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Required reading: Movie Studios Are Forcing Hollywood to Abandon 35mm Film. But the Consequences of Going Digital Are Vast, and Troubling

digital-projectionYou gotta read this LA Weekly article. It explains in fascinating detail how the conversion to digital projection is yet another area where technology threatens to wipe out an entire chunk of our culture forever in exchange for some convenience.

For old time’s sake I dug up this logo I made back when Seattle’s historic Cinerama theater first converted to digital for ATTACK OF THE CLONES. It looked like shit, but they realized it and switched back to 35 mm. For years we were safe, until the 3D boom left them as the #1 choice only for people who insist on seeing the 2D version of AVATAR. After struggling for a while they changed management and remodelled so they could start playing 3D movies.At first it didn’t seem that bad. The technology has improved since their first digital projector. Most places are digital now, and I’ve gotten used to it. Sometimes, at least if the movie was shot digitally, I think it looks better. But I was horrified when I saw THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO sitting a little closer than I usually would, about the same place I had to sit for some of the LORD OF THE RINGS movies, and it looked pixelated and crappy. I knew a David Fincher movie had to look better than this shit. A friend of mine, sitting back further than I ever sit in that theater, reports giant obvious pixels on HUNGRY GAMES.

It’s a bigger problem at Cinerama because it’s a bigger screen. It’s okay in little multiplexes, but this is different. This has always been the best place in the city to see a movie, it’s where people would line up to see the first showing of a big exciting movie, it’s where those nutbags supposedly camped out for a month to see the Star Wars movie. If a movie was playing at Cinerama it was always your first choice. Now it’s my first choice if the movie is either not released in 3D or shot in native 3D and if I can guarantee gettting there early enough to not have to sit in the first third of the theater where the illusion of movie projection is not as convincing.

But the sometimes-crappiness of digital projection is a side issue I wanted to bring up, it’s not the point of this article. Some of what comes up here is sad, but inevitable. Alot of us have jobs that just can’t exist anymore after a new technology takes over. It sucks but it happens. You gotta roll with it. The part I’m most worried about though is the repertory theaters. This article explains how studios are no longer loaning film prints in order to force theaters to switch to digital. Even if theaters can afford the upgrade and stay in business (which is unlikely in most cases) it will leave us with digital theaters that can only play whichever greatest hits the studio has converted to the DLP projection format. Say goodbye to the art and lifestyle of theater programming and digging up obscurities.

Keep going, the article gets scarier. It explains how preserving digital copies is actually 11 times more expensive than preserving prints, how 20% of the data on TOY STORY actually became corrupted (doesn’t say how they got out of that mess), how close Pixar came to erasing the only copy of TOY STORY 2, how obscure films will inevitably be left behind because of constant format changes and become lost.

I had no idea about this stuff, and I bet you didn’t either. Everyone who loves movies needs to know about this. This is our way of life being bulldozed in order to save in shipping costs. If they’re gonna do it let’s make them do it while looking us in the eye.

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60 Responses to “Required reading: Movie Studios Are Forcing Hollywood to Abandon 35mm Film. But the Consequences of Going Digital Are Vast, and Troubling”

  1. Caught this earlier today. It pretty much confirms my fears of the digital revolution. While I do love the convenience of streaming, as well as the reduced cost and whatnot, I always wondered what would happen if there was some sort of worldwide catastrophe that saw society as we know it completely breaking down, and all of these things that we are taking for granted like back up hard drives and cloud storage will just be completely inaccessible to future generations who are unable to access the ones and zeroes that replicate our greatest works of art, whether they are movies, books, paintings, etc.

    If I buried a book in the ground, and right next to it I buried a Kindle or an iPad with the exact same book loaded into it, and someone dug them up 100 years from now, which version of the book will still be accessible?

    And apparently, as per the Toy Story 1 & 2 story, it won’t take a worldwide zombie apocalypse or nuclear fallout for the ones and zeroes to become nothing, lost forever. Yeesh.

  2. Hollywood is run a bunch of fucking idiots

  3. That was a really interesting read – I’ve been so fixated on the possibility of losing the last few neighborhood theaters we have, that the problems of archiving hadn’t even crossed my mind…

  4. It doesn’t make sense. It really is like people are losing the ability to see past the present moment.

    Money is talked about in terms of being an addiction sometimes, but I don’t think that’s it. I think it’s a lot closer to a game.

    Now, we’re a lot us of here what they call “nerds”– I think it’s safe to say many of us either are, have been, or are friends with somebody who occasionally gets a little too into it when they’re playing a game. Yelling might be involved. Maybe even a little crying. But when the game is over, we can see that kind of behavior for what it is: embarrassing and ridiculous. Because it’s a game. The stakes are low. So you got your pieces around the board first or your video game avatar got killed the least number of times. When you’re done you’ve got a life to attend to.

    I think the dudes who are making these sweeping profits-over-practicality decisions in Hollywood (and seemingly everywhere else that a shit ton of money is concerned) are caught up in the mechanics of a game that is very close to being over, which means our country is being run by the equivalent of the kid who has a tantrum if he doesn’t win at Hungry Hungry Hippos. Only I don’t think this is the kind of game we can just start another round of, once somebody wins. This is Final Fantasy II, not Dig Dug.

    Interesting times…

    (Also, how the shit do they expect to use digital technology in the event that electricity is no longer easy to produce? That one’s never made sense to me, either.)

  5. I read that the only reason Toy Story 2 was able to be saved was because someone at Pixar had the files for the movie at her home to work on them.

  6. if you want to get all conspiracy theory minded, maybe this is all some sort of plot to intentionally censor the past 1984 style (isn’t that one of the things they did in that book?)

  7. There is a petition to save 35mm:

    http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/fight-for-35mm/

    I thought the same thing about HUNGRY GAMES, and it was SHOT ON FILM! I thought, “Surely they noticed these night scenes (about 50% of the movie) are all fuzzy grain.” That bothered me more than the shaky cam.

    I would love if digital distribution meant that studios would show MORE old movies in theatrical engagements. But they won’t. At least there’s TUGG.com trying to make things available in public screenings.

    My 2 cents, just on a philosophical level, you should always keep a portion of the previous technology around. Film students should learn how film worked, even if we end up shooting movies on digital implants in our eyes. They’ve got to know the principals, how it all started with silver on celluloid.

    You don’t burn your CDs when you upgrade to an iPod. You give ’em to the poor, sheesh. Someone should still keep that shit in storage.

  8. Boy, I don’t know about all this. Movies have always looked pretty bad in the front row. Movies shot on film are not made up of pixels but they DO have individual “picture elements” – film grain. Get too close (assuming it’s actually in focus) and you will see the specks that make up the image and get distracted and lose your suspension of disbelief. I saw Beckett when it was rereleased (on 35mm) a few years ago and got stuck in the front row. I was surprised by how terrible it looked was really close up. Actually I was REALLY surprised that “Beckett” played to a sold out crowd in the mid 2000s but also by the first thing.

    The reality is that even movies shot on film and projected on film are scanned, edited and graded digitally. Then they are reprinted on film. So pretty much every movie made in the last 10 years, and most of the older ones that were rereleased in theaters, are essentially digital no matter what the projection system was. Maybe the idiosyncrasies of that printing to film step are masking the pixels, or maybe our current digital distribution system is a little too low resolution. Or maybe they’re able to really nail the focus in a way that was difficult with film projectors. I don’t know, but blaming it on “digital” is silly.

    Finally, saying all this is “in exchange for some convenience” is understating just how inconvenient dealing with film prints is. Film prints can cost a ton of money. And they are really heavy. And they degrade with each showing. As a long term archival format I can see the appeal. People in a hypothetical future where digital copies have either degraded and become unreadable or are in formats that are no longer understood could pick up a film print, hold it up to the light, and immediately see what it is. But does that mean that every single theater needs to have a heavy, expensive, fragile but time-capsule-ready copy of a movie? I don’t think so.

  9. Hey guys, long time lurker, first time poster etc.

    I thought I could chime in on this subject as I have first hand experience of the effects of cinemas going digital. I’ve worked as a projectionist for a large Australian cinema chain for 8 years now and worked my butt off to move my way up the food chain. I ended up as the head projectionist, for want of better term, at their biggest site. I ended up moving to a smaller rural site with 8 screens to settle down with a new lady and all that, only to have our first digital projector installed 2 years later and another 6 months after that. The site is currently 50% digital, with the rest being installed in the next 2 months. The entire cinema circuit will be 100% digital at the start of August. My role along with my peers has been made redundant and all the projection staff

  10. Damn phone…

    … will be sacked.

    Currently there are countless issues with the projection, the on-screen presentation is good, but there are hardware and software issues galore and dropped session all too often. With all the technically savvy staff gone, the customer experience will be poor for a while until all the bugs are ironed out.

    I’ve had to change careers at 33 and am now an apprentice refrigeration mechanic. I enjoy my new job, but will really miss all the film work we did, it was a real art putting a film together from box to screen and now it’s completely soulless.

    A lot of people will probably be happy that a shit teenage projectionist getting paid minimum rage isn’t screwing up their show, but I used to take much pride in putting on a good show, framing right, volume right, no scratches, clean print…

    It’s a shame in many ways…

  11. One thing that people are forgetting is that:

    1) digital projection has allowed smaller films to get cinema releases. One recent example is the Jean Claude Van Damme and Scott Adkins thriller Assassination Games. It received a limited release in the US and all of the projections were digital. If digital projection would not have been a possibility then that movie would not have been seen near cinemas as the producers of low budget movies won’t support the cost to make celluloid prints (see the article Vern posted for prices).

    2) In certain countries, digital projection has been a godsend. I am from Romania. Sure, not a really important country for anyone living outside it, but as a citizen and a movie lover, I want to see movies look their best.

    For a very long time the celluloid prints used in my country were prints that had already been used in other markets. Hence, the movies looked even like crap sometimes because they were being projected from what were basically second hand prints. Not to mention, that the big cinemas got the prints first (already used) and THEN, once they were done with them, the distributors would send the SAME prints to the smaller cinemas – guess what, if you lived in a smaller town, chances are the movie you were seeing in cinemas might have ended up looking like a bootleg VHS tape.

    Digital has somewhat removed most of the above issues.

    3) The problem is that most cinemas DON’T CARE about the quality of the projection. I read a lot of articles about how 3D movies can look like crap because the projectors need to be finely tuned, need the correct light bulbs, etc and how most 3D cinemas around the world don’t bother with doing the proper set up work for their projectors.

    I think the same thing can be said for digital projection as well. You need proper equipment to get high quality. Bad or improperly set up equipment might yield that pixelation Vern mentioned.

    BUT, not one mention has been made about the fact that classic projection requires good equipment too. I bet a lot of cinemas still running movies from celluloid prints have really old and improperly maintained projectors.

    5) How many young and talented movie makers would not have made a single moment of film without the advent of digital cameras, digital editing and digital distribution/projection? Think about it.

    6) What I do agree with however is that ALL movies should have a celluloid print stored somewhere for future generations.

    7) The problem is that movie making technology has been too damn expensive for too long. Why couldn’t they think of a way to reduce the cost of celluloid film making instead of simply replacing it with the digital tech, that no matter how great you think it is, it is still a very under developed tech that is still in its infancy.

    We will reach a point where classic movies will be easily converted to digital and so a lot of movie goers will be able to see their beloved classics on a cinema screen at top notch quality. There’s a cinema in Romania that shows classic movies, mostly for the use of film school students and I’ve heard reports that some of the movies are shown from prints that are in an awful state of preservation. It would be nice if these movies were shown clear, crisp and wrinkle free. This is what would be ideal to happen.

    BUT, the SAD truth is that most of the people I know don’t care or even think about older movies. Nosferatu, Metropolis, etc such classics are getting close to 100 years of age are NOT movies the vast majority of people would want to see. So the studios and all the people with power and money don’t want to invest in preserving movies because there simply isn’t a huge market for them.

    All the movie industry cares about is getting money from people here and now. The rest is optional at best.

    Such is life, we shouldn’t dismiss a new technology simply because it replaces one we like, however, we should fight to make sure that:
    a) digital projection is properly used
    b) digital technology is fully developed to be a proper replacement for the older tech (for filming, editing and projecting)
    c) classic movies should be transferred properly to digital and made easily and extremely cheaply available for projection. In fact I would issue a law by which any cinema that wants to show a new blockbuster movie should be forced to showcase 2-3 classic movies per month with 2-3 days per such a movie
    d) all movies should be preserved in celluloid print form in a vault (a pristine, untouched print of every movie should stored away for future generations)

    A lot more can be said, but in the end, the power will always be in the hands of:
    – the people with money
    – the 99% of customers who don’t give a crap

  12. Thanks for the comments everybody, especially first time and infrequent posters. Chris H., maybe I got us off track by writing so much about bad experiences with digital projection, which is really not the main issue here. But what I was trying to explain is that this is a theater I’ve been going to for years and seeing movies in those same seats and they looked great when it was on film. I just had to crane my neck a little. I like film grain though and don’t remember ever being distracted by it.

    No, I don’t think every theater needs to have film prints, but I do think that the studios deliberately trying to kill the old system and refusing to lend out the existing prints is trouble. Shit, at least let us enjoy it while it lasts.

  13. Here’s some more info on the academy’s study on digital formats: http://www.variety.com/article/VR1118048861?refcatid=1009

  14. I’m a “if it aint broke, don’t fix” kind of guy sometimes and this is one subject where I think that’s the case

    I mean 35MM film has worked fine for decades, why change something so tried and true just to “save a little money”? (and they wont even be saving any money anyway) why change something so fundamental to the entire fucking industry? why not just leave well enough alone? it seems like modern Hollywood has been intentionally breaking a lot of rules they used to follow, screen writing rules, editing rules, cinematography rules etc for seemingly no reason whatsoever other than they’ve become lazier (or maybe they’re just bored), I don’t get it

    it’s like if the auto industry started selling cars with 8 wheels instead of four or something

    I’ll tell you something in the movie business that DOES need change, the fucking MPAA

  15. If there’s two things about technology that are always true they would be that technology improves over time, and that it gets cheaper as it improves. I’m not gonna argue that digital projection looks anywhere near as good as film (because it obviously doesn’t), but I will go on record as saying that in a few years it will do – it’s inevitable. It’s also inevitable that the digital projectors will come down in price as they improve because that’s just the way it works. I suppose I’m saying that in the long run I don’t believe we have anything to worry about from a movie watching standpoint.

    Also I’ve never understood the greedy-studios-just-out-to-save-money argument. Isn’t that in everyone’s best interest? From a creative standpoint, the less money a movie costs to produce the more freedom the people involved have to make the movie they want to make and the less suits there are stood between the director and his audience. Cheaper movies = better movies.

    Arguing aginst digital makes no sense to me, it’s basically an argument for risk-free filmaking. If remakes, prequels and endless sequels is all you want then fine, keep your 35mm – I’m sure Tranformers 5 will look pristine.

  16. Jareth Cutestory

    April 13th, 2012 at 7:00 am

    A bit of good news for you, Vern: One of the rep theaters here in Toronto renovated itself into a business that performs film/video editing during the day, then resuming regular rep functions at night, which I’m told has proven to be a successful strategy for that particular theater. And I’m pretty sure that every rep theater makes itself available for private functions and live shows. So there are strategies available to keep the cash coming in. Obviously there’s not much they can do if they can no longer obtain the prints they want to show. But I wouldn’t be surprised if an alternate model of film archive/distribution company establishes itself at some point, possibly as a nonprofit organization.

    Apparently Apple is doing something similar with music: they’re not putting CD/DVD drives in their newest model of computer as a way to “encourage” people to use itunes exclusively.

    Mode7: I’d be more encouraged by your observation if I saw any evidence that the studios were willing to give anything resembling freedom to the people involved in making a film. All I see is franchise building, product placement and a distinct lack of final cut.

  17. There’s also one more thing that’s being over-looked in this discussion – this is going to kill off tons and tons of independently-owned repertory and arthouse cinemas that literally can’t afford to pay for digital projection (and the frequent expensive system upgrades) and thus can’t run the boutique studio films that keep them in business like King’s Speech, Black Swan, Tree of Life and Midnight in Paris.

    There’s a part of this move to digital that reeks of calculation to kill off these businesses that genuinely care about film culture and are often the places responsible for ensuring that new 35mm prints are made and restored, cared for and seen by audiences. Killing arthouse cinemas is bad, even for folks that prefer Charles Bronson to Ingmar Bergman… (If you think you’re not going to lose Charely Varrick and Taking of Pelham 1-2-3 when places like this aren’t out there promoting them and caring for their legacy, in addition to giving their screens and support to new films like Drive and Elite Squad, then you are crazy…)

  18. I love film. I mean, I love “film” the cinema experience, i don’t love the format the moving images are stored on. I think some people commingle their love for the medium, with a misplaced love for the actual physical medium.

    This to me is twee nostalgia at its best, maudlin melodrama at its worst. There’s just so something so contrived and overly precious about this subject.

    You’ll still see movies and be moved by them folks. I’m sorry that the film grain and flicker is different. Oh and those bits of dust that flash now and then. Really?! Honestly, this is unimportant background noise.

    Nobody will ever say I am not a cinephile. And to me, this issue is simply a nonissue. You’re just focusing on the wrong thing on the screen, not that it is even that noticeable or has any sort of impact on the cinema experience from an aesthetic or artistic or emotional point of view. It makes no sense to me this sort of background noise should pivot this large in your appreciation of a movie. I simply don’t buy it. I can only think I am dealing with someone who is focusing on the wrong thing on screen and is limiting his or her true enjoyment.

    It’s like those audiophile guys who have to have vacuum tube transistors or rave about sampling rates in the audio file or the frequency response, whatever. You’re talking about 0.0001% of the sensory input here. That it should loom so large to the level of your enjoyment is a sort of fetishistic attachment to the vagarities of the technology, and completely ignoring the artistic spectacle you are supposed to be focusing on, which in no way save miniscule amounts beyond perceptibility is enhanced or degraded by these sort of media concerns.

    This is what going on here, psychologically:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Classical_conditioning

    The original and most famous example of classical conditioning involved the salivary conditioning of Pavlov’s dogs. During his research on the physiology of digestion in dogs, Pavlov noticed that, rather than simply salivating in the presence of meat powder (an innate response to food that he called the unconditional response), the dogs began to salivate in the presence of the lab technician who normally fed them. Pavlov called these psychic secretions. From this observation he predicted that, if a particular stimulus in the dog’s surroundings were present when the dog was presented with meat powder, then this stimulus would become associated with food and cause salivation on its own. In his initial experiment, Pavlov used a bell to call the dogs to their food and, after a few repetitions, the dogs started to salivate in response to the bell.[4]

    You are deriving pleasure from experiencing a film. This is good, I am with you here. But you are being psychologically conditioned: your pleasure is being associated with random, unassociated stimuli. to You’re reacting to the bell, the film grain, rather than the food, the actual movie. It’s a false relationship between enjoying what is presented on the film medium and rather inconsequential contemporaneous aspects of the actual physical medium.

    I’m sorry, the emperor is not wearing any clothes.

    Just my opinion.

  19. Jareth Cutestory

    April 13th, 2012 at 9:05 am

    frenger: I don’t know about elsewhere, but in Toronto the major art gallery generates a lot of revenue by showing classic films. They can afford to upgrade their equipment, but I like to think that they’re not going to just roll over if their film distributers dry up. A bunch of major international art galleries could conceivably shame the studios into honoring their herritage if they waged their campaign effectively.

    We also have a guy here in Toronto, Reg Hartt, who has been showing his own prints of Buster Keaton films and Tex Avery cartoons in his living room every night for the last 25 years. That guy is laughing at us all right now.

    BR Baraka: I think you’re being a bit reductive. The theater in which a film is projected is a crucial part of the
    aesthetic experience of viewership. The varying degrees of abuse that the film itself is subject to from use can be like an additional veil of poetry cast over the movie itself. Aesthetics aren’t simply confined to the movie itself, to camera placement and choice of lighting; an aesthetic sensibility is a wonderful, messy part of ourselves that spills out all over the place. You may see film stock as “background noise,” but I see it as a contribution to an environment that is an instrinsic part of the viewing process. I don’t think it’s just nostalgia that makes those vinyl crackles a musician like Burial puts onto his records sound so forlorn; he’s tapping into how his listeners experience space and time. Film grain does something similar.

    We can all agree that a theater sound sytem enhances the viewing experience; I propose that film stock is equally crucial. I actually think it’s a bit pathological to expect a projected image to NOT have “noise,” and I think the desire to engineer a “pristine” image is not all that different from wanting an utterly empty image.

    Which isn’t to suggest that digital won’t have its own aesthetic; I just have difficulty in seeing its charm just yet.

    I tend to find that the strongest adherents to the anti-film argument are people who have never appreciated the disctinction between live music (particularly classical music) and recorded music. There is also an ugly subtext in much of their arguement that devalues the individual responses and preferences viewers have to their chosen way of experiencing a film. This is the same kind of literal minded snobishness that has promoted the auteur theory to a place of privilege within film studies at the expense of all the genre trash that we love so much.

  20. Jareth, to each their own. If we all focused on the same things the world would be a boring place.

    I followed you completely until the last part, “This is the same kind of literal minded snobishness that has promoted the auteur theory to a place of privilege within film studies at the expense of all the genre trash that we love so much.”

    Because, in my mind, a fetishistic devotion to the minor random aspects of the medium’s background noise is the snobbishness in question, to me.

    Just my opinion. I know I’m taking a position in harsh contrast to many cinephiles, I don’t expect agreement.

    I’m just happy to talk to people who love movies as much as I do. I don’t expect people to love them the same way I do.

  21. “You made the Harry Potter films! You have more money than God!” cracked me up for some reason.
    Yeah, this is terrible news. On the matter of film vs. digital just as a format to shoot in, I understand digital can look somewhat different to film, but I don’t understand why this has to be. Doesn’t being digital allow for easier alteration after the fact? Why can’t there just be a sort of “Film Filter” that could be applied?

  22. Film forever!

    Digital has it’s place. But throwing away celluloid is like saying we don’t need to print and bind books anymore. Anybody who says holding a book in your hand and reading words in ink on a page, or watching film grain glimmer in the light of a projector, isn’t an important part of the experience? JUST DOESN’T GET IT.

  23. Jareth Cutestory

    April 13th, 2012 at 9:54 am

    Stu: I’m not convinced that the way light interacts with film and chemicals can ever be reproduced through digital means, and I don’t see why digital should be made to try. Both film and digital produce images, but they differ in crucial areas. I say let digital form its own aesthetic rather than trying to be a simulation of film.

    My fear is that the push to go all digital has nothing to do with aesthetics and everything to do with consolidating control of the work in question among a few elite. If that copy of NUDE NUNS WITH BIG GUNS can only exist on the internet, it’s a lot easier for the company that owns it to limit your access to it. It’s the same mentality that has governed art galleries for decades.

    BR: To each his own indeed. You’re my kind of people.

  24. When i started reading the article, i almost collapsed from indignation when i read that Michael Shit Bay shared the same room with christopher Nolan, but was even invited by him. Then i realised the real purpose. It does make sense because, for reasons that science will never explain, Bay is a member of the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts And Science.

    Tthat shock left behind, and reading the article, two things stroke as very sad:
    1- That with the “go digital” fever the studios are going for, they are robbing filmmakers of the opetion to shot in film is so chose. If filmmakers are fearing a digital tyrany due to lack of choice, they are right to feel so.
    2- That studios and some filmmakes are so hung up on the digital revolution, to the point if technofetishim, they became unawares of the flipside to the coin, which is the subject of persevation. The irony that the older format, film, is easier and sturdier to the passage of time and far less problematic to handle conservation and far cheapper has not escaped me.

    People worried with the transcription of film to digital format, it seems to me the best way to perserve a movie is to transfer it to film for conservation purpose. Even originally shot mvoeis in digital should be turned to film so they can be perserved in much better coonditions.

    There’s something wrong when Eastman Kodak bankrupts. Such an icon, such a loss.

  25. This article was tweeted yesterday several times, but I refused to read it because I expected another “waah, digital evil”/”people who go digital lack any credibility” rant. I was not just surprised to see that there is a LOT more going on on this topic* and that a change to digital threatens so many existences.

    Still, I got no idea why Pixar seemed to have only one copy of their movies. Even I have copies of all my files on at least two different, external hard drives!

    *at least in the world of film.

  26. You know, now I think about it they probably will keep film around and sell it as an upper tier “premium” type deal. The multiplex will have one screen reserved for “The 35mm experience – the way it was meant to be seen!”. Hope you all enjoy a good gouging.

    Also I agree with asimov, film should always be used to archive movies, I don’t really understand why this isn’t happening already. Someone really needs to get their arse in gear with regard to archiving in general, it doesn’t seem like it’s being taken seriously enough.

  27. David Bordwell has an interesting series of posts about the digital changeover up at his blog where he goes into greater depth about the effects it will have on arthouses, festivals and archiving. The first post is here:
    http://www.davidbordwell.net/blog/2011/12/01/pandoras-digital-box-in-the-multiplex/

    asimovlives – Christopher Nolan is actually a fan of Michael Bay’s movies according to this interview with Wally Pfister:
    http://blog.moviefone.com/2010/07/18/an-interview-with-inception-cinematographer-wally-pfister/

    “I’m not a big Michael Bay fan. Chris loves Michael Bay’s movies. And so I’m always like come on, dude! But he sees something in it, and I don’t see it.”

  28. Knox Harrington

    April 13th, 2012 at 1:46 pm

    For me it’s a simple case of aesthetics.

    Grain looks beautiful. It’s makes the screen seem alive. IT IS CINEMA.

    A zillion square pixels, no matter how tiny they are, could never duplicate the look of living, moving film.

    I do wish that these two formats could live side by side, but the one is so intent on destroying the other that it simply makes me love and appreciate film more.

    Don’t you just love listening to that soft purr of a film projector in the background?

  29. Rehydrated Dehydrated Pirate Paul

    April 13th, 2012 at 5:26 pm

    Wooow… late to the party on this one. And I don’t have too much to contribute that hasn’t already been said, although I feel Vlad M. summed it up pretty well for me in what was an excellent post.

    The UK has had a long and thriving tradition of cinema that has IMO produced some all-time great films, many of which have more cult appeal than mass appeal. I don’t want to lose the ability to watch a film like “Kes” in cinemas because the format it’s stored on has been made obsolete.

    As for the aesthetics, I think I’m a bit more where BR Baraka is. I grew up with black-and-white analogue TV, guys, as did a lot of people my age who came from the place I came from. Big screen colour TVs were luxuries in those days. It’s a huge leap to where I am now, and what I’m writing this post on. (This computer is a pretty nice beast.) My point being, I have memories of frustratedly having to twist the aerial about every which way to get a signal. But I don’t remember enjoying the programs that came on any less because the screen was a bit fuzzy.

    Maybe younger people would think differently, especially those who didn’t grow up in a time and place where a lot of people lived on second-hand stuff as we did. I mean, if you’re used to 1080p HD, it’s a bit silly to go back to 280 x 420 (or whatever the resolution was back then), isn’t it? But it’s not an issue I’ve ever had personally.

  30. I think this is all leading up to the death of the movie theatre. That’s why studio’s are pushing for it, because they probably see the advantage of the ellimination of them.

    Digital will allow direct private distribution easier, making there no point in movies being initally release in cinemas when it can just be distributed directly to customers. That article talks about the costs of distributing 35mm to cinemas, they want to take out the middle man and deal directly to the customer.

    I think this is part of the push for digital, as well as the reduced costs and new technology. More and more people just watch movies at home on DVD and Blu-ray now and I think the studio’s see that as the future.

    And also probably to prevent piracy, if they are already releasing their movies digitally as soon as they are released, they are hoping people will just pay to see the legit copy rather than dowloading pirated .

    That’s why the don’t give a shit about these small cinema chains, they probably see them as dead already

  31. Jareth: you’re misunderstanding the cost of upgrade. The studios don’t want everyone to go just to any old digital system, some of them are going to make their films available on only DCP, the cost of upgrading to is about $300,000 with no guarantee that it won’t be obsolete or need expensive upgrades in the next 3 years. That’s way beyond what’s feasible for all but the most well-funded of arts organization. Sure, you can get a cheap projector and show blu-rays, but that’s not doing a service to the artworks in question. Also, an art gallery showing a handful of films a year in mediocre, non-theater space isn’t really a worthwhile solution – places like Film Forum and your Bell Lightbox are 4 and 5 screen venues that show films 365 days a year and can generate the revenue to get distributors excited about making new prints, caring for the ones they have and restoring damaged materials. Anyhoo, the Lightbox is a financial disaster, so they’re not a great example of anything apart from how arts organizations shouldn’t spend their money. And the real victims will be not theaters in big cities like Toronto and NY, but borderline cities like Portland and Nashville and Atlanta that could quickly find themselves without arthouse theaters that aren’t giant chains like Landmark. You’re going to see marginal markets wiped out and independently owned not-for-profit theaters go the way of the drive-in in the next few years and that’s bad for the films you love…

  32. Also, the whole “market directly to consumers” idea would be nice… if it didn’t lose tons of money. The change from “there are no movie theaters and there’s still a way to make money off of movies” will be a sea change if it happens at all. Films need the press and media machine built around theatrical releases in order to generate revenue – the only way films will keep getting made. Also, there’s the whole problem of piracy, which I’m sure 90% of you on this engage in.

    Anyway, the issue of digital vs. film is obviously complex and I’m no purist, but keep in mind that the industry has no plans to make your access to films cheaper and more profitable for the artists who actually do the creation. That’s why the whole “it will just happen to wipe out a ton of independently owned businesses” side effect it so shady to me. It’s corporate consolidation being done by folks who I can tell you for a fact have no interest in preserving and presenting all but their most profitable titles. If we end up in a world with no hard media, no independent theaters and total remote digital control (one of the favorite features of DCP – distributors can lock you out of showing a movie if they feel like it and they’re certainly aiming for a Kindle-esque remote-deletion industry standard for digital distributed media) then when a film disappears (which will probably happen through apathy rather than malice) it will really be gone. If the storage file corrupts, goodbye film. You think WB cares what happens to The Outfit? Or Don Siegel’s early films? That they’re going to spend a dime creating decent quality digital versions of these films?

  33. I’ve been at two digital screenings this week where the sound cut off. One was at USC Film School for Christ’s sake. A fucking film school can’t have a projectionist who watches the print to make sure little details, like the sound staying on, are executed according to the digital programming.

    The second time was here at Actionfest. People went out to report the sound outage, but no one went to the booth for several minutes. When someone finally popped in up there, it looked like all he did was turn the sound knob back up. I think the volume knob actually accidentally turned down, maybe a vibration caused it to self-rotate, but we don’t have any newfangled technology like people turning volume knobs. That’s sci-fi, man.

  34. Knox Harrington

    April 14th, 2012 at 4:43 am

    Nice shout-out to KES there, Paul.

    Bender, I know that the death of the movie theatre seems like a very real threat, but I honestly think that the film industry in general is trying their best to keep it alive. They want audiences to go to theatres, simply because it’s the biggest and best way of getting their films noticed. For many studios the big screen is their ultimate marketing tool. Even when their movie barely breaks even at theatres, they know they’re gonna make their money back when it comes to DVD and Blu-ray, simply because of all the publicity it got from being seen at theatres.

    That why all these “gimmicks” like 3D and Imax are being pushed and promoted so much these days. That’s why Avatar was such a big deal. Trust me, they want us in theatres, because then we can tell all our friends about it and buy the Blu-ray afterwards.

    If anyone’s responsible for the death of the movie theatre, it’s the audience itself. I blame it completely on those pricks who decide to download a new movie and watch it on their laptop, instead of watching it the right way.

    Tree of Life on a fucking laptop. Kill me now.

  35. “Tree of Life on a fucking laptop. Kill me now.”

    Pretty much sums it up!

  36. I feel mixed.

    Regardless of the aesthetics of the formats; film is objectively better than digital in terms of dynamic range for filming and resolution for projection at the moment. That’s not arguable.

    But I have to say in practical terms the digital upgrade has improved the actual quality of the cinema experience for me – that’s probably an effect of theatre size and relative age and quality of equipment. Also I think it has given re-releases and arthouse film greater opportunities, because of the lower cost of distributing a digital film, so I’m also seeing a wide range of stuff than I could have before the switchover.

    “If there’s two things about technology that are always true they would be that technology improves over time, and that it gets cheaper as it improves. I’m not gonna argue that digital projection looks anywhere near as good as film (because it obviously doesn’t), but I will go on record as saying that in a few years it will do – it’s inevitable.”

    I’m sure tech will improve, but the worry is we’re being stuck with a standard that’s inferior to what is currently available. We’re still watching and making films at 24 frames per second because that became a standard in the mid-1920s, even though tech has been able to do better than that for the last 90 years. Similarly, the standard for resolution is 4k, even though film projection can currently do better, and it looks like we’re going to be stuck with it regardless of techological advances.

  37. Rehydrated Dehydrated Pirate Paul

    April 14th, 2012 at 2:00 pm

    Knox – I find it hilariously ironic you say that, given that I drove an hour and a half to the only movie theatre that was actually SHOWING “Tree of Life”, and found they didn’t have enough space for me to get in. A laptop (or at least, a DVD-player and a monitor) may be the only way I get to see that film. Maybe this is the old cantankerous black-and-white TV-owning me talking, but I’ll swallow my own hand before I buy a blu-ray player until they reduce the prices to WAY below what DVDs are right now, and get rid of some of the more obnoxious DRM to boot.

    Also while it’s true that cinema profits have dipped slightly over the last five years or so, look back to pre-Internet times and a very different picture emerges. Don’t buy into the bullshit that piracy is “destroying” the movie theatre. The movie theatre is doing very nicely for itself.

  38. Knox Harrington

    April 15th, 2012 at 1:34 pm

    I have no idea if piracy is “destroying” the movie theatre or not.

    I just know that piracy is fucking disrespectful and just plain lame. I have zero respect for any so-called movie lover who would watch some fuzzy downloaded copy of a great film instead of being patient enough to watch it the right way.

    I knew this guy who had the balls to tell me 2001: A Space Odyssey was a piece of shit after watching a crappy 700 MB downloaded copy of it on his goddamn laptop. Needless to say, I tore him a new asshole.

  39. Rehydrated Dehydrated Pirate Paul

    April 15th, 2012 at 3:54 pm

    Yeah, but Knox, you seem to be confusing three completely separate issues. They are:

    1) The supposed “death” of the movie theatre (which for the record is a blatant lie by the MPAA to scare us into thinking that piracy is worse than street crime)

    2) The studios’ attempts to win audiences into movie theatres (which have nothing whatsoever to do with either piracy or the digital issue that’s the subject of this debate)

    3) The issue of movie piracy itself (and there are NO winners in this debate. Trust me on that.)

    As for issue #3, I think I’ve made my views clear regarding picture quality, etc. Yeah, it’s nice to have top-quality picture and sound, but a helluva lot of people couldn’t afford it when I was growing up, and a significant minority in this country probably still can’t. I don’t side with the guy you tore a new asshole from; but the way you state it, I find it very hard to side with you either.

    Copying a movie isn’t “theft”, no matter how much the MPAA might want to portray it as such. My moral objections to this practice stem ENTIRELY from the fact that if you copy a movie or song or whatever instead of paying for it, you derive something from the experience, but the creator gets nothing. That doesn’t seem fair to me. The rest of the objections seem like so much bullshit.

    It is absolutely fucking ridiculous that we are expected to pay top dollar for a “licence to play” a single copy of a piece of data that can be reproduced, almost infinitely, at zero cost. It is equally fucking ridiculous that when professional filmmakers and musicians distribute their legally produced, non-copyright-infringing work for free on sites like “YouTube”, big record labels and movie studios are able to shut them down with a takedown notice to the hosting website or server provider without any kind of legal oversight. This kind of thing is absolutely widespread and is nothing more or less than movie studios behaving like criminal cartels. Let’s say you’re an independant filmmaker and this happens to you. What are you supposed to do? Sue Viacom or Universal or the MPAA? If you lose, you’re bankrupt.

    So please don’t make casual statements like “If anyone’s responsible for the death of the movie theatre, it’s the audience itself. I blame it completely on those pricks who decide to download a new movie and watch it on their laptop, instead of watching it the right way.” Because honestly, it comes across to me as sanctimonious moralising from a position of ignorance. The movie theatre isn’t “dying”, pirates aren’t killing it, and what constitutes the “right way” is a helluva lot more complex issue than your statement would make it seem.

  40. If Metropolis had existed in digital format back upon its release, does anyone honestly think the only surviving version would be the banged up shambles we see today?

    Digital data is safe because those who love it will keep it safe and can do so with increasing ease. I can still find pictures I downloaded 20 years ago being re-posted online. The exact same images. Yet they have not degraded, not a pixel is out of place, they have been kept alive by those who shared them with thousands of others.

    I will miss many things about “film”, but I welcome digital for what it brings to the table. This is coming from someone who railed and raved against digital projection for years.

  41. gingersoll – you’re discounting the fact that METROPOLIS was “lost” because of quite frankly careless people. I mean jesus NASA lost their recording of the Moon landing. And BBC last year accidentally found a copy of a lost David Bowie BBC Tops of the Pops appearance because a cameraman had copied it for his own personal colleciton.

    And nevermind that with digital, you forget there is something called the “Delete” button.

  42. Knox Harrington

    April 16th, 2012 at 5:43 am

    Jesus, Paul, sometimes I think you like to argue with people just because you’re bored or something.

    Half the stuff you say doesn’t even make any sense to me. Going on about how it’s wrong to pay “top dollar” for something that can be reproduced at zero cost? You do realise that what you pay for isn’t the cost of making the actual copy, but the information (i.e. the film) itself, right? That’s how filmmakers can justify making massive blockbuster movies for $200 million, because we the audience pay to see what they ended up producing with that massive budget. If we all just made endless free copies of films (99% of which are of inferior quality) and spread them all over the place, how would the filmmakers get the money back to make another one? Seems like a fair deal to me.

    And let’s not forget that watching movies is a privilege, not a human right (much as we would all like it to be).

    I just don’t get you, man. But I’m sure as hell not getting caught up in an endless debate with you. Sorry.

  43. I wouldn’t worry about Hollywood killing theaters entirely. They don’t want to give up their $155 million opening weekends. But they’ll certainly favor the AMCs and Regals in that endeavor.

  44. RRA – NASA could have burned their copy of the moon landing for all it would have mattered if the public would have had access to data recording and downloading in 1969. True, data can be deleted and drives broken, but it can also be freely copied a thousand times over and stored in various vessels with incredible ease and speed. One serious earthquake could put a quick end to the UCLA film library.

    I get that you are pointing to people as the cause of losses, but that’s the case with humans in general. Having something recorded on a fragile and expensive to store format doesn’t help change that, even though I think such an act appeals to us on some instinctual level. I mean, me too. As an animator I often think about making a print of my work for storage, just because the thought makes it feel so much safer. But when we get down to it, I’m much better off making copies of my work on various digital mediums and giving them to fans, friends , and family for safe keeping.

    That said, I agree that the studios are foolish and stupid in this push to change theaters over. For them all of this is simply about saving some bucks on shipping and printing, they could hardly care less about preserving most of their films in the first place.

  45. Rehydrated Dehydrated Pirate Paul

    April 16th, 2012 at 7:26 pm

    Knox – I apologise for my tone at the end of my last post. Obviously this is an issue I feel strongly about, but I didn’t have to be insulting about it.

    I will disagree with one thing you’ve said in that last post in response to me, and ONLY one thing. Digital information has NO value. None. You can reproduce it a million times at zero cost, how can it possibly have value? This one simple fact is the central problem that movie studios see when they try and spin “piracy” as this world-destroying thing.

    If this one fact wasn’t true, large-scale piracy would be impossible. If every digital copy of a movie cost as much as a “legal” copy is bought for, there’d be no point in piracy at all. Putting a film online would cost tens of thousands of dollars. This is simple unequivocal economic fact.

    So here’s where I agree with you.

    I agree that watching movies is a privilege and I agree it’s one that you should have to pay for, because of the cost incurred in creating the movie. Like I said, my one moral objection to piracy – and it’s a big one – is that the people who created the movie don’t get compensated for doing it. What I disagree with is HOW they’re compensated. I’ve made this point in much more detail before (in one of Vern’s “Tells it like it is” threads that focussed on this particular issue) and I’m not going to do it again. My point is that there are many, many more revenue streams for filmmakers that don’t depend on selling worthless bytes at DVD prices. Many of the smaller filmmakers I mentioned make use of them. There are subscription services, streaming services, branding services, product tie-ins, and many more.

    The point is that a lot of small filmmakers earn a living by putting their stuff on line where you can watch it FOR FREE. If this works for smaller filmmakers, it can (and in some instances does) work for larger ones also. The old movie studios’ business model of selling individual copies of film depended completely on technical limitations – namely, they were the only ones with the capability to distribute their work in a widespread way. Now those technical limitations are effectively gone, what do they do? Some have adapted. Others have tried to strong-arm people into accepting their business model as the only thing that will work. And unfortunately that second group wields a lot of power – now.

    This isn’t a case of people complaining they’re entitled to something that they’re actually not. This is a case of a ruthless cartel of organisations dedicated to maintaining an old business model that is both destructive to film as a whole, and ultimately unsustainable. In the process they are strong-arming their competition out of business, and making laws that massively restrict freedoms that a lot of people still take for granted. Fifty years ago this kind of behavior would unequivocably have been called organised crime.

    So pirates? I agree with you – fuck ’em. But let’s not pretend the other side of the argument has any merit whatsoever. This is what I mean when I say there are no winners in this debate. Everyone’s a scumbag.

  46. Paul – are you Prince?

  47. how hilarious would it be if Paul really was Prince?

  48. “Digital information has NO value. None. You can reproduce it a million times at zero cost, how can it possibly have value? ”

    The same reason ANYTHING has value – because humans value it. Things like gold and oil had no value until we found a way to use them. I don’t care if data can be copied at zero cost (which it can’t btw, data requires an infrastructure to exist), it still took resources to create in the first place so it still has a $ cost. I mean shit, in your mind all renewable resources have no monetary value simply because they are renewable. What you’re saying makes no sense at all.

    Also this “ruthless cartel of organisations” are the ones making the movies. Who the hell are you or anyone else to tell them what they can or can’t do with their own work? If James Cameron wants to spend half a billion making a movie for an audience of three people and a dog that’s exactly what he’s gonna do and its frankly nobody business but his own.

  49. Knox Harrington

    April 17th, 2012 at 4:45 am

    Yeah, sorry if I seemed agitated earlier, Paul, but I really wasn’t in the mood to be called sanctimonious and ignorant.

    Anyway, discussion over.

    (At least you’re a fellow fan of KES).

  50. It is interesting that a lot of these digital age arguments are actually pretty similar to arguments surrounding copyright law in the 18th and 19th century. Plenty of people argued that the writers don’t deserve to benefit every time a copy of their work is sold, since they only wrote the words, which can’t be that hard. It’s really the printing company who deserves to make money off of each book, because they have to do all that printing work. Where you stand in the debate depends on whose labor you value more.

  51. Rehydrated Dehydrated Pirate Paul

    April 17th, 2012 at 5:37 pm

    Mode7 – no, the organisations I refer to are absolutely NOT the ones making them. We’re talking about lawyers and “businessmen” – and I use that last term very loosely – not directors, actors and producers. If the MPAA and their entire business model disappeared off the face of the earth, movies would still get made. Actors would still work, cameras and sets would still be designed and utilised. Directors would still direct, composers would still compose, and cinematographers would still do whatever it is that cinematographers do (yeah, I haven’t got a verb for that one).

    And a renewable resource is still a resource. Yes, it costs money for infastructure (a computer, in this case). But think for a second about the billions of dollars worth of copies you could “create” using a $350 e-mail machine and a hard drive. Saying “data requires infastructure to exist” is technically true, in the same way that saying a complete beach requires one single grain of sand to be present in order to exist. Yeah, it might be technically true. But to all practical purposes it’s irrelevant. If you accept the logic that “every copy made is a lost sale” then you can use a single computer to “cheat” hundreds of thousands of dollars from the movie industry.

    Data has no value. When you buy a DVD or download a movie legally, you are not paying for the data, you are paying a licence to access the data in a particular format on a particular device at a particular time. No more than that. You don’t OWN the data. If you reproduce the data – at negligible cost to yourself, as shown above – you can be prosecuted, even if you don’t profit from the reproduction.

    Data can’t be owned. If it could be owned then I would be committing theft every time I watch and memorise any part of a film, or listen to a piece of music. This is why “copyright” and trademark laws are being used – and in some cases abused – as much as they are. It’s an attempt to confer ownership onto something that by its very nature cannot be possessed by a single person.

    If I set up, say, a wind farm, it’s my perogative to sell the electricity that I make from it. I don’t claim ownership of the wind. I do, however, claim ownership of the infastructure and the electricity that it produces. If I then sell that electricity to somebody, and they use it, they can’t reproduce the electricity an infinite amount of times at negligible cost to themselves, and give it to others freely. That’s the difference between renewable goods and data.

    But a lot of this is semantics. The plain fact is that this particular argument has been had many, many times throughout history, and the progressives have always won. People tried to ban vinyl disks, tape recorders, radio transmitters, video recorders, software that allows you to copy songs from CDs in MP3 format, and I’m sure many other new technologies that I can’t think of now. EVERY SINGLE ONE of those technologies was at some point hailed as an industry-destroying evil. Well, that industry is looking pretty damn healthy right about now.

    This isn’t a philosophical question, it’s an economic one, and it boils down to a few simple economic facts. Knox asks if I argue for the sake of arguing. I don’t consider this an argument because there’s nothing to dispute. I’m not stating an opinion, I’m stating facts. A lot of people don’t LIKE those facts because to accept them would also mean that you would have to accept change. And there are lots of reasons – financial, emotional, just plain philosophical – why people don’t want to do that. Change takes effort. It’s easier to just sit back and complain about the way things are. Less so to try and pull off the kind of deception that the MPAA and its ilk seems interested in propagating. Trouble is, what they’re saying is bullshit, and provably so.

    These guys are going to self-destruct. History proves this. My concern is the damage they’ll do in the process – fundamentally changing copyright laws, stifling freedom of speech, and trying to legislate away business models that oppose their own. Now THAT’S something to be worried about.

  52. Rehydrated Dehydrated Pirate Paul

    April 17th, 2012 at 5:48 pm

    And – my last word on this, I promise – I think the issue Vern highlights in his article is a helluva lot more important than the one I’m talking about. The reason I don’t call this an argument is because my “side”, if you can possibly call it that, has already won it. We won it ten years ago. I think you could quite plausibly make the case that we won it a hundred years ago. It’s just a question of which new technology you highlight.

    The digital format war, on the other hand… if the article Vern highlights is correct, this could drive independant cinemas out of business and cause great works of art to be lost. And that truly would be a tragedy.

  53. Anybody hear about that AVENGERS press screening where the digital projectionist accidentally “deleted” their movie print?

    http://asia.cnet.com/accidental-deletion-of-the-avengers-at-press-screening-62214708.htm

  54. At the LA press screening the 3D glasses broke. It’s amazing. Nobody there wanted to see it in 3D. If they just show it in 2D everyone can see, but they insist on 3D which can break so you can’t even see the picture at all!

    I love these systems to make things better except for the fact that they don’t work.

    It’s amazing, we’re at the point in technology where the basics are malfunctioning. Any filmmaker who shoots in 3D (or converts) is giving shopping mall theaters another chance to mess up the presentation. They already get the lenses wrong all the time for flat/widescreen.

    I’ve been at festival screenings where filmmakers freaked out over tech glitches. Why would they ever create more tech demands that exhibitors can’t handle? But then they never called them on dimming the bulbs either.

  55. The thing with the deleted file is a double edged sword. At one hand it’s apparently MUCH easier to “destroy” a copy, but its also a lot easier to get a new one. Sure, I have no idea what has to be done to destroy a celluloid copy to make it unplayable, but if it had happened, they probably would have to cancel the screening. I doubt that they would have been able to get a new copy in less than 2 hours.

  56. (Also I see that this article says “more than two hours”. Yesterday I read one that said “less than two hours”.

  57. Fred, do they do press screenings at a theater that has the battery powered goggles? That’s so weird. All the theaters around here (except the Imax) are Real-D, so it’s just the regular plastic glasses. From what I’ve read this is generally considered a better 3D and it also doesn’t risk the malfunctioning glasses.

    I think the directors who are doing these fake 3D movies are just doing what the studio tells them. No director who envisioned their movie in 3D would be so lazy as to just shoot it the way they always have and then have some guys with computers figure it out later. A 3D movie should be planned different, shot different, edited different for the strengths of the medium. I’ve noticed for example that 3D trailers are hard on the eyes because they cut too fast for my eyes to adjust. These things need to be taken into consideration, you can’t do it all the old fashioned way and then have someone else change it.

    If they’re not serious about the 3D then it’s not the way to see the movie. Sadly, that’s what most “3D” movies are these days, so they’re losing even a die hard 3D buff like me.

  58. I don’t know which one is better, but from my personal experience I can say:

    – 3D with normal plastic glasses: Doesn’t really work for me, even in movies that are supposed to have great 3D

    – Battery powered 3D: I saw a video game presentation once that way and it blew my mind. (Don’t know how it will work for movies, though)

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