Still No George Lucas Apologist

MoviesSo I finally got around to seeing my first digitally projected movie over the weekend — Shrek 2 in this case. First of all, the movie itself is remarkable — no matter what some blurb-spouting critics might say, it certainly doesn’t outdo the original, but it more than holds its own.

But I’m not going to get into a critique here, or at least not of the content. Rather, I think it more appropriate to discuss (even if only briefly, as I’m still absolutely swamped right now) the projection method. In principle, I’m all for digital projection, if for no other reason than it’s inevitable. I’m not sounding the death knell for film, but from a purely business perspective, those bulky film reels are going the way of the eight-track (or, perhaps more appropriately, the reel-to-reel tape recorder). But that’s not to say we’re quite at that point yet — and if what I saw was any indication, we may still have a while to wait.

Overall, the picture quality was astonishing. Every minor detail is visible, every hair, every pore, every color variation. Granted, this is a digital source, so it’s got an inherent advantage, but it still makes for a good baseline. But alas, there were still several dead giveaways that we were watching a digital image rather than a film one. A lot of that has to do with the transfer, and most of that was evident less in the feature than in the attached trailers. When you can see the pixelization of the lettering on the requisite MPAA “Approved for All Audiences” banner, your hopes are not exactly reinforced; then again, that poor anti-aliasing job was restricted to only some of those images, so it’s not really an indictment of the overall technology so much as of the transfer technicians. But what was more distracting was the quite clear pixel demarcations visible during the actual picture — in particularly bright areas of the picture, I could actually see little “outlines” of the pixels themselves. I’ve no doubt they’re absolutely invisible on the image, but are a side effect of the projector. In a nutshell, it was like watching television. High-definition television, but television nonetheless.

I’d be optimistic that this will improve over time, but remember — the biggest obstacle to more widespread use of digital projection is the cost of installing these projectors. Do you really think that theater owners are going to run out and replace their projectors with “improved” ones anytime soon? I sincerely doubt it.

Now, does this mean we’re not likely to see improvement? Probably not — but here, as is often the case with technology rollouts — it’s likely to be the early adopters who end up suffering. Those owners who hold off on installing new projection systems are more likely to end up with much better projection systems — systems that could conceivably take advantage of the resolution offered in, say, the James Bond restoration. Of course, poor George Lucas — shooting Episodes II and III at mere high-definition resolution — will be limited to the “television” look.

Which still, all told, isn’t all that shabby.


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