"When faced with a problem you do not understand,
do any part of it you do understand; then look at it again."
~(Robert A. Heinlein - "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress")

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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Sound of Movies ... (Updated 06 Oct 2012)

... is just too damned low when the classics are presented.

Seen ...
1) 23 Aug 2012 - 7:00 PM - Sundance Cinema, Houston
      Jaws (1975)

2) 31 Aug 2012 - Midnight - River Oaks Theater, Houston
      The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)

3) 19 Sep 2012 - 7:00 PM - Edwards 23 & IMAX - Houston
      The Birds (1962)

4) 20 Sep 2012 - 6:45 PM - Sundance Cinema, Houston
      The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

Coming up ...
5) 27 Sep 2012 - 7:30 PM - Sundance Cinema, Houston
      The African Queen (1951)

6) 05 Oct 2012 - Midnight - River Oaks Theater, Houston
      Casablanca (1942)

What do all of those movies have in common? Every single one of them has monaural sound, and in too many cases the theater people don't seem to have a clue as to how to handle it.

Five of the six movies listed above have been digitally remastered, and are being digitally projected in theaters prior to release on blu-ray.

Of the four I've seen, Jaws, The Birds, and Bridge were beautiful visually, but horrible in sound, being played way too low so you really had to strain to hear anything, totally ruining what should have been a wonderful experience (seeing them once again, on a big screen, with an audience that absolutely loves movies).

The odd man out of the bunch was Creature, which was a film presentation (in two-color 3D) and while I wasn't too thrilled trying to watch it through red and blue cellophane in cardboard 3D "glasses" that wouldn't stay in place (see Marquee (Updated) ), I had no problems hearing it, as the River Oaks Theater people seemed to understand what a volume control was for.

With the others, you don't really have a film at all.  Instead, there is a removable hard-drive (about the size of a large paperback book, of several hundred gigabytes capacity) that's couriered into the theater (for security reasons), plugged into a digital projector (Sony 4k, probably) and is already preset as to volume (and other) levels. I suspect the projectionist is very reluctant to over-ride the preset levels.

As to why they are set so low (for mono), I haven't a clue.

But I'm here to tell you that they are.

I had an argument discussion with a ticket collector at the Edwards, who asked me how I liked The Birds, and when I told him of my problems, tried to tell me it "was always like that, you're dealing with sound technology over 40 years old."

Well, my response (not voiced then) should have been ...


When those movies were first released, you had no problem hearing them, as they were presented by people who knew what the Hell they were doing.

Could this be the whining rant of a 70-year old man whose hearing just ain't what it used to be?

Well, you're free to think that, BUT ...

I absolutely love movies, and go to a Hell of a lot of them. So far, it has only been the examples above that I've had problems with (with the rare exception of the presentation problems mentioned in John Hawkes - Man of Steel, which turned out to be a projectionist either ignoring or failing to notice a tag attached to the film specifying the sound level it should be played at).

While arguing discussing this with that ticket collector I mentioned above, I was waiting to go in to see Dredd (Karl Urban's venture into the world of the British comic book series Judge Dredd). Enjoyed the hell out of it, and being a modern production, had no problem whatever with hearing it.

I talked to the theater manager at the Sundance Cinema about this, expressing concern about the same for the upcoming showing of The African Queen.  He promised to pass it along to his projectionist.  We'll see. And I'll update this and let you know how it turns out.

This time, I'm going to try one of their hearing-assist headphone devices, just in case. But, considering that I have no problem at all with hearing the normal fare for these theaters, it's inexcusable for this to be necessary.

By the time of the upcoming Casablanca showing, the River Oaks Theater will have completed installation of a digital projection system, so that will be the format it will be shown in.  We'll just have to see if they are similarly cursed when they show it.

I have a very specific agenda in listing the time and place of the showings I griped about. I saw others also straining to hear the movies there. When I talk to managers there, they insist that they've never gotten any complaints.

Well, here's one now. I'm claiming this is a real problem, and asking,
   "What the Hell's the matter with you?!!!"

If you really don't know how to present a monaural movie properly, then please LEARN! If nothing else try turning up the volume a couple of notches.

Maybe that way, you'll avoid ruining yet another experience.

Thank you. :(

Update 2203 CDT, Thursday, 27 Sep 2012 - 
To the powers that be at Sundance Cinema, Houston:  OUTSTANDING!
Just got back from seeing The African Queen. Unlike the horrible experience with Jaws and The Bridge on the River Kwai, this time the sound volume seemed a couple of notches higher. Made all the difference in the world.

That was fortunate, as I couldn't get the hearing-assist headphones to work (carpal tunnel syndrome leaves me with almost no feeling in my fingertips, and that could have been a factor). But I didn't need them. I just regret not being able to report on their effectiveness.

I would so love to believe that someone actually read this post, and that my pleas made a difference. But, I'll take what I can get. Whether or not I had anything at all to do with the tremendous improvement with the audio, the bottom line is that I had a wonderful experience tonight, and I'm cool with that. :-)

Whatever you guys did this time, that is the way to go.

Update 1355 CDT, Sunday, 30 Sep 2012 - In five days, I'll catch Casablanca at its midnight showing at the River Oaks Theater.

As this will be on their brand new digital projection system, I fear the same problems mentioned above are waiting to happen. I forwarded my previous update to Landmark's customer service department (the River Oaks Theater is part of the Landmark chain), requesting it to be sent to the managers of the River Oaks Theater, desperately hoping to avoid yet another major screw-up in presentation.

I also sent it to FathomEvents (who handled The Birds and have some more restored classics on the way).

Those outfits could do much worse than to discuss this with the manager of Sundance Cinema, Houston. When you talk to him about a problem, he actually listens -- and comprehends.

I'll keep you posted on whether that can be said of the others.

Update 0220 CDT, Saturday, 06 Oct 2102 - 
To the managers of the River Oaks Theater, Houston - You done good!
Just got back from the midnight showing of Casablanca.  My worst fears were unrealized. Even with their new digital projection system, they still know what a volume control is. Absolutely beautiful presentation, with fine sound. So nice to know that there are still people you can count on.

1 comment:

Gary Binkley said...

From summer of 1966 to 1968 I ran the projectors at the Gem Theater in Charleston....knowing about todays digital tech ,I wonder if there is still many projectionists left who can deal with syncing 2 side by side projectors with manually adjustable carbon arc lights and most movies spread over 3 to 5 large reels of film ( memory says " Ten Commandments" was about 12 reels!),constantly fiddling and adjusting to keep it all running smooth!


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