Zero frames per secondBy Wade Kwon
With all of the problems people have with going to the movies these days, hereâ€™s one more: I am the movie jinx.
Iâ€™m sorry. I really am.
If youâ€™re unfortunate enough to share an auditorium with me, youâ€™ve already experienced the movies as I do almost every single time. I like to be surprised, so itâ€™s rarely the same malfunction twice.
As sound has become more sophisticated over the years, so too have the ways it can break down during my matinee. A common example is the surround-sound malfunction, in which six of the channels are broadcasting ambient noise (traffic, birds, stray gunfire), three of the channels are silent and three are broadcasting varying levels of grungy static.
This would be an ideal time to practice your lip-reading.
Sometimes, the sound is so very very quiet. If you lean forward, as I am accustomed to doing, you can make out some or most of the pertinent dialogue and make up the rest. Did the villain say he was smuggling drugs or juggling pugs? Either way, evil.
On rare occasions, the sound during the early days of DTS or THX was too loud for comfort. I experienced digital deafness first-hand during the summer popcorn movies where the seats would rumble and my eardrums would explode.
More often, I would experience it while trying to watch an arthouse movie while the neighboring auditoriums had their FX cranked to 11. So while the main characters were exploring the human condition, the indie would get an unwarranted jolt of POW! BLAM! BOOM! in unexpected moments.
The picture is the other problem. While seeing â€œHero,â€ the arty Chinese historical martial arts epic, the movie was out of frame, so we saw the top half of the movie. This wouldnâ€™t have been a problem, except that the English subtitles were no longer visible, and we werenâ€™t fluent in Mandarin.
(And if we were, the sound was out for part of the movie, too. And our Chinese lip-reading is rusty at best.)
The first 10 minutes of â€œStar Trek: Insurrectionâ€ were darker than expected. Not the tone, the picture, which was out completely â€” but the sound was still on, making for a nice throwback to the radio drama era. And because film reels are cumbersome and unidirectional, we couldnâ€™t simply rewind to catch that lost introduction.
The picture is usually dim, sometimes fuzzy. The reel changes are sloppy at best. At the lesser theaters, the picture ratio doesnâ€™t always match the screen ratio.
â€œCrashâ€ lived up to its name. Not once but twice, the movie stopped. No picture, no sound. Itâ€™s like the power was shut off on our projector â€“ but not the one next door, as we could clearly discern the explosions and firefights. The movie resumed each time at the spot it left off, but what a momentum killer. Little did we know that the second breakdown was about 60 seconds before the credits rolled.
I look forward to the new digital projectors and IMAX-size screens headed our way. Weâ€™ll have a whole new way to experience the movies. Perhaps weâ€™ll see giant 1s and 0s floating across where the actual picture should be. Or maybe the screen will collapse and smother the first three rows.
My friends wonâ€™t hit the theaters with me anymore. But Iâ€™ll still go.
When you complain to the manager, be sure to point me out, if you can find me in the darkness beneath the mounds of hurled trash.