Opinion – Why I Don’t Like Digital Film Projection But If You Do I’m Cool With That

Last week I saw the new Kevin James film, Here Comes The Boom and experienced something unprecedented. It wasn’t the film that amazed me (Staple sports film. Predictable, entertaining, worth ticket price.) but the digital projection itself. As the adverts and trailers “rolled” I noticed that the quality of the visuals was abnormally bad. I assumed that this was just a pre-film thing (surely no one would ever screen a film in this bad a quality…) but when the film began I couldn’t help but be distracted by the stupidly pixelated imagery that persisted throughout the entire thing – Kevin James meets Minecraft. Okay, it wasn’t Youtube circa 2006 but it was bad enough that I felt reasonably cheated out of my money.

After the film I brought this up with my friend, thinking it to be a pretty big issue with him too but he was mostly unfazed and claimed to not really notice it that much. After discussing, we came to the conclusion that as the “online generation”, we are so used to streaming and downloading pixelated entertainment from the internet that our tolerance of such things is quite high. But should it be? Especially for something we paid for?

This isn’t my first run in with digital projection either. Twice in the last 15-ish months I have had to postpone seeing two films (Real Steel and Moneyball for those interested) because for one reason or another there were “technical difficulties” with the digital copy of the film or projector itself.

Surely three disgruntlements with digital projections in my many years of cinema-going shouldn’t irritate me enough to write a 700-word article bemoaning the tech though, right? Maybe not, but then I have – so far – had zero bad experiences with a traditionally projected film so moan I shall.

My Here Comes The Boom experience probably isn’t an isolated incident either. There are many money-strapped cinemas in the UK, and whilst I haven’t had the chance to experience all of them it probably wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume that there are other projections like this all over the country.

To be clear, I am not saying that all digital projection is bad. However, with great technological advancement comes great responsibility: the same day I saw Here Comes The Boom I saw Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part II on my own (a story for another time) in the same cinema. This was also a digital screening. Breaking Dawn Part II actually spends half of its run-time zooming into things and showing off super high quality detail (because Bella’s a vampire now!) and this second projection was just fine – impressive, actually. So why was there such a huge difference in quality in two screens at the same cinema? Surely there should just be one standard? I paid the same price for both films.

We are constantly harassed by anti-piracy adverts that refute the ever-bettering quality of downloads yet I can go to the cinema and pay for something equally “bad”?*

*- I understand that the point of those adverts is to highlight the illegality of downloading but they rely heavily on promoting the quality of the real product too.

Perhaps the most relevant anti-piracy advert to this argument is the one with the poor fellow who loses his friends for having a mildly bad quality download as a voiceover barks “Don’t be a downloady Brian! Nobody likes the guy with the bad quality illegal DVDs!” This is true, but as the quality of downloaded material increases, the line between the real deal and the ‘knock-off’ is quickly blurring, and if there are enough people in enough cinemas frequently receiving the same quality for something they could have got for free at home cinema could soon be in trouble.

Of course, this argument boils down to speculation and opinion; after all, my friend said he wasn’t that bothered by the quality of Here Comes The Boom and enjoyed the film nonetheless (a variable  in this opinion could be that I paid for his ticket, though). Maybe I only feel this way because I – perhaps ironically – already miss the imperfections, cigarette burns and old feel of real film being projected. Those things were a sign that I was at the cinema: they were experiences I couldn’t get anywhere else. I am all for paying for digital projection if it can maintain a high quality everywhere and have a smaller chance of mishaps, but as it stands, to me the score is at 3-0 to traditional film projection.

How about you? Have you had bad experiences with either type of projection, or do you reckon I am just talking a load of crock? Contribute!