He railed for quite a while against bad projection. A few things came up.

One is that theaters deliberately dim their xenon bulbs so that they will last longer. Bird says that whenever he sees a dimly projected picture, he'll complain to the manager; if they give him any dissent, he'll say that he worked on the film in question and knows that it's supposed to be brighter (even if he had nothing to do with the movie). Inevitably, bingo, the projected image is suddenly brighter.

He also mentioned that many theaters in England are still owned by studios (like we used to have in the US), and since theaters show their own product, the projection is always perfect.

I'm a former projectionist and know a few of the projectionists in town. Some of them work really hard to maintain excellent image quality, but are often fighting entropy. The Kabuki Theater in San Francisco used to be run by AMC. Since AMC had spent a bunch of money building new local multiplexes, the Kabuki became their redheaded stepchild, so they spent as little money to maintain it as possible, and their projectors were falling apart. I helped run film festival operations there one year for the SF Intl. Film Festival, and there were constantly technical problems with the equipment or the facility (the climate control was also on the fritz). Sundance took over the theater a while back, and fixed everything, so the projection is now usually pretty good.

My pet peeve, however, is focus. I constantly see movies projected slightly out of focus. Bird said in his speech that because platter system projectors are designed to run by themselves without an operator present, the gates on these machines are slightly wider so that the film doesn't catch in them. This means that the prints can never be perfectly in focus. I also think that most projectionists don't bother to check the focus very well at the start of a film. (One old-school trick to get perfect focus is to use binoculars to look at the screen.)

Analog projection is a dying art. I do really like that digital projection is designed to be idiot proof. So often ushers are promoted to projectionists with little training; so while digital is killing analog, it also means that half-wild monkeys can now run a screening. And theaters, like every other business, would prefer to pay minimum wage for every job (projectionists here used to have a union -- imagine that!).
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Old March 6th, 2011, 03:21 PM   #14
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Re: I enjoyed "The King's Speech", but how much do audiences care about visual qualit

Yep, it's plain Black and White Al :)
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Old March 6th, 2011, 04:14 PM   #15
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Re: I enjoyed "The King's Speech", but how much do audiences care about visual qualit

UK Cinemas are mainly big chains, and smaller private operations - but few have links to the film companies any longer. The main problem is that in the 'good old days' prints would only need to last a fairly short period, before they were replaced with the next movie coming in. Now we have multiplexes, the people who see it first see a new print, but by the time it's got to Cinema 7, the damn thing is knackered. Old twin reel projectors were kinder to the film, than cakestands and one op told me he reckoned the problems was that in big hub rooms, there's an awful lot of muck in the air, and an awful lot of exposed film - that due to static, draws the dust and other rubbish in the air onto the emulsion surface - the turns on the big spool then gently vibrate, scratching the print.

As for focus, the projectionist could be the bloke who sells pop corn on alternate nights - who may well have been told NOT to touch this, or that and just press this at 7.30!

Jitter from worn sprocket holes comes with the extra wear from repeating showings.

Can you actually be trained as a projectionist nowadays, or do people just pick it up on the job?
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