Watts up!: A bunch of dim bulbs and projection problems are muddying movies at some Austin cinemas
Jan. 2, 2004, Austin American-Statesman
Last summer at Cinemark Tinseltown in Pflugerville, director Tim McCanlies held a special sneak screening of his family dramedy “Secondhand Lions,” which was filmed in rural areas around Austin. Friends, family and owners of many of the movie’s key locations were there to see a heartwarming story set amid the bright, sprawling beauty of Central Texas.
But the screen never quite glowed; skies were dull and blotchy, the golden hues tarnished.
“The projection was so incredibly dim, people came up to me afterwards saying, ‘I had no idea the whole film was shot at dawn and dusk!,’ which of course it wasn’t,” recalls Paul Alvarado-Dykstra, McCanlies’ assistant on the film.
Inadequate movie projection in Austin theaters — a genuine plague — also made tough work of finding Nemo, let alone any other fish, during the incandescently vivid “Finding Nemo.”
“I knew something was wrong,” says avid Austin moviegoer Kirby McDaniel, who caught “Nemo” at Cinemark Barton Creek. “There was no way the film was supposed to look that dark, especially in a Pixar animated feature for kids. They are supposed to be candy colors!”
Alvarado-Dykstra had the same problem with the same movie at the same theater. “I was horrified by projection so dim it was like watching the movie through sunglasses. Literally. Here’s one of the most visually striking movies of the year, and it was being grossly misrepresented to the audience,” he says.
Cinemark Barton Creek is not the only theater showing movies in a gauze of murk, fuzz, goop. For at least 10 years, I have ground my teeth at dreadful projection quality at chain theaters from California to Texas. In the Bay Area, I walked out of many movies with a refund because the picture was so cloudy.
A recent showing of “Lost in Translation” at the Regal Metropolitan in South Austin was marred by a gray haze over the images, making a perfectly sunny day appear overcast. And I would be hard-pressed to see anything at the Regal Westgate in South Austin after a spate of subpar experiences in projection vibrance. Even the Regal Gateway in North Austin, generally regarded to have the best presentation — sound and picture — in the city, let me down during a mucky screening of “Paycheck” last week.
Not the brightest bulbs
Most say the culprit of these foggy, depressed images is insufficient wattage of projector bulbs, often compounded by the ineptitude of inexperienced employees at chain theaters. Professional projectionists say screen size dictates proper bulb wattage, so the smaller the screen, the less bulb power is required to provide an adequately lit picture.
Problem is, most of the chain theaters — those operated by Regal, Cinemark and AMC in Austin — use extremely large screens in their multiplexes, possibly without proper bulb size or bulb output. Generally, larger multiplex screens demand at least a 3,000-watt bulb but should have a 4,000-watt bulb for an optimal picture.