An Argument for Digital Movie Delivery?

My wife and I currently are vacationing on Mackinac Island. Last evening, we decided to check out “Movies at the Mission,” a weekly event where the Mission Pointe Resort runs a first-run film in the resort’s quaint, classic theater. (For those of you familiar with either the history of Mackinac Island, or the 1980 film Somewhere in Time, the theater where “Movies at the Mission” are shown is the same location used to film the theater scenes in Somewhere in Time.)

For last evening’s screening, the theater was mostly full and the audience consisted primarily of teenagers and a few parents with their younger children. The movie was Transformers and although neither my wife nor I was a Transformers fan the first time around, we decided that seeing the movie would be a nice diversion from the Island’s usual limited nighttime entertainment options. The evening turned out to be far more entertaining than we anticipated. With the start of the first movie trailer, we realized this wasn’t like a visit to the local cineplex — the trailer was spilt horizontally by a black line, with the bottom half of the frame appearing in the top half of the screen and the top half of the frame appearing below that. In effect, everyone’s head appeared below their feet.

After a couple of minutes, the projectionist (whom we were guessing might be a first year film student, or perhaps a retiree who learned the trade on one of Thomas Edison’s original projectors) managed to frame the film correctly, but then the sound disappeared. Over the next several minutes as a series of trailers for coming attractions ran, the projectionist would fix one technical problem only to see another arise almost immediately. Out-of-focus images, warbling sound, continuously changing framing. Finally when the movie itself started, the only remaining issue was the lack of sound. Unfortunately as minute after minute passed, nothing improved and we continued to watch Transformers as some sort of modern-day silent film. (I kept hoping for audience members to start yelling out dialogue, ala Rocky Horror or MST3K, but this Midwestern audience was too well behaved.)

About 15 minutes into the film, the image froze on screen and a woman walked down to the front to announce that despite everyone’s best efforts, it appeared that they would not be able to restore the sound for that week’s film. As an almost symbolic final gesture, while the woman explained how we could get refunds for our tickets, the audience watched as the frozen image on the screen behind her suddenly dissolved into colorful bubbles as the film melted.

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