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Projecting The Future

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Mark Kermode | 12:25 UK time, Friday, 9 September 2011

I'm very preoccupied lately by the fate of projectionists in the digital age and what that means for modern cinema. Here I recount some recent frustrating experiences with the new technology of film.

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The Good, The Bad and The Multiplex

Kermode on multiplex cinemas

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  • Comment number 1.

    The worst disadvantage of digital cinema is the terrible trend of color grading almost any movie in a picture quality degrading way during postproduction. You mentioned the new movies from Luc Besson and Terence Malick - those two trailer clips give me the creeps. Take a look at their earlier work like "The Fifth Element" and "The Thin Red Line" and you see movie magic in terms of picture quality. Those movies showed so much depth - and they are not even in 3D!

  • Comment number 2.

    Mm, it's a piracy thing with digital. When there's a problem and the system needs to be restarted (or whatever), the projector has to ring up Sony in Japan, the computers there have to verify the projector, its serial number, its location, then verify the film itself etc etc. VERY strict with piracy, is this system.

  • Comment number 3.

    I think someone snowed you Dr. K. I cannot believe that Theater digital projectors do not have a fast forward or some kind of 'counter'. It's not an 8 track. It's not film. It's a digital file, isn't it? Most home digital projectors have all of the usual features of a DVD player, so why doesn't the Theater Projector... That makes no sense.

    And on my own experience (at one of the local Rave Motion Pictures theater here in Pensacola, Florida), there was an occasion where the film had to be stopped. Police officers were looking for several people who had been causing disturbances in the theater (and it was a large group of thugs... A LARGE group). Anyway, these people had trickled into the auditorium that I was in (and caused several major disturbances during the film). About 40 minutes in, the lights came on, the movie stopped and several police filed in. They went up and down the aisles and removed some 6 or 7 people. When they finished, maybe 10 minutes later; the film resumed right where it left off.

    It WAS 6 years ago (the film in question was the truly wretched 'Cursed' with Jesse Eisenberg and Christina Ricci), but this is a theater chain that promotes the fact that the films are in 'digital projection'. They always have. My point is they didn't have to start the film from the beginning having stopped it. I think you have been lied to by a cranky theater manager that didn't want to take the few seconds it would take to re-start the film where it was appropriate. I could be wrong, but I don't think that I am. In any case, the next time I go to my local theater I am going to inquire about this very subject.

  • Comment number 4.

    deebeenine - that isn't necessarily "degradation", since "digital grading" is one of the tools available to film-makers in post-production. It's a way of matching the grading of different takes, or to achieve a certain feel. The editors of the "Lord Of The Rings" films used it heavily, for example. There's no good reason for grading to degrade after post-production, before the digital projection. So if there's a problem with the grading in a film, I would lay that squarely at the feet of the editors who controlled the grading in post, and not just blame "digital" as a technology.

    Personally, I think I've been spoiled, since I almost never go to multiplex cinemas any more, only to a local arthouse (IFI Dublin) that hasn't let me down with digital yet. Often, the only way I can tell it's digital is the lack of frame jitter. 8)

  • Comment number 5.

    most digital projectors can skip to where the movie finished. however some are easier to do this with than others. for example with the two digital projectors we have one, a christie model, can only jump forward in 3 min increments. which means having to stand next to the projector pressing the button 20+times to skip all the ads and trailers and to get to where the film stopped. the sony 4k can skip to where ever you want. however finding where the movie stopped is hard to find as the readout of time elapsed only shows the current item i.e. the feature file, whereas the skip function includes everything, slides, ads and trailers.

    restarting a film 30 seconds before it stopped is defiantly possible. but it needs training and experience to do. something a projectionist has and the poor shlub who has run up from box office doesn't.

  • Comment number 6.

    The comment about having to watch the film over again after a fault during playback is not true. Generally, most problems can be fixed with a switch off and reboot of the server. It is then up to the projectionist (if you're lucky) to ascertain where in the film the fault happened. It's then a simple matter of fast forwarding to the affected point. If you have been made to watch the film again from the beginning, this may be due to the use of a server that doesn't allow this fast forwarding, (the Dolby, Doremi and GDC servers that I have used can all do this) or because the projectionist was not aware of the ability for the server to to it. Or the 3rd option is that, and this goes back to Mark's comments on the plight of the poor projectionist, there was no experienced or qualified projectionist operating the screening and they didn't know how to fast forward the film. The Dolby servers can jump (from a paused image) in (if memory serves 10 minute increments, the Doremi jumps in 3-4 minute increments and with the GDC, the the timeline slider can be moved to pretty much anywhere along the timeline. There should be no real need to watch the film from the start at all. At the most, and given a projectionist/operator who knows what he's doing, the most that you should have to re-watch is about 10 minutes (on the Dolby sytem for example) after a 2-3 minute wait for the system to re-boot. I speak as a Projectionist of 14 years at a well known London independant cinema chain.

  • Comment number 7.

    I remember going to see Episode 1, and they failed to change the aspect ratio from the adverts to the film. We sat through 15 minutes of a film with no heads until someone went out to tell the cinema staff about the problem. Sadly, when they fixed it, one of the heads turned out to belong to Jar Jar....

  • Comment number 8.

    Could everyone just bloody well worry about the films themselves instead of all this bloated nostalgia?

  • Comment number 9.


    It's not digital projection that's the problem (as noted) it's the skill levels of the people involved.

    As the good dr has said on many occasions the idea is that if it's digitally controlled it's easier and you need less staff. Of course you still need staff that know what they're doing to ensure that the projection is correct. It's staff training and attention to detail that's the problem - these are management issues. If you've got a good management then the issues described won't happen. Other issues such as staffing levels should be addressed.

    Trouble is that too many shortcuts are taken.

    Digital projection isn't the problem here.
    It's all very well complaining about the staff but if they're poorly paid, badly motivated wage slaves then you can't exactly blame them if they don't give a monkeys.

  • Comment number 10.

    It’s been a fantasy for Cinema chains and Managers alike, since digital cinema was introduced 10 odd years ago, to get rid of projectionists. It used to take a few months to train someone to run 35mm projection reasonably competently, now you can show someone how to play a film with only a couple of hours instruction.

    A lot of the multiplexes don’t even recruit or hold the position of a projectionist within their cinemas anymore. The role of projectionist has been made redundant and the business of presenting film is now undertaken by either managers or floor staffs who, by and large, have no experience of 35mm and only a very basic understanding of what good presentation involves.
    They no longer need that experience because digital projectors have removed most of the inherent failings of poor 35mm projection, poor light level, poor print quality, being out of focus and out of rack etc.

    Due to the increased reliability of modern digital systems, it has been decided, by those running cinemas, that the projectionist is no longer required as the projectors appear to take care of everything perfectly adequately without them.

    Now and then, there are problems with the digital projectors but most issues can be resolved by a quick reboot. Managers know, have accepted and seem to be more than happy to lose odd show because of the perceived savings made by not employing or not retaining a projectionist position. That’s just the reality of the situation.

    I am still lucky to have a job as a projectionist but I’m under no illusion that I probably won’t be doing this job in its present form (or at all) in the not too distant future.

    From a Manager’s perspective, why would they continue to spend money on someone whose experience in the field is now both redundant and irrelevant to them.

  • Comment number 11.

    I personally happen to personally think, in my personal opinion, that 35mm film looks much better than digital, and that's all I really care about innit.

    And if discussing the use of digital at the filmmaking stage, I have only this to say: when Sofia Coppola was preparing Lost in Translation, her big daddy (Francis something, I believe) tried to convince her to use digital cameras, because "Digital is the future of film," but she stuck with the 35mm, because film is "more romantic". That's the only thing I like about Sofia Coppola. I agree with that sentiment entirely. Film is classical and beautiful; digital is characterless, glossy and unattractive.

  • Comment number 12.

    The best part about digital is that you don't really have to care about the movie you're making.

  • Comment number 13.

    Well, 35mm was hardly without problems either...however this was where the skill of the projectionist came in. 99% of them actually cared about the job because you had to be on the ball, ready to react if something went wrong. These days someone walking from screen to screen just double clicking isn't the same. In the end we all get what we if it's not good enough then complain. If you don't get any response out of the cinema manager, write to the main company...still no joy then start a blog, highlight the problem and actively promote cinemas that actually care about what (and how) they project. Sadly some Multiplexes think Cinema is about the food and drink first...and the actual film comes pretty low down the order. I wish I was wrong, but day after day and month after month they prove me wrong.

  • Comment number 14.

    All good points Dr K - realistically the issues around stopping where you left off and bugs with the software will get fixed, but its annoying they haven't ironed out issues before introducing. The biggest issue around digital in my experience is that it has further driven the trend of not having any projectionists watching what you're watching...

    Earlier today I complained to a large cinema chain (let's just say I didn't enjoy the 'view') about their projectionists (or lack of them), since MORE than 50% of the films I've seen there in the last 4 months has not started at all (and has needed an audience member to go and tell them "we're waiting you idiots"), started with the wrong aspect ratio or with half the movie not on screen, or has started with the lights not dimmed. And all of these issues has only been fixed after a few minutes when it became clear no one had realised, and an audience member had to go out and say something.

    I don't care whether the medium is digital, 35 or anything else, they need to make sure someone is sat pressing play and making sure its all projecting and sounding correct before they move on to the next of the 300 screens they're in charge of. And funnily enough, that requires more than 1 person per 300 screens.

  • Comment number 15.

    Given that some of our multiplex chains now make a big deal over the fact that they have some sort of night vision technology watching us big bro' style to make sure that we're not hiding camcorders behind our popcorn, couldn't they, with very little outlay, put a networked webcam in each screen pointed at the screen. At least that way the one not-a-proper-projectionist-in-charge-of-projection could have a display which would show all the screens at once and perhaps allow for some, shallow, but better than none, quality control.

    Also, each cinema should have its own text number to receive texts from patrons informing them about screening problems (which would allow patrons to inform without leaving the screen). It could be a charged text to deter time wasters, but with a refund or reward for valid complaints. That would be the one appropriate use of a mobile in the cinema, and if the projection has gone wrong, are you going to mind people whipping out their cells with an aim to correct it?

    In terms of being forced to see films from the beginning, although, from the comments above, it seems this is unnecessary, depending on the system, I can imagine that back in the day, someone like Stanley Kubrick might insist you watch his work from the beginning, how else can you evaluate a work of linear art.

  • Comment number 16.

    Sorry, a bit off topic, but relevant to your Front Row spot this week which you've mentioned. Could you, or your web maestros, post "your five greatest movies you won't have seen" list video to this blog. I'm sure many readers would like to comment, or add their own.

    (apologies if you've covered this ground here before....)

  • Comment number 17.

    I don't understand how something digital means you can't start from the moment you left off. With a DVD you can go to back to the exact moment you left the film. With a VHS tape it meant a laborious task of stop-starting the tape until you got to the place you wanted. This whole digital projection fiasco seems the exact reverse of that, which sounds bizarre. Digitisation is - or was - supposed to make everything easier...except cinema projection, apparently.

  • Comment number 18.

    Well you know a 35mm projector can jam and burn the film inside producing clouds of smoke in the booth - wouldn't happen with Digital.

    I think all the digital bugs will be sorted very soon as it becomes more widely used. Plus Jason Reitman spoke at a festival about how he'd seen so many bad prints of his films being projected that he welcomed digital as it's pretty uniform.

  • Comment number 19.

    Went to see the much praised Heartless at some dog end multiplex and the ending was marred by the centre speakers dropping out leaving only the peripheral noise so ended up seeing the ending again which entirely ruined it. Wouldn't have happened with a proper projectionist. Hmm sorry wrong not dog end multiplex but the Barbican with a q and a with the director and apparently no projectionist !!!!!

  • Comment number 20.

    All I know is this....there will be problems.

    I work at one of the major uk chains, we are a 13 sceeen site, currently 4 screens are digital and 9 are from film. Within the next 4 weeks we are to go fully digital...and with that our manning hours will be significantly reduced. Very soon after the install they are going to want a situation where we can leave the kit on it's own with no projectionist on duty. If it works then fair enough, but the experience I have had with the 4 digital sceens we have had in the last 2 years would differ from that.

  • Comment number 21.

    Also alot of stuff that could be sorted out simply in the past will be more complicated with digital.

    Take for example focus.

    In the old days of 35mm,

    1. a customer notices 5 minutes in, that a film is playing out of focus. They complain to a staff member who then radio's the duty projectionist. The projectionist in the box goes over the the 35mm projector and adjusts the focus knob, the fim in now in focus, the film is now fixed and can play in focus for the rest of it's run.

    2. In the new digital age. A film is out of focus and a customer complains. The digital projector is out of focus. A off site engineer has to be called to come and re-focus the projector. The quickest the engineer can come is 3 days time. So the film running at the cinema has either to be cancelled for three days of performances or it can run out of focus for 3 days before someone is going to come and fix it.

  • Comment number 22.

    Kill List was very ..... lemony. My local indie cinema uses digital but it still has a projectionist. I go very regularly and have never had any problems. At world of cine however I have had to leave and wait during many screenings. Its not the projector it is the lack of projectionist.

  • Comment number 23.

    With digital heralding the death of the projectionist I await the remake of Cinema Paradiso in which the young Salvatore develops a paternal relationship with a digital projector called Alfredo 9000.

  • Comment number 24.

    I am a projectionist at a busy 12 screen multiplex who actually takes pride in the art of projection. I also take pride in kicking distruptive talking/texting/phoning neds out screens as do most of the staff - it's considered a perk of the job!

    We currently have 9 film and 3 digis - 1x Sony 4k, 2x Barco. The Barco's can't be 'fast forwarded' during the film, only during the presentation - so you can skip the ads and trailer. The Sony allows you to offset the program by any amount of time allowing 'fast forwarding' in the actual film.

    The Sony's are set to be the digital standard as the deal has been signed with serveral chains - however there are issues with them. The lense is extremely difficult to change as it is heavy and screwed tightly to the projector - this means 3D lenses are always left in place, dimming the image on 2D. Then there is the actual maintenance of the shows/films - doing ad and trailer changes actually takes longer on digital, yet the multiplexes who have made the deal with Sony are doing away with all projectionists.

    The Barco's also have problems - they have the 3D lense on a slider which makes it easy to move, however it is not automated. When there are no projectionists 3D lense will simply be left in place and the booth run on automation. Their automation system is also fritzy - shows sometimes don't start, or they do start and the lamp doesn't strike, or they start with no sound playing. Again, I actually check the start of the digital projection shows so the majority of the time I catch an incident, but with no projectionists, good luck getting it fixed in a timely manner.

    I weep for the future. Cinema is dead.

  • Comment number 25.

    I am also currently a projectionist at one the of chains across the UK. By this time next year myself and my colleagues will no longer be part of the setup. Films will be 'projected' by members of the managerial staff who mostly have no interest or knowledge in the art of projection and will simply hope that playlists run as they should. Were there to be a problem, it will be one of these people who will be attempting to fix it. All I have been told on the way out of this job that I actually care about, have an interest in and love, is how digital projection is going to make everything easier.

    The multiplex has simply allowed the money men to take over the exhibition of an art form. There are a lot of good comments on here from people who care, it's just a shame that no-one else is listening.

  • Comment number 26.

    Let me add more fuel to the fire.
    Many moons ago (the 24th of June 2011) I went to see Senna at my local Cineworld in Wolverhampton.
    The film had already opened some weeks before and due to it's success finally made its way North of Watford. So, Unlimited card in hand I set out on a 30 minute Friday night drive to screen 9 and it's Digital projection of potentially one of the finest docs/films of the year. Great! Or so I'd hoped. As the adverts and trailers flashed before my eyes I noticed something was off. The 'Potiche' spoof orange advert was not fitting inside the frame of the screen meaning that the jokey subtitles were cut off the image and as such not viewable.
    "Hmm I do hope Senna isn't like this". Sadly it was, after 15 minutes of people coming and going to find a member of staff to correct the error the sound finally went off, the house lights came up and the screen went purple. Yes purple, like some mad, trippy experimental film from the sixties. The screen finally went blank and we were informed that the main DIGITAL attraction could not be restarted as it was being beamed to the cinema via satellite from Cineworld head office. Obviously restarting it would (I assume) affect other cinemas that weren't being affected by too small screen, too big the projection syndrome. (Arse-pect-ratio-up-a-creek-itis)

    I'd like to think of this as a one off but I think satellite signals (started by George Lucas and Star Wars III) is an initiative to try and prevent piracy although if you had a big enough dish you could intercept the signal surely?

    Anyway, thanks to my unlimited I was able to walk one screens along and catch Bridesmaids which was very funny and it needed to be after the Screen 9 fiasco.

    Wolverhampton, Cineworld I name and shame you which I don't like to do because you've been great for the last ten years. The Birmingham, Cineworld seems to be on it's game. It's a multiplex that does take on the big films but makes a point of getting smaller indie fair into one or more of it's screens on a weekly basis, and they're BIG screens so films like This Is England, The Disappearance of Alice Creed, The Runaways or Kill List get the same treatment as a Harry Potter or Captain America.

  • Comment number 27.

    I'm all for digital, but for one reason. Near to me there are two cinemas; a Vue and an independent 40-seater at the top of a theatre. Most of the films I see are at the latter, it being the sort of place that shows the less mainstream films. It's digital. And in every screening I've been in, there's been a little usher or usherette at the back to sell sweets before the film (nothing like popcorn, heavens forbid), guide latecomers to their seats, and most significantly to check all is fine with the film. This means that when something goes wrong, such as when there was sound but no picture as has happened once or twice, they're on hand to help immediately. Even better, it's so well run that problems have almost never happened in the two and a bit years of going there - never misaligned, never out of focus, never starting too soon (as with Vue). I say, it's not digital's fault per se, it's chains, and let's have more 40 seater independently run clever and decent cinemas!

  • Comment number 28.

    If nothing else, this post about projectionists gave me a reason to watch Cinema Paradiso, again.

  • Comment number 29.

    At a recent showing in San Francisco California of Rise of The Planet of the Apes there was a lip synch problem.

    I ran out and told them and the reply went like this

    "Oh, I'm sorry, we'll let the projection company know."

    "How long is this going to take to fix?" I asked

    "They will be here on Monday to make adjustments"

    "But that's in 2 days!"

    "I'm sorry but we don't know how to adjust the projector - we can refund your ticket"

    ..."and my gas, my time and my frustration?"

    I ma fortunate to have a 120" home theater projection set up. I don't take 2 days to adjust issues.

    Sadly, most 12-19 year olds simply don't care

  • Comment number 30.

    Anyone else found this reminiscent of the Vinyl vs CD debate? Horse for courses, I guess, as they say on Cliche Street.

    I remember seeing Gone with the Wind several ago on, I'm assuming, tape. The final 30 seconds or so went awol because the incorrect procedure, apparently, hadn't been followed.

    Oh well!!

    Long live the wax cylinder!!!!!

  • Comment number 31.

    Yes, I have to agree that the problem is not with the equipment. There is a wide-spread perception - and not just in cinema chains! - that because a computer is apparently doing the work, it is no longer a "skilled" job. This is demonstrably not true. Are there recognised qualifications in this field? Have there ever been? (Not a panacea, I admit, but at least a start.)

  • Comment number 32.

    My film archivist friends have told me that that digital files need to be renewed every 4 or 5 years as computer hard drives have a limited lifespan. This seems somewhat like taking a step back. Celluloid can last for way over 10 times longer than digital and still be in working condition.

    Also, do you know anything about how companies store original digital copies? How safe is it?

  • Comment number 33.

    When I went to see Rise of the Planet of the Apes the prjector turned out to be broken. We ended up going to a different screen adn watching the film from there so there really wasn't a hassle. I'm no technology expert but I can't believe it would have been as simple with 35mm.

    SO while digital is not without it's problems neither was 35mm. This sounds to me like a simple case of nostalgia.

  • Comment number 34.

    You're right PJHughes. In 10 years, celluloid will be for film enthusiasts indulging in preserving the experiences of their youth

  • Comment number 35.

    The best thing to do when the projection of the film is not up to scratch is to go and demand your money back. You're a customer and you have rights!

  • Comment number 36.

    Would you have enjoyed The Warrior as much if you knew it was a piece of US military propaganda?

    What do you think about government-sponsored, propaganda-laced movies in general? They have a long and rich history - one that is far from over:

  • Comment number 37.

    I didn't know they "had" to start it from the start again. That may explain about those horror stories where staff haven't bothered to fix it.

  • Comment number 38.

    Mark you are SO right - and more so.
    I once looked forward to going to the cinema for 'special' films I really wanted to see in the way that the actors, technicians and directors sweated for me to see and hear. I recall the previous impact in times gone by - but now I wonder what is the point? How can I ensure that the cinema experience (sound and vision) I will get is up to standard before I even start to worry about my 'fellow' audience??

    I am now at the stage of feeling I cannot attend cinemas and I really feel the loss. - cinema should be seen IN the cinema correctly. Im sure Im not the only one to feel this way, but are the companies worried as long as they sell their dustbin of popcorn?
    Keep up the good work

  • Comment number 39.

    I don't understand why restarting digital projection in a cinema involves going back to the start of the film. Is the file that is being played any different to any other very high resolution video file being played by a powerful computer? Of all the problems with digital, I would have though having to start at a specific point wouldn't be one of them.

    Also, most of these problems are down to human error, not the method of projection. If you have someone who doesn't have any experience with 35mm film as a projectionist then I doubt it would be much better. I presume the podcast issue was someone uploading a file that didn't include, or the settings on the uploading process cut off, the last bit of the audio file. Not really a problem with the nature of the technology. Did the end of the podcast turn up eventually? :)

    As much as I like 35mm, it's just doesn't make sense, and the best alternative is digital projectionists that know what they're doing.

  • Comment number 40.

    Interestingly I was at that screening of "the tree of life" and had to watch the same sequence 4 times before actually somebody realised there was something wrong with the projection.
    However I've read an article that said that in a cinema in Bologna, in Italy two reels of the Tree of Life had been switched by mistake and the film was projected in the wrong order for almost a whole week!! (Once again, since the film was "the tree of life" hardly anyone noticed!). That was obviously a human error and the film was actually on 35mm.
    So mistakes do happen either way.
    What you don't get with digital projections is: film coming out of sprockets, unnecessary scratches and marks, pristine picture even if you are catching the film on a second run after weeks and weeks the film has been around.

    It all comes down to the cinema patrons and they attention and care to what they are actually showing. Whether it's on a digital format or on 35mm or even on Imax, it doesn't necessarily matter.

  • Comment number 41.

    I agree with MovieGeek's (40) last paragraph.

    It's to do with the cinema chains' lack of care. They wish to make money at the expense of employing skilled employees... and this is what happens.

    I've very sad to see highly trained people losing jobs that should not be lost, just so some faceless business can make even more profit. All that skill-set lost - tragic.

  • Comment number 42.

    The consensus here - and elsewhere - seems to be that it's not to do with the technology (both film and digital have their separate issues) but the operators, or lack there of. Surely there must come a point when this cost cutting ends up slicing the throats of the large chains. After all, at the end of the day if people don't receive a quality product they will vote with their wallets, and in an age where home projection is very good that is a risky game to play.

  • Comment number 43.

    Full credit to Mark Kermode for actually having the courage to take on the major cinema chains that regrettably now own and run nearly all of the multiplexes throughout the country.

    When Cineworld actually gained control of the eleven screen multiplex based here in Ipswich the writing was soon on the wall. Nowadays all they seem to show is the very latest mainstream dross straight out of Hollywood. When it was previously owned by UGC they use to screen a rather wide range of diverse films, including arthouse, independently made, foreign and specialised movies.

    Not any more. It's all about bums on seats and the undisciplined chav audience that attends this venue seem to be far more interested in texting / phoning their mates, rather than actually watching the film being screened.

    It’s such a great shame that Mark Kermode won’t actually be visiting the Ipswich Film Thearte Trust on his nationwide tour to promote his new book, "The Good, the Bad and the Multiplex".

    This totally independent cinema is now run and managed by volunteers, ever since the local council had to withdraw its subsidised funding for it due to the relatively recent budget cuts.

  • Comment number 44.

    Much as I totally agree with the side of this issue about how there are no 'human' projectionists to nurse the film and notice when there's a problem anymore, I have to chip in about the technical issues. Yes, digital will have its own problems that 35mm did not, but the reverse is no doubt true. This reminds me of the wretched PC-vs-Mac argument. Yes, one will have a problem that the other doesn't have, or doesn't have as much, and vice-versa, but that doesn't mean one is better. What it means is that they each have their own unique set of problems. In time, you can learn to overcome the problems with the system you decide to use.

  • Comment number 45.

    This is no defence of digital but I remember going to see a late show of Ken Russell's Gothic at Cine City in Withington which Mark may remember from his student days in Manchester.
    This was well before the age of digital but as it was midnight the projectionist may have been tired or had nipped out for a nightcap and showed the film upside down. To paraphrase - this being a Ken Russell film it was 15 to 20 minutes before anyone in the audience realised this was a mistake.

  • Comment number 46.

    Sorry, rather off-subject, but I have just heard the latest five-live podcast and I completely love you, Dr K, for commenting as you did on Luc Besson as you did. Somewhere near the vicinity of a continental M Bay, in my opinion. Good to know I am not alone.

    PS -- What are your favourite sci-fi writers/novels?

  • Comment number 47.

    I have to agree with some of the other comments here, it isn't that digital is all bad, it is that there is no projectionist there to solve the problems because the cinema is desperate to cut corners and maximize profit and this wouldn't be the first time the film industry has tried to cheat everyone out of money (cough 3D cough).

    My concern here is definitely the lack of projectionist, a machine can't operate by itself without someone who knows what they are doing on site somewhere. If digital is like a new car filled with new gizmos we can't blame the gizmos when we decide to put a brick on the accelerator, sit in the backseat with a newspaper and expect to get to work on time.

    Although on another note, I find digital distressingly crisp in picture. High Definition and all that, it is no different now that watching a DVD at home, there is no homely crackly image, not even cigarette burns - none of those classic signifiers of being at the cinema. No wonder people without and affection for cinema are deciding not to go, DVDs can come out a couple of months after the general release and they can get the same experience at home.

  • Comment number 48.

    The Kermode Uncut Blog. Would never have happened with 35 mil.

  • Comment number 49. nice brit indie film. small, understated. Check it out.

  • Comment number 50.

    Now that I have a big widescreen TV at home and can watch many of the latest films in HD quality without leaving my armchair (either on blu-ray or through a streaming service) there are few films that I'm willing to pay £8+ to see in an independent cinema and even fewer for which I'd put up with the cost/unpleasantness of a multiplex for.

    Now that I no longer have to put up with crappy VHS 4:3 transfers, the price of a cinema ticket feels like money wasted unless I am already invested in the film, either because it's a big event (Avatar, Inception) or I have a specific interest in the story/director (David Fincher's Dragon Tattoo remake).

    MK has acknowledged that the future of films is digital day and date cinema and home releases and I have just seen for the first time a trailer for a 'big' film where this is actually offered (Trespass with Cage and Kidman). If that's the case then isn't lamenting the decline of the projectionist just spitting in the technological wind? Like complaining about all those poor steam train engineers who are no longer needed.

  • Comment number 51.

    Hey, let's not over-romanticise 35 mil - after all, look what it did to Alfredo in Cinema Paradiso.

    But seriously folks, I remember sitting through the whole of the dross that was Star Wars Episode 2 only for the print to catch fire just as the big fight between Yoda and Dooku was about to start.

    Never mind having to wait 15 minutes - as it was the cinema's only print and they needed time to fix it we had to return to Leeds, then come back to Harrogate again the next day and sit through the whole of that tedious film again just to see the fight scene and the ending (and they weren't exactly brilliant). Say what you will about 35mm - but that wouldn't have happened with Digital.

  • Comment number 52.

    Funnily enough the IMAX in Birmingham have recently announced that they are going all digital and have severed ties with IMAX.
    I understand why, they weren't making a profit. But it means they won't be showing things like Dark Knight Rises in it's 70mm IMAX format so we won't get to see the awesome full screen images as with the Dark Knight.
    I know you're a fan of IMAX and this is a HUGE blow to those of us in the Midlands.

  • Comment number 53.

    experienced cinemas with ushers as a child, then, as a teenager, witnessed the switch to a multiplex culture beginning, and the disappearance of ushers, decent behaviour, choice, and so on. in the last ten years my taste in movies has changed dramatically - access to films on DVD opened things up - and switched once again to a local so-called art house cinema.

    generally it's very good. what i've noticed is that staff and audience behaviour doesn't come simply with the multiplex scale, but may have originated there only to spill over as the generations / years have passed. in other words, small cinemas struggle financially and sometimes program films for more obvious commercial appeal - balancing the books, promotion, less snobby attitudes, whatever, it all contributes to more of a mix of content than i'd initially imagined, and so there's more of a mix of audience attitudes.

    they also tend to employ staff cheaply, and they're not necessarily fans of film or experienced in the art of shining a torch and successfully shushing a group of rowdy teenagers into silence and stopping them from having a popcorn fight, floodlit by mobile phones. and it's not just the kids who can't keep quiet, as lots of people can't resist continuing to try and get away with what they wouldn't have been able to in cinemas when they were younger. the major skill is not the ability of the audience to complain - apparently, and i've heard this from a senior member of staff at my local cinema, they get an awful lot of complaints, but, in my experience, they're pretty inept at actually dealing with these complaints and placing any kind of differing importance trying to keep their establishment ticking over that would lift their reputation above mediocre. shame, cos they put on some very good films.

    oh, and since digital projection having pretty much become the norm, i've had poor sound levels as the major flaw in my experiences.

  • Comment number 54.

    Have we reached the stage where we can 'name and shame' the worst Cinemas in the UK?


  • Comment number 55.

    Out of several hundred movies I have seen at the Cinema I have been a few really badly projected, LotR animated, so dark you could barely see it, several where the sound was either too quiet or distorted. All these were at least 10 years ago, that golden age of "proper" projection. Oh and it was wonderful to watch Star Trek 2, 4, 6 & 8 at the cinema a few years ago... pity the first 3 prints were in a terrible condition with huge amounts of dropout to a point that is was sub-VHS quality, (something that was common to a lesser extent 20 odd years ago if you didn't watch a film in the first week) 35mm is not the global panacea you seem keen to paint it as....

  • Comment number 56.

    As many have pointed one, there is absolutely no reason why a digitally projected film cannot be advanced to within 2 or 3 minutes of the point at which it stopped (this is at least true for the 3 different systems I've work with).

    As a projection manager (who's whole department has been given notice of redundancy) it's my guess that, not only was there nobody upstairs monitoring performance, there wasn't even anyone on site skilled enough to manually operate the equipment correctly.

  • Comment number 57.

    I saw Troll Hunter in a multiplex (a better than average probably it was showing troll hunter and the seats were comfy) a few days ago and in the last 20 minutes of the film the screen cut out and the lights came up THREE TIMES!!!!

    Thankfully the cinema manager did at least apologise to us and everyone who asked got a ticket to see another film for free. Which is better than the responses I had in other multipexes in my home town where they would refuse any compensation if they got the film working and you were able to watch the end (even if this took 20 minutes one time).

    I do miss living in London where I could get to any number of wonderful independent cinemas at ease, there isnt one where i live now nor where I grew up and it makes me sad.

    I do wonder if digital projection is inherently more prone to failure or if it is only the lack of projectionists that is causing the issue

  • Comment number 58.

    I recently went to see a screening of Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life in the Odeon Leicester Square. I thought this would be a good cinema to see this film in, since I was keen to have the opportunity to see the famous Terrence Malick cinematography to its best advantage. I hadn't been to the Odeon Leicester Square for many years and I hadn't realised it had been converted into a multiplex until I got there.

    For the first 10 minutes of the film, I had a feeling that the top of the film might be missing, as there was a dark area near the top of the film where the actors' hair kept disappearing. As this was a Terrence Malick film, and as I had just started reading Mark Kermode's The Good, The Bad and The Multiplex, I wasn't sure if I was just being over sensitive or if there really was a problem.

    After about 20 minutes, the reason for the problem became clear when the piece of black card that had been obscuring the top of the projection fell down. This removed the initial problem, but in its new location, the card was now obscuring about a third of the lower part of the projection. This resulted in some immediate audience feedback and so the offending card was removed.

    Though the film was now projecting to a full screen, the various adjustments had somehow caused the film projection to become out of focus. Again members of the audience complained but this time were told that, as the film was a digital projection, it was not possible to correct the problem. As a result, the film would have to continue to be projected out of focus for the remaining 2 hours.

    Since watching a Terrence Malick film out of focus is like going to the opera and wearing ear plugs, at this point a number of customers, including myself, left the cinema and got a refund.

    Fortunately the Tree of Life was also being screened in the Prince Charles Cinema Leicester Square one hour later than at the Odeon. I was able to pop around the corner in time to make the start of the film. The Prince Charles Leicester Square still has two large auditoriums, rather than seven or eight small screen booths, so the overall experience was more in line with my expectations. In addition, the film was projected in full and in focus throughout, which also added to my enjoyment.

    I wonder, what would happen at the Odeon Leicester Square on a premiere night if the film was out of focus?

  • Comment number 59.

    You've not touched the surface of digital projectionist errors until you look at their inept attitude to enabling the Audio Description facility that comes with most main releases now. I'm blind, and so a minority, and so the extent of the AD failures I've experienced is easily brushed aside by multi-plexes. This great feature now included with main releases is fantastic for blind/VI audiences to help with headphones narrate some of the action and fill in the gaps of the plot that the dialogue of the film doesn't explain if you can't see the pictures. However, 5 in 7 trips for me ended up as a disaster with all kinds of reasons given by the cinema why the AD facility 'failed'. this included premier showings of films, family/special birthday trips out etc, and the failure always boiled down to a lack of technical knowledge by the cinema on the AD facility. The projectionist is today someone who presses 'play' and eventually 'stop' and nothing more, so expecting them to have previously checked the AD transmission is on, the licenced film downloaded from the central office correctly included the AD option as well as the correct language option for example, and the screen in the cinema had an AD transmit facility is beyond them. Furthermore, often I have to wait for the 2nd or 3rd week of any film showin in order to find a showing time with AD. Why isn't the AD option available from the start allowing me as a blind person to enjoy Premier Showings of more movies like everyone else?? Do please someone look in to the national cinemas approach to anabling Audio Description with all showings of all movies produced with that facility!!!

  • Comment number 60.

    I've seen a lot of disparaging and negative comments about staff in multiplex cinemas. As a Supervisor in a certain large cinema chain, I can certainly say we are not all "17 year old oiks" or unhelpful, untrained, uncaring etc. On an average shift I now find myself serving tickets, cleaning screens, running upstairs and sorting out projection issues (with 2 days training), dealing with customer complaints when said issues arise as well as trying to do my actual job of Supervising the shift. This is all for little over the minimum wage.

    The number of hours have been cut for staff on the actual cinema floor to bare minimum so those staff you see are probably doing 2/3 people's jobs alone. it is a ridiculous situation but we are all passionate about our jobs and enjoy working in a cinema and want to provide the best experience possible but it simply isn't possible with the current situation. I urge you to write to head office if you are unhappy with the situation because talking to the management and the staff in the cinema itself is unfortunately going to achieve very little when a bunch of men and women in suits sitting in an office somewhere with very little idea of how a cinema is run are calling the shots and as such the staff and the cinema patrons are suffering.

    I would love to provide a better experience for those who suffered due to the situation with projectionists, I love my job but sometimes I feel utterly ashamed and embarrassed at the terrible service we provide.

  • Comment number 61.

    Well you will always get purists hailing digital the end of all that is beautiful and artistic. I have a new Cineworld multiplex near me which i've visited a lot which is digital, and I've found it's always looked sharp, started on time and never had a problem. So it can be done right.

    But what interests me is if the costs are kept down, if it allows smaller studios from more varied backgrounds to get into theatres then that's what really matters. Also think of it this's a shame to lose projectionists, but maybe you're giving 100+ people of a career opportunity by showing their lower budget film?

  • Comment number 62.

    I was recently watching a movie and the 35mm stuck and melted. Can't even start from the beginning then. every system has its faults, the ones the good Doctor is complaining about are really just teething issues. the ability to pick a restarting point is a pretty easy next fix in the tech.
    I agree on the need for better staffing and running of the system, but that isn't an issue with digital itself.

  • Comment number 63.

    (Hi Mark. I enjoy your BBC News 24 item -- when the Beeb deign to show it. Any chance of you having a few Stern Words with them about how they dump it at zero notice; or about a second showing, later in the weekend? // Wow, this topic has grown since you first raised it. This must be the Director's Cut. // Feel free to snip this preamble.)

    "Multiplex == bad" may be an unreliable rule.
    Tonight (27 Sep) I tried to watch "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" at the Norwich Vue (screen 3, 19:40 show) but was driven out by oppressively loud sound.
    During the preamble, when Vue usually play sub-muzak to add class to slides advertising cinema services, a silence broken by ear-popping clicks and scrapes suggested all was not well. Then the ads and trailers began.
    It is common for cinemas to play ads so loudly that punters indeed leave with a clear memory of products. A deeply negative one. Somehow cinemas never connect those two dots. Tonight it was at least 6dB over the top; and this continued into the film. A minute or so of the hushed opening scene, with each background rustle and foreground utterance crashing out at us, made me give up and demand a refund.
    Credit where it is due, Vue's manager coughed up without a fuss. He phoned someone (tea slurping projector droid?) to fix the problem, then assured me they had not had other complaints about sound. Disinclined to waste more evening with a verbal fight, I happily assured him he was lucky.
    I now think the art houses deserve another chance, despite their scary ticket prices. Here, this means Cinema City, a compact multiplex (NB), whose Screen #1 treated me to a flawless performance of "No Country For Old Men", in which there are scenes where dry, silky silence plus clarity (where tiny noises happen) are vital.
    But another way Vue lets punters down is how it specialises in foolishly undemanding Hollywood blockborers. For quality stuff, like the original (Swedish) "Let The Right One In" and "Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" (&c), Norwich fortunately has the Odeon -- a US styled multiplex (NB) with even more screens than the Vue.
    It seems a cinema being a multiplex is no guarantee of lousiness. Maybe it also takes special talent?

  • Comment number 64.

    I don't see any reason why a film with errors can't be loaded and started again then skip to a time entered by the operator, so you don't have to watch a film again. I just think a lot of the people who operate the new systems are either purely trained or casual idiots. Why don't the analogue projectionists retrain and add some of their professionality to the new medium - they could check the brightness, colour, dimensions, file errors etc. before the audience is in, to try and anticipate any problems - as said previously, independent cinemas often run the systems well, it tends to be places with temporary cinemas in 'art' spaces and poorly staffed chains that have the problem. a lack of proffessionalism.


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