theatrical presentation

(Welcome to The Soapbox, the space where we get personal, political, and opinionated about anything and everything. In this edition: AMC Theatres admits that they don’t care about masking, and why this is bad.)

We’re aware there are terrible things happening in our country right now, and yes, complaining about movie theater screens is inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. But damn it, instead of getting overwhelmed by those things, cinephiles occasionally want to lose ourselves in a terrific theatrical experience. And when the world’s largest theater chain has basically admitted that they no longer care about the way their movies are presented to audiences, that’s worth grumbling about.

Chances are pretty high that when you go see a movie, you see it in an AMC Theatres location. That company has the largest market share of American theaters and is the biggest movie theater chain on the planet. You may assume that because of this lofty position of power they hold in the industry, AMC might want to set a good example by exhibiting movies in the best possible quality in an attempt to lure more customers; after all, attendance is declining and while theaters make the majority of their money in concessions, humans are still a necessary component of their business model.

But as you may have gleaned from this article’s headline, that’s not the case.

Filmmaker Mike Williamson took a photo calling out AMC’s lack of masking in one of their theaters, and instead of the chain seeing that complaint and ensuring their paying customer that they’d work to correct the problem, they essentially admitted that they simply no longer care about the way their movies are exhibited.

For those who don’t know anything about masking, I recommend reading this ScreenCrush article from last year. Here’s the gist: masking is the process of expanding or shrinking the borders of a screen to allow a film to fill the entire screen. Movies are mostly filmed in one of two different aspect ratios (“full” or “scope”), and most theaters are equipped to present either on any given screen, traditionally using motorized curtains to completely surround the image. This is a key part of the presentation because it allows the audience to have a much more immersive experience. Lately, though, some theaters haven’t been bothering to mask their movies as often, resulting in experiences like Mike Williamson’s, in which distracting gray bars are visible throughout the entire movie.

As Williamson pointed out in a subsequent tweet, letterboxing in a theater gives the appearance that you’re watching something on a television screen at home – and with the rise of digital projection, complaints about movies looking like TV have been flying around for years already. This certainly isn’t going to help, and for AMC to cop to their lack of masking and try to hide behind the “clean lines and edges” of their digital projectors is embarrassing. Are they actively trying to drive consumers away at this point?

How can a company acknowledge something that looks like complete garbage, nod and smile, openly state that they’re making it look like that on purpose, and then charge you a premium price for your ticket? Unless there’s a big enough uproar about this that AMC reverse this policy, audiences have lost yet another battle in the ongoing war of simply trying to have a high quality theatrical experience. When the world’s largest theater chain is so open about their disdain for presentation, it’s no wonder people aren’t going to the movies as much anymore.

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