Friday, August 2, 2013

watching movies on the big screen.

Movies were NOT meant to be watched on a smart phone, an iPad, an airplane/jet, a television set, or any other small screen. They weren't meant to compete with the phone ringing or pressing pause to take out the recycling. They are meant to be larger than life with big image and big sound, with the audience isolated from the real world.

I'm a movie geek. The first film I saw at a theater was "The Ten Commandments." The entire family was at the drive-in, the screen was enormous, and so was the scope of the movie. I was transported out of the family car and into a vast, vivid world, filled with more variety than I had previously imagined. I laughed at the things my parents laughed at and I cried when Moses' mother was almost crushed under a rolling stone block. My teeth almost dropped out of my jaw when the Red Sea parted, and I shivered with a weird combo of fright and exhilaration when ghostly death took the lives of Egypt's first-born.

A few years later, when I was taken on a school outing to see 2001: a Space Odyssey, I began to see that movies could be a door to the future as well as the past, and with Star Wars, as I was journeying off to University, I travelled to fight the evil Empire with two droids and Luke Skywalker on a fairytale-western adventure in Space. Anything was possible, and I embraced movie going with a passion that has yet to diminish.

As home video took off, I purchased a Betamax VCR and suddenly, I could watch any movie at home, at anytime. The novelty and instant gratification was so satisfying, I didn't notice that I was only seeing one-half, or less, of the image, and the sound was only in mono. Over time, as Dolby Surround became available, Laserdisc increased the resolution and added letter-boxing or widescreen, I upgraded my system and my screen size to accommodate the new technologies. The one thing I was missing: A projected image on a big screen in a cinema-like room.

One night, after enduring yet another rowdy crowd and a broken sound system at a local cinema, I vowed to start improving my system at home, so that I wouldn't be stuck paying twenty bucks for a drink and popcorn and $7.50 for a ticket to a theater owned by folks who didn't care about me.

The screen slid down from the drapes above the fireplace
In 1995, Michael and I finally bought a LCD projector and a 100" screen at our favorite retailer, LaserCity.  I designed some draperies to surround the screen and blackout our windows, installed some CineLoungers just like I'd sat in at Skywalker Ranch, painted the room a dark, non-reflecting color, installed a THX 5.1 surround sound system, and wow!  I had a theater at home to rival the best in San Francisco.
CineLoungers: the Lazyboy of Home Theater

The image wasn't quite there yet, but in 2005, with Blu-ray and the Sony Pearl, it was hard to tell the difference.

When we were able to finally remodel our 1870's Victorian, we decided to put in a dedicated room. We were able to get Russ Berger and Associates' Chuck Chile to design a perfect viewing space with an image that is like IMAX at home and the sound is perfection.

There is so much engineering involved in creating a perfect cinema space that I've now far surpassed anything a local Cinema can offer except one thing: a big noisy crowd of strangers. When I want that, I can still go out, pay the 15 to 25 bucks and watch the current blockbuster. Thankfully, the local Cineplexes, fighting for the customers that they once took for granted, now offer a better experience. Although a night out with a reserved seat and expensive, mediocre food will set you back fifty to a hundred bucks. There is still something special about an enthusiastic opening night crowd at a summer blockbuster, but there's also something to be said for watching 2001: A Space Odyssey or The Godfather at 2 AM when I can't sleep.

The other night, I popped in a Blu-ray of the Ten Commandments. Even though I've seen the movie a bunch of times on TV, I hadn't seen it on the big screen since I was a little kid. Once again, I was transported out of my body and into the biblical world created by Cecil B. DeMille fifty-six years ago. The movie, though a little overacted and stagey for my modern tastes, was wonderful. It was better than I remembered.

I know that not everyone is as fortunate as I am, but you can go out to the movies or to an exhibition at the local restored movie palace to see a movie in all it's glory. Just maybe, the reason you didn't like a given movie like 2001? You didn't see it on the big screen.

The Shawshank Redemption never looked or sounded better

A lobby area with pinballs and movie posters help to set the mood

A beer with your popcorn?Light or Dark?