When d-cinema leaves audinces in the dark

By Patrick von Sychowski | December 5, 2007 5:49 am PST

black screen You are not a frequent film goer if you have not sat through at least one instance of a 35mm reel breaking and the projectionist (or the kid who sold you the popcorn) taking forever to fix it. I once waited 45 minutes to get to see the last underwhelming five minutes of ‘Mission to Mars‘. Boy was that not worth the wait.

Thanks to the miracle of digital cinema, there is now a 21st century version of this annoyance, except now the film won’t even start and the chances are slim-to-none that even the most competent projectionist will be ever to sort it out, as several audiences in Australia recently found out. This from AdelaidNow:

PREMIERE Australian screenings of much-hyped 3D spectacular Beowulf descended into farce on Monday night when the digital projection technology failed simultaneously in Adelaide and Perth.

That follows a similar incident in Sydney last week. Cinemagoers at all three venues were unable to watch the 3D blockbuster after security access keys, provided by the distributor as an anti-piracy measure, failed to work.

Roadshow Films said they were confident the problem had been solved and would not affect audiences when the film is released tomorrow.

Ouch! Whoever was responsible for the Australia distribution of Warner Bros’ Beowulf (Paramount handled it in the US) will have been in deep trouble as a result of screwing up the KDM decryption keys. (Based on previous studio-lab digital relations I’m guessing Technicolor, but I could be wrong). Re-funding the audience is never cheap or popular, either with the cinemas, distributors or even audiences themselves:

Valley View resident Damian Woodards said he was disappointed. “We were all looking forward to the latest 3D technology that’s supposed to be getting more people along to the cinemas,” he said.

Roadshow Films general manager Joel Pearlman said he believed the glitch had been ironed out. “This was incredibly unfortunate and disappointing, but these are all issues to do with the security key which have been addressed,” he said.

Yes, but only until the next screw up. Even with 99.99% accurate KDM creation and matching, that will still leave hundreds of dark screenings every year. And it just doesn’t look as interesting as 35mm film getting stuck in the projection gate and melting. It’s just black and absolutely nothing happens. Call it the Black Screen of death for digital cinema.

Patrick von Sychowski
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