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'Avengers' multiplex follies, Pt. 2

Posted by Ty Burr  May 5, 2012 03:41 PM

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One of my former BU students emailed me last night to say that he read my earlier posting on the shamefully poor projection practices at your average movie theater chain, but only after his own shabby experience. He writes:

I caught an afternoon showing of "The Avengers" today at the AMC Common, and boy does it make me want to invest in my home entertainment system. Not only was the framing a little bit off (lopping most characters at the hairline), they never bothered to turn on the subwoofer in the theater. That's right. Two and a half hours of explosions and the Hulk, and no low end or rumbles. One (matinee) ticket, a small coke and a small popcorn come to $19.75--I'd like to think that for that, I ought to get the full picture and sound! I suppose the really disappointing part is that I wasn't entirely surprised.

When I asked him which particular theater at the Common, he responded:

It was #17 upstairs. Digital projection, not the IMAX but I had expected better for a tentpole. Last time I had a bad experience at the AMC, it was a dying bulb in the projection during "The Road." The manager didn't remotely care, so I didn't bother to complain this time.

There you have it: Avoid Theater 17 at the Common. Also the IMAX in Theater 2, unless they've fixed the framing there. As Greg Vellante has reported, screenings of "Avengers" (and other movies, presumably) are criminally dark at the Regal Fenway. But my correspondent raises a larger question: How do you, the paying customer, get the theater to even care, let alone respond?

I have a couple of thoughts about that. For starters, maybe you should think about patronizing the handful of independent theaters that do show mainstream Hollywood fare. In the Boston area, "Avengers" is showing at the Capitol Theatre in Arlington and the Waltham Embassy (part of the Landmark chain but the projection quality is generally solid).

More realistically, if you do go to one of the chains (AMC, Regal, and National Amusements are the big boys in our area) ask to speak to the manager before or after you head into the showing -- he or she is usually around the ticket booth -- and inquire about the quality of the projection in the theater you're about to enter. Is the bulb up to snuff? Is the movie framed correctly? Are all the speakers working? Chances are he or she won't have an answer, but at least you've lodged the notion that the paying clientele is also paying attention.

If the presentation is subpar and you feel you're not getting your money's worth, you have a few options. You can try to find a manager to fix the problem -- good luck with that -- and miss a chunk of the film while you do so. You can ask for your money back, but only within the first half-hour of a movie; any longer, and theater management probably won't honor the request. Even if they do, they'll try to fob you off with free vouchers for another show, which only guarantees you'll be spending more cash at the snack counter that's the theater's real source of profits. It depends on how angry you are and how far you want to take it, but if you do want a refund, I'd insist on a refund. If they resist, makes noises about the Better Business Bureau. Understand this: It is your right as a consumer to be satisfied.

If you make it through the whole movie but the presentation quality is not what you feel it could or should have been, again, buttonhole the manager on the way out. Tell him or her that you won't be coming back, that you'll be telling your friends, and tell him or her why. The only way -- I repeat, the ONLY way -- theater managers and (more important) the suits at the regional offices and at national headquarters will begin to systematically address the problem is if their paying customers start griping good and loud. That's not me. That's you.

I invite any readers with tales of projection woes this weekend (or at any time) to add their two cents in the comment section or send me an email. It'd also be good to hear about those theaters that are doing it right. Let's see if we can't get a little leverage going here.

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Ty Burr is a film critic with The Boston Globe.

Mark Feeney is an arts writer for The Boston Globe.

Janice Page is movies editor for The Boston Globe.

Tom Russo is a regular correspondent for the Movies section and writes a weekly column on DVD releases.

Katie McLeod is Boston.com's features editor.

Rachel Raczka is a producer for Lifestyle and Arts & Entertainment at Boston.com.

Emily Wright is an Arts & Entertainment producer for Boston.com.

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