Despite the solemnity of yesterday's holiday, having weekdays without the 2 ½-3 hours of commuting five days a week, means one does have to take the time to do some errands. Knowing that I'd be in Holland MI to see about getting a recalcitrant laptop fixed, I checked the movie times and what do you know -- the Holland 7 was showing Avatar in 3-D at 2:50pm. I could just make it and still be home a little after 6pm.
Things I Never Thought I'd Hear About A Movie Projector
I got to the theatre just in time for the previews, which played on the far left of the screen, maybe one-quarter or less of the real estate. Odd, but I figured that they were going to switch projectors later for the 3D feature. Since the crowd was pretty thin, I scoped out a seat near the center of the first row of the stadium rear part of the theatre, where there's a railing and no seats in front of you so you can stretch out. But after the second trailer, I spied one of the wide body loveseats in the last row of the front section, near center, with a railing on the left side next to the cutouts for wheelchairs. So I switched and found myself with good legroom and hiproom. Yay.
Pretty much missed the third trailer making the switch. And then the Fox movie logo, in 3D, but still on the small piece of screen. Huh? Movie began, still had trouble with the 3D focus in the zero-gee opening. About the time Jake was getting stuff from his locker... the movie stopped. Continued, still wrong, stopped again. Within a minute, someone appeared in the rear of the theatre, apologized, and said there was obviously a size problem and they were working on it. Tried again after a couple of minutes. Still wrong. New announcement -- they were going to have to reboot the projectors "from a difference source." Cue Tim Allen questioning grunt. Mwr-huh? It was going to take fifteen minutes.
Now I've been to movies where they've forgotten about, or in one case broke, the anamorphic lens which stretched the width to its proper aspect ratio. Very weird way to watch a movie. But this digital dilemma was a new one on me. But I have to say, it was their first 3D show of the day. Don't know if they were getting the movie via hard drives or Internet downloads, but they could have had ended up with the wrong projector source. Or something. And kudos to the Goodrich Theatre people at the Holland 7 for bothering to tell us what was going on. Can not tell you how many times I've been in audiences left in the dark like passengers awaiting an airline flight that's been delayed. Also, they immediately offered full refunds to anyone who didn't want to stay, and that the person who came to us would personally take care of anyone at the concession stand who wanted a free small drink. I didn't -- it's a long movie and I hadn't had a pee break before (grin) -- but it was a nice gesture. Customer service. It's one way of actually getting your customers to come back to your little theatre.
I will say one thing: having seen the 3D logo on the tiny quarter-screen, I think that 3D television will be something to see when quality 3D material, like Avatar's visuals, becomes available for the home market.
3:28pm, tried another restart, failed. 3:38pm, our 2:50pm movie finally restarted, from the opening again, full screen size -- though they did have to re-center the projector as the movie began.
Avatar 3D [PG-13]
Holland 7 Theatre #2, Monday 18 Jan 2010, 2:50pm, $9.25
Can it really be four weeks ago -- Monday 21 December 2009 -- that we saw Avatar in 3-D IMAX? In such a span the movie has churned to near the all-time box office take, though admitted with higher 2D, even higher 3D and ever higher IMAX 3D, ticket pricing that either Titanic or The Dark Knight, and picked off Best Picture and Best Director at the Golden Globes on Sunday night. And then there's the online discussions, from people disappointed with the White Man Saves Blue Smurf Savages From Themselves theme, annoyed at the rip-off of plots from Dances With Wolves to Ferngully, disgusted with James Cameron's attitude toward military/corporations/what-have-you, or even determined Never To See This Movie.
A number of people on the web have suggested that the 30 frame per second digital 3D projection was actually sharper and clearer than the 24 fps IMAX 3D projection. That was one of the reasons for me seeing this again, to make the comparison. But it was hard to make a comparison, because like the IMAX 3D, I was having trouble with the 3D in the floating zero-gee part. And now the scenes with close-ups, like Jake wheeling across the landing field or rolling into the military pep talk, there was an artificialness to the 3D -- again I'm dating myself and mentioning the old Viewmaster 3D disks of the 60s with their 3D "layers".
Just as we get to the part where the "chopper" sets down and Jake, in his big blue avatar, is on his first mission, the movie stops again. They apologize again and said that the focus is off and they have to reboot again. I'd actually been thinking of bailing and taking the refund, because the 3D sucked compared to what we'd seen in IMAX 3D. It's about 3:58pm.
Folks, let me tell you something. This audience of about a dozen souls, was mostly gray and white hairs. I might've been the youngest person there. The elderly couple two rows forward, I knew his hearing wasn't good and he wasn't happy with the 3D glasses. His wife, during this last intermission, sent yet another text message to their daughter saying there were problems and she told him that their daughter said to stick with it, that the 3D was amazing. When they got restarted, the party of avatars is heading into the forest, and immediately they are surrounded by buzzing bugs and all kinds of plants. They'd fixed it. For real. Finally.
The audience gasped. Audibly. More than once. You wouldn't have believed that there were only a dozen people in that big theatre. There was an amazed buzz of excitement as all these older people talked to each other for the next couple of minutes at the wonders of Pandora were unfolded.
It was dramatic as all hell to go from crappy disappointing unhappy 3D indexing/focusing to razor sharp, fully integrated and registered 3D. It practically brought tears to my eyes then, and even thinking about it now while I type this, I'm tearing up. You cannot imagine. It had to have been like that moment in 1939 when MGM pulled off the cheapest trick in the book with The Wizard of Oz when we suddenly go to Technicolor in Oz. You couldn't have planned a more gee-whiz holy cow OMG moment to display how good the technology was by starting to make it work half an hour into the movie, rather than trying to stun us with floating beads of sweat in zero-gee.
This isn't the review of a second viewing of Avatar that I'd planned on making, but for me this was an amazing experience. Despite having seen the movie before, on a giant IMAX screen at that, and having read pages and pages of Internet comments and complaints, old jaded Dr. Phil got sucker punched and bowled over by this amazing contrast and blasted by a renewed Sensawunder.
Yeah, the bad lines, the obvious story line, the comparisons with half a dozen works by other people -- they're all still there. But you know? I didn't bloody care. It was like the first time I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark and sitting in stunned silence afterwards, watched a whole new crowd come it -- and I sat through it a second time, and dammit it was still entertaining. That's what James Cameron can capture, flawed though he may be. $300 million be damned, the man has put it all up on the screen.
We might not be able to live through a James Cameron movie if he could write a truly magnificent script. Blood vessels would just burst somewhere in the last "reel" before the credits began. And we'd die happy.
Trailers: There's a summer action adventure comedy that looks hilarious, despite starring Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz, called Knight and Day. "Drop your weapon or I'll shoot myself and then kill you." Uh, wait a sec... don't you mean...? Might have to see this one.