Richard J. Leskosky: Some gripes from a film buff
A new year offers us all the opportunity to try to change those things about our lives that we are dissatisfied with. The things I'm dissatisfied with about contemporary cinema, I can't really do anything about, other than to complain about them. So here are my film gripes (and, yes, please feel free to imagine me as a grumpy old man angrily waving my cane, with my pants hitched up as far they can go):
"Found footage" films
These movies, mostly horror films, deliberately mimic surveillance camera footage and video shot by one of the characters on home video equipment.
The rationale behind this concept is that the poor quality of the image gives the improbable story an immediate, documentary feel (and presumably costs less than glossier cinematography and can be shot faster).
This gimmick has produced some classics ("The Blair Witch Project," "Cloverfield" and "The Bay"), but if you've seen one, then about the only innovation you can expect is where the critter or ghost or whatever will pop out from.
Polarized 3-D glasses
This technology does produce effective three-dimensional images, but it also darkens the image by as much as 20 percent.
That makes some details harder to discern and also probably has some negative impact on your emotional response to the film.
Paying for 3-D glasses
On top of your regular admission price, you have to pay $2 or more for the 3-D glasses. OK, paying for the glasses once is fair, but the theaters make you pay for new ones for each film. Just try telling the ticket seller you have a pair you saved from a previous film; you still have to pay for a new set.
Supposedly eco-friendly Hollywood passes up the chance to encourage consumer recycling to make a couple extra bucks.
A plethora of formats
Having a variety of theatrical formats to choose from is a blessing, albeit a mixed one. Now we can select among 2-D, 3-D, IMAX (huge screen, better resolution), IMAX 3-D, HFR 3-D (High Frame Rate, 48 frames per second rather than the standard 24 fps — for a supposedly more realistic look) and D-Box (your theater seat moves in sync with the movie's action).
Each, of course, has its own, usually premium, pricing system.
When you can see something like "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" in four or five of these formats at the same multiplex in its first couple of weeks of release, how do you decide? More importantly, how does that person in the ticket line ahead of you, who hasn't even picked a film title yet, decide?
Hollywood obviously would like fans to come back to see films in multiple premium formats. (And I wonder how long before you can buy D-Box home units for watching action Blu-Ray discs.)
Self-serving end credits
Hollywood loves to pat itself on the back. Lately, a new end credit has popped up telling us just how many people a particular movie employed for how many hours.
I don't need to be told a movie gave jobs to 1,500 people after I've sat through a five-minute roster of names (actually, the 1,500, or however many, are presumably folks without enough clout to get their actual names listed).
The message I take away from this is that Hollywood is claiming to boost the economy with jobs in these troubled times, and so we should not complain about high admission costs because they pay for all those jobs. But also Hollywood's deeper message is that all the tax breaks and other incentives offered to studios by various states to shoot some or all of a film in their locations are entirely justified (and maybe ought to be increased).
Ads before IMDb previews
The Internet Movie Database, an invaluable resource, provides a wealth of information about films, including the theatrical trailers for new releases. That is in fact a good service, especially considering that most people don't go to brick-and-mortar cinemas often enough to see all that many trailers.
But if you've recently clicked on an IMDb link to see a trailer, you have had to sit through an ad for some non-movie product or service. Now, trailers are actually ads for their movies, so you have to watch an ad to watch an ad!
Art theaters that care about your movie experience but only to a point
Cinemas that specialize in foreign films and American independents enrich their communities simply by virtue of their very programming. But most of them still have to struggle to survive.
So they will also emphasize their concern for the viewing experience they provide. Even though every multiplex urges audiences to turn off their cellphones and refrain from texting during films, for example, only dedicated art houses are likely to toss someone out for those discourtesies.
But in my travels to film festivals and whatnot, I've encountered some unfortunate art house lapses. For instance, I attended a festival in a theater that bans texting and kids under 6 and that serves alcoholic drinks and sandwiches during screenings (each seat is flanked by a small table). That's all very nice ... until a server brings a meal to someone sitting near you and they settle up the bill, all in the middle of a film.
That can be even more distracting than someone texting, especially if the server and diner are right in front of you.
Then there was the art cinema where they were using the wrong lens for a screening and the image slopped off the screen at least a foot in every direction. I pointed this out to the only employee in the lobby, but nothing was ever done about it. When I reported this to the manager later, I was told only one person had complained and they didn't want to disturb the other viewers by fiddling with the lens during the show.
I don't know how many complaints it would have taken to effect a professional level screening, but I hope readers will take away from this the lesson that they should not rely on some other irate audience member to see that a problem gets corrected.
I long ago put the managers' phone numbers for local multiplexes in my cellphone contact list so I wouldn't have to run out to complain about projection problems (but I guess now, ironically, I could get tossed out for calling from the auditorium). I just hope that now I don't have to start taking a disguise to the movies so that I can pass as two people complaining about the same problem.
Richard J. Leskosky taught media and cinema studies at the University of Illinois and has reviewed films for more than 30 years. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.