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Buyer beware: Your local theater will make 'Avengers' look like dung

Posted by Ty Burr  May 4, 2012 09:59 AM

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Greg Vellante, an excellent young movie critic for the North Andover Eagle Tribune, is up in arms about how lousy "The Avengers" looks at the Regal Fenway -- and let's be honest, how almost every movie looks at almost every multiplex across the land. His piece, drolly titled "Critic Smash," describes the experience of watching the superhero extravaganza at a press screening with projection that rendered the movie a depressing monochromatic washout.

In Vellante's words: "Captain America posed in a costume that appeared to be more of a rusty red, dark gray, and blackish blue rather than the expected, bright colors of our American flag. The typically blinding red cape of Thor (Chris Hemsworth) looked to be anything but, and the Hulk -- who should be a vibrant, violent shade of green -- looked more like a large collection of feces with muscles."

And this is at a press screening. You think they'd want to get it right for the critics, right? Well, maybe not, since a half decade of "Avengers" hype has primed audiences to accept anything the studios and theater chains dish out; reviews in this particular case are very much beside the point. (And if they're negative, Samuel L. Jackson will only try to have you fired, not killed.) When your potential audience's pop-cult buttons have been pushed so long and so well, quality control goes out the window.

An example: The free public preview of "The Avengers" held at the Boston Common a half week after the press screening Vellante attended. He couldn't get into this one for insane bureaucratic reasons detailed in his piece -- and, really, how dare he try to see the best possible presentation of a movie before he writes a review for his readers? -- but he didn't miss that much. The venue was the Common's faux IMAX screen (or as my friend Brett calls it, "Lie-MAX"), for which customers pay an extra $6 per ticket. The theater was packed with fans; the opening credits were applauded. Every ironic one-liner was met with delirious laughter; every climactic donnybrook with cheers.

Did anyone notice that the projection framing was so off-kilter that all the actors' heads were cut off just above the eyebrows in every shot? Did anyone care that they were seeing only about 70 percent of the movie they'd been awaiting for years?

Nah. No one noticed. And that's why AMC, Regal, and the other chains will keep charging you exorbitant fees for movies that are under-projected, mis-framed and otherwise presented so poorly their makers would weep if they knew. Why should the theaters bother to do it right? They know audiences don't care, that they're too mesmerized by the 3D digital bread and circuses on the screen to understand that they're being ripped off. I wrote about this issue last year, and while some projection practices at the Common have since improved (and others have remained), the underlying problem is the same: Not enough people at the individual theater level care -- or are in a position to be able to care -- about how a movie appears to the people who are paying money to see it.

Kinda makes you want to stay home and fire up your 42-inch plasma screen with the surround sound, doesn't it?

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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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