10 Things Movie Theaters Get Wrong

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.

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Radio Silence

Kirsten Dunst's nipples in Spider-Man

The extended silence you may have noticed at this site was me spending time in Hollywood and in Colorado. I answered some email and at least toyed with the idea of posting some Weblog entries, but wound up not having enough free time to think straight. I considered going to see Simone (or is that more properly spelled S1m0ne?) at some point, but didn’t get to that, either. I don’t much like this writer/director Andrew Niccol’s work, see, but I am interested in keeping track of what he’s up to. But, geez, did anybody like his new one?


I was amused to learn that Spider-Man was the feature on my westward flight from New York to California. I didn’t plug into the audio, but instead took in the visuals while I listened to assorted MP3s. I was pleased to note that, yep, the A- I gave it seems to hold up under scrutiny. This is a goofy, giddy superhero movie, and the purest embodiment of exactly what I hope to see in a summer blockbuster. The trick in this case is, I think, that the film was storyboarded extensively, with the result that the images play out in distinctly comic-book fashion. My main cavil is still the too-frequent replacement of Tobey Maguire by obnoxious CGI, but even some of the whiz-bang graphics have an exuberant appeal this time around, in a bet-you-didn’t-think-we’d-ever-be-able-to-show-you-that way. I did notice that, while the film’s frequent bursts of violence — including a final-reel impalement! — seem to have been left more or less alone by the airline censors, Kirsten Dunst’s naked-beneath-her-clothes nipples had been digitally removed from the scene where Spidey rescues her from a group of thugs. Good lord, the lengths to which people go to strip even the hint of sexuality from anything that they might have to watch with their children. (Ever wonder if the folks who run sites like Screenit.com get any particular jollies from their exhaustive cataloguing of explicit content? Here’s how they describe the scene in question: “Mary Jane shows some cleavage in various outfits in various scenes. In one scene, she’s caught in the rain and her wet top reveals that she’s not wearing a bra (the shape of her nipples can be seen).” Sounds pretty hot to me.) Makes me long for the good old days of PG-rated Swamp Thing and topless Adrienne Barbeau.

Since getting home, I have taken the time to check out the new Kino DVD of Code Unknown. I didn’t exactly avoid this one when it was playing in New York, but I didn’t make any effort to put myself in proximity to a theater showing it, either. This was due, I think, to my deep-seated irritation with Michael Haneke’s Funny Games, a film I felt was trying to hector me, start to finish. All that makes me a chump because, boy howdy, is this a terrific movie. I hope to write something about it. For now, I’ll just say it’s a shame Kino couldn’t do better than this version of the film. I suspect that the DVD is transcoded from a PAL master, partly because the details are kind of fuzzy and also because the frames flicker in weird ways when I try to step through them. In one scene that Juliette Binoche plays in long shot, her face is just a big pink spot at the center of the screen. I wondered if she was wearing a stocking mask, for all the detail I could(n’t) make out. At the very least, this should have been anamorphic widescreen instead of plain letterbox. But if you turn up the volume (a six-channel sound system will definitely help) and turn out all the lights, I suspect that even this version of Code Unknown works the way it’s supposed to.