Hinkle has studied industry recommendations and is playing the best of the best of DCP transfers. While some films are transferred and projected with top-quality “4K” digital presentations, others are transferred at the lower-resolution “2K,” and some even are projected via consumer-grade Blu-ray discs. The term “digital projection” offers not a definition but myriad potentially disappointing possibilities. So while the multiplexes often offer poorly projected 2K transfers, the Brattle hopes to stun audiences with picture quality above and beyond what you get for $12.50 at the chains. For studied eyes, disappointing results have become the norm.
Thanks to erratic projection standards, misplaced 3-D lenses, overextended projector bulbs, and other cost-cutting measures, movies often look truer to their intended visual design at home, on Blu-ray, via a carefully calibrated television, than they do at the theater.
“My personal take [on digital] is that it’s a little strange, to see it so . . . flawless,” Anastasio noted, trying to express how some moviegoers can feel when watching a strip of images run through a projector. Digital “looks great, but it’s not film. I don’t know how the public is going to feel. Are people going to miss the flicker like I will?”
Hollywood gambled that audiences don’t care how their movies are shown; that moviegoers aren’t going to miss that flicker. Anecdotal evidence suggests that, at least on the repertory scene, it’s a draw. Anastasio described one instance, at a “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” screening, where he offered the sold-out crowd a choice: a crunchy, decades-old, beat-up film print or a pristine digital projection. The roar in favor of the print was almost unanimous. Later he had to announce to a packed midnight crowd for “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” that it was being presented via their new DCP technology. Anastasio was booed.
Hinkle believes in the power of the communal experience as the number-one draw of moviegoing. In a crowd, “things that are funny are funnier, things that scary are scarier,” he said, arguing that the experience itself is the intangible that makes the movies entrancing, as opposed to film. “There is an emotional vibe.”
Both the Coolidge and the Brattle will continue to employ professional projectionists, even during days of digital programming. Hinkle promises that side of quality control isn’t going anywhere. “You can’t just have a staff member run up there and push a button,” he said, “you need a professional.”
But, as even Anastasio admits, quality control can go only so far in the face of something as beautiful as seeing a great film on film. It’s something the Brattle, Coolidge, and Somerville continue to offer; but how long they’ll be able to do that is out of their control. “I think people come out, specifically for a lot of these old titles, because they are watching film. And slowly, I think, awareness is building, that this is a rare format. I feel like in five years, people are going to be looking back, thinking, ‘Oh God, what did we do?’ ”
Jake Mulligan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.