The videogame community made an important outreach effort to movie nerds on Wednesday night, as representatives from Rockstar Games made the trek into Westchester County, New York, to demo their current release, the open-world Western adventure Red Dead Redemption, for the arthouse crowd. Presided over by erstwhile New York Times movie critic Janet Maslin, the game night was an unusual booking for the Burns Film Center, which is more inclined to host filmmaker chats with the likes of Werner Herzog and Jonathan Demme. Props to the powers that be at the Burns for recognizing that Red Dead Redemption is freaking awesome and giving Rockstar a venue for showing a bunch of hardcore film people (not to mention all the hip youngsters who brought hard copies of the game to be autographed by the Rockstar crew) what’s up in the increasingly expansive world of interactive entertainment.
One of my favorite things about the Manhattan screening rooms where press screenings typically take place is the pitch darkness you fall into before every show. The room dips to an even black — and the best ones are designed thoughtfully enough that you won’t even be distracted by a red “Exit” sign during the show. Also the sound is excellent. Reference-level dynamics might not be everybody’s cup of tea, but there’s a tightness and immediacy to the mix that you just don’t get in a larger room, even when that room is properly tuned up for audio.
Sadly, your average multiplex does not boast particularly good sound — nor even a particularly dark room. I grew up in Colorado, and when I moved to New York in 1994 I noticed a definite uptick in presentation quality in Manhattan theaters, where theater management is likely to be hassled by filmmakers themselves if the specs are out of whack. Of course, New York theaters have their peculiarities, too — unidentifiable odors, radically uncomfortable seats and/or angles of sight, sudden explosions of indecipherable verbalese from the octogenarian gentleman in the back row, and the intermittent but unmistakable rumble of subway cars running underneath the floor.
Moviegoers — even some cinephiles — probably don’t know as much as they should about aspect ratios. It took the dominance of DVD to educate mainstream consumers about the difference between “widescreen” and “pan-and-scan” formats, and many viewers don’t even care about the distinction as long as their TV’s screen is fully filled. (Making matters worse, new HDTVs have a different aspect ratio from conventional sets, meaning that movies that appear full-screen on one will likely be letterboxed on the other.) Here’s a crash course.