/The problem with movie theaters  
Graphic by Bell Jackson

The problem with movie theaters  

By Carter James 

I’m a movie theater addict.  

I’ve gone 45 times this year. That’s usually my average at the end of the year. Movie theaters are my third space. Regardless of the movie being good or bad, the experience is still great. Lately, the experience has wavered. While I’m not saying that experience has turned for the worse, there are things that I’m annoyed about.  

Most films nowadays are formatted in two aspect ratios. 2.39:1 is the aspect ratio we all think of when we picture movies—widesreen with black bars at the top and bottom. That’s not the only widescreen aspect ratio, however; 1.85:1 is also a standard aspect ratio. This nearly fills the screen with tiny black bars at the top and bottom. This was the most common American aspect ratio when films went from the letterboxed ratio, 1.33:1/4:3 to widescreen. 2.39:1 and 1.85:1 are the ratios that you’ll find at your local multiplex theater.  

Aspect ratio has always been a thing that has jumped out to me as a movie goer and film buff in general. When I was as young as 3 years old, I would have problems with how a film is formatted. 4:3 TVs had to have a movie completely fill up the TV, or I would have a problem. Eventually, I came to respect and appreciate films being presented on home media in their original aspect ratio as I grew older and would hate when cable TV would stretch a film to fit the screen. 

Between the three theaters I go, all of them have had problems with showing movies on the right screen. At first it was just movies in 1.85:1 being shown on 2.39:1 screens, making it look like 4:3 in my mind. Now, just about every movie I go see does not have the proper formatting.  

In the month of August, I saw 12 films. Six of them I had problems with. My rewatch of “Barbie” was met with the film not only being shown on the incorrect screen, but it also looked like I was watching the film on my phone. Another weird new thing I’ve started to notice is a 2.39:1 movie on the right screen but formatted to where there’s a black bar on one side. This happened to me when I rewatched “Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Pt. 1” at the Amstar 14 in Alabaster and when I saw a re-release of “Oldboy” at AMC Classic Lee Branch 15 in Oak Mountain. 

These cases are a part of the ever-growing carelessness for projection at multiplex theaters. I wish gripes with aspect ratios were the least of my issues now, but the projectors themselves are starting to have issues.   

When I saw “Gran Turismo,” I was there for an extra 15 minutes because the IMAX projector was failing to properly work. At first, trailers started showing with just audio and no picture. I got up and told the staff at AMC Patton Creek 15 in Hoover about it. For the next 10 minutes, a picture saying “remember to silence your phone + enjoy the movie” was accompanied by music being played. I got up and told them about that. When I got back, trailers with no picture played again. 

 Eventually, they had to come in and tell me and the only other patron there that they would be restarting the projector. It took all the way up until the studio credits started playing for the screen to actually show the movie. I was relieved that the IMAX screen at least was formatted correctly; a problem I would face two out of the three times I saw “Oppenheimer” in the format.  

That’s not even the worst theater experience I’ve had this year, though. That goes to my first viewing of “Barbie,” where the screen had a faux 3D effect the entire time. Mind you, this was on the biggest non-IMAX screen at the AMC in Hoover. 

But, this problem is not exclusive to just my bad luck. Because my friend started going to the movies more often, I convinced him to get AMC Stubs A-List. Nearly every week since then, he has told me about numerous problems with screens, ranging from the aspect ratio to the screen having a purple filter.  

Movie theater tickets are already too expensive as is for careless mistakes to become a regular occurrence. I’m glad I have AMC Stubs A-List because I would lament having to spend $15-$20 for a single ticket just for my movie to have the same quality control as trying to project from your backyard. 

The next step, especially for AMC theaters, is to train your employees to care about projection. Projectionism is a lost art. Multiplexes have long had only had one employee that is in charge of looking over all the projectors for their theaters, but it now seems like it’s more of a problem for the public than it is a convenience for the staff.  

Even with all of these grievances and the lack of audience etiquette I’ve seen within the past few years, I still enjoy going to the movies. Now, the next time I go and see a problem, I’ll make sure to tell the staff. Hopefully after reading this article, and maybe even thinking about the problems you’ve seen at your theater, you’ll tell the staff to fix things you see in the future. If we want the theatrical experience to be alive for the coming generations, the theaters themselves should care about making that experience worthwhile.  

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