Last week, Roger Ebert wrote a piece about the effect improperly operated projectors have on the movie viewing experience. Most of the time, when you go to the movies, the bulb in the projector is insufficiently bright, usually because movie theaters are too lazy or incompetent to configure their digital 3D projectors to project 2D movies properly. (3D movies are inherently less bright than 2D movies, it’s a drawback.) He also points out that improper projection goes back before digital movies, it’s a long term problem in the movie industry.
The decline of movie theaters is blamed on many things, usually the rise of home entertainment. It’s funny, though, this is an area where the market has a perverse effect. Movie theaters compete on the comfort of the seating, but not on the quality of projection. You never see an ad that says, “Brightest projector bulb in the city.” So people go to the movies and have a subpar experience because the picture is difficult to see and then choose to watch something on Netflix Instant or get a DVD from Red Box. Movie theaters don’t have a feedback loop to tell them that the real problem might be the bad job they’re doing operating the projectors.
His piece reminded me of an essay from Slate last year, on the vanishing of professional projectionists. As is often the case, removing skilled professionals from the equation seems economical, but there are also costs, and those costs are probably being lost in the noise.