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Entertainment News: Update on 3-D, D-Box, and More

Evaluating Some Screening Choices

The new Cinepolis Luxury Cinemas in Del Mar Highlands.

Credit: Beth Accomando

Above: The new Cinepolis Luxury Cinemas in Del Mar Highlands.

The opening of the new Cinepolis Luxury Cinemas got me thinking about the choices movie goers currently face.

Cinepolis is the first theater in San Diego to really try and create a high end theater going experience. The closest any other theater comes to the comfort and "specialness" of Cinepolis would be the Museum of Photographic Arts. MoPA's venue has comfortable seats and twinkle lights on the ceiling that make it a welcoming place to watch movies. Only problem is that there is very little aisle space, no food is generally allowed in the theater, and it's only used for special events.

A few years ago, Madstone tried to turn the Hazard theaters into a special movie going experience with higher end food (oh boy do I miss those pesto, mozzarella, and tomato sandwiches!) and mainly higher quality programming. Madstone went beyond just showing indie films but really tried to create specialty programming and festivals so that they were showing titles that no one else in town would show. Madstone's demise was a real tragedy for cinephiles here in San Diego because they were really making an effort to innovate.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: MoPA

The Museum of Photographic Arts' movie theater.

So now most of the choices filmgoers face have to do with new technology or old technology revamped. So we are bombarded with movies in various states of 3-D. Some are 2-D movies processed to be 3-D in order to be offered at theaters at a higher ticket prices. Others are shot in actual 3-D in order to maximize the state of the art technology. The jury is still out on whether 3-D technology -- which is also being fashioned for home theaters as well -- is really here to stay or is just a passing fad... again.

"Avatar," shot in 3-D and projected in 3-D, helped Hollywood attain its best box ever in 2010 by breaking all records with close to a billion dollars in domestic box office and $2 billion in international grosses. The Hollywood Reporter credits 3-D with helping to boost international grosses of recent films like "Kung Fu Panda 2" and "Pirates of the Caribbean 4." And as long as Hollywood can reap a financial profit from 3-D it is likely to remain a choice for moviegoers.

But Harry Medved, spokesperson for the online ticketing company Fandango, says, "Audiences are getting more selective with their movie going experiences these days. When the 3-D is effective and essential to the action, audiences will pay the extra money for the 3-D ticket. According to a recent Fandango survey, 76% of film fans are more inclined to see a movie in 3-D if they know it was actually filmed in 3-D - and not a sloppy 2-D conversion. The same thing holds true for showmanship. When the theater offers a grand escape on a big screen with great sound and amenities, filmgoers are more likely to pay extra to ensure a great time at the movies."

Now theaters are competing with each other over who presents the 3-D experience in the best way. Is IMAX 3-D better than Real D or Dolby 3-D? Cinepolis claims that their 3-D with newfangled glasses provides the most immersive experience. So filmgoers may need to shop and compare not only between theater venues but also how each film released has been shot. It makes it complicated and not a simple choice. So far I have found that horror films such as "My Bloody Valentine," "Final Destination," and "Drive Angry" have made the most clever and visually effective use of 3-D while animated films like "Coraline" prove that it can be effective without being gimmicky. But for the most part, I tend to avoid 3-D whenever possible, mainly because the process and use of the glasses tends to dull the colors on a film.

Over at the UltraStar Cinemas, they are experimenting with D-Box, a new technology that makes specially designed theater seats shake and move in sync with the film. It's a bit of an update on "Earthquake's" old Sensurround and William Castle's Percepto, a vibrating device used in some of the theater chairs and activated at appropriate moments for "The Tingler."

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Columbia Pictures

They just don't make movie posters like they used to! Here's on from "The Tingler."

UltraStar Cinemas' Sandy Moul says, "As the first movie theater group in the world to implement D-Box, UltraStar believed in its potential early on to enhance the movie going experience. Investing in new cinema technologies has always been a top priority for UltraStar, and D- Box has absolutely been one of the greatest competitive differentiators for our theaters. Tickets for D- Box motion seats do very well, often selling out on opening weekend or even for the entire first week’s run for some films. We receive great feedback from movie goers on D- Box because it is such a unique experience that can’t be duplicated anywhere else. Many first-timers don’t know what to expect and anticipate something akin to a theme park ride. When they leave the theater, they’re amazed to find that the seat movement is so well, and subtly, choreographed with the onscreen action that it enhances the experience, versus distracting from it. This has created a loyal group of D- Box guests, as well as newcomers who hear about it and want to try it for themselves."

I tried D-Box at the UltraStar Mission Valley at Hazard Center and while it was kind of fun during some fight scenes, it never became the kind of addition to the cinematic experience that I felt was necessary, especially at the extra cost.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Beth Accomando

Boothless digital projection at Cinepolis Luxury Cinemas in Del Mar. Films are loaded up at one station and projected to 6 of the 8 auditoriums. Two of the auditoriums have bot digital and 35mm projection, the latter is mainly for nostalgia.

Most theaters have or are upgrading (or downgrading depending on your affection for actual 35mm film) to digital projection, which can make the screening experience more trouble free since there are no longer reel changes or film to break. On the other hand, digital prints need to be downloaded or loaded into the projection system and this generally requires a code to unlock the print. I had to wait 45 minutes for the correct code to unlock "Pirates 3" for a press screening. So problems are never completely eliminated from any systems.

And one final note about food. Most theaters are trying to expand their menu options. Pizzas and chicken tenders have been added at some theaters as well as energy drinks. Landmark still wins for best snack bar food with Italian sodas and gourmet chocolates. Although I did notice the AMC Mission Valley having Godiva Chocolates on the counter.

Nationwide, AMC Theaters is experimenting with what's being called Fork and Screen, where certain theaters have been given more food amenities. The AMC La Jolla has been mentioned as a local theater being slated for such an upgrade. But Ryan Noonan, director of public relations for AMC Theaters, says, "We’re examining different possibilities at a number of locations around the country, including AMC La Jolla, however, it’s too early in the process to comment about that specific theater at this time."

So there you have it. Things are definitely changing and I haven't even touched on the changes in home theaters, and streaming and downloading. The bottom line is that movie goers are being given more and more choices as to how they can watch a film. We'll have to wait and see if all these options will remain on the table or if Hollywood and exhibitors decide that some choices just aren't profitable enough to continue providing. But the other thing to remember is that no amount of flashy technology or comfortable seating can make up for a bad movie so Hollywood and indie filmmakers need to turn their attention to something very old school to make sure people keep coming out and that's good storytelling.

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