I went to see what has been one of the most highly anticipated films in a long time. Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit", part of a franchise that is as widely known and respected as the likes of Star Wars (original trilogy) for it's technical and story telling prowess. It is an exquisitely designed film, with loving detail crafted in to even the smallest items. The cast and crew is littered with Academy and BAFTA award winning members, notably for direction, production design, cinematography, editing, the list goes on. The composer alone, Howard Shore, has three Academy awards. A technical marvel, shot at 48 frames a second (though also available at 24 in both 2D and 3D) on Red Epic cameras.
These are one of the very latest available digital cameras, capable of shooting up to 5K resolution (to put that in perspective, crystal clear HD TV is 1920 pixels wide, by 1080 pixels high. 5K is 5120 by 2700..) at 96 frames a second. The latest hardware and software was used to create the stunning visual effects and atmospheric grading. Great care was taken to scout some of the most scenic locations in New Zealand to shoot the gorgeous vistas. The trailers I've seen on the internet were gorgeously lit and grades shots, with such clarity to the images. Every shot, every frame a stunning work of art in its own right. I was thus looking forward to at least enjoying the visual feast that lay before me. the sound would also be something to look forward to, with more award winning people in charge of a sumptuous Dolby audio track. I ran into a friend of ours at the theatre who was one of the lucky folks that get to put 'sculptor on The Hobbit'. I was really hoping to see her name in the credits and have a good chat afterwards. In total several tens of thousands of combined man hours by her and a huge dedicated crew went into making this, and I was eagerly awaiting to see what my R50 had bought us (excluding the R35 box of smarties my girlfriend bought).
And man, was I utterly, utterly disappointed.. Now I know that South African cinema's aren't going to be at the forefront of movie going prowess, but what I saw this evening was so incredibly dire that it beggars belief. It started ominously with a trailer that was pretty out of focus. I jokingly said to my girlfriend that I hoped the next one would be in focus. The next thing up was the main feature. And it wasn't looking good. The first few opening credits came up a bit soft. I figured it would get better once the projectionist could tear him/herself away from facebooking on their phone. But no. The entire duration of the film the projector's focus was set to the 'meh-it'll-do' setting. And if that wasn't bad enough, the sound went from very loud too much treble through speakers so far past their prime that they have to go back several pages in the map book to find the suburb it was last spotted in, to a weird 3/4 volume with a high pitched whine.
A once off I can live with, but this happened intermittent throughout the entire movie. If I were to directly compare this experience to anything, it would be watching it on the back of the seat in front of you on a long-haul flight, listening to it through those cheap headphones they give you. The ones that rip your ears clean off your skull when you forget to take them off to go to the loo. I've seen better prints of movies with another audience in them and dodgy Asian subtitles. I'd expect to see visual quality as mediocre as that on a low budget indie movie shot on free film stock the local art college had lying around since Mandela was up for parole, but on something that used the cutting edge in technology certainly deserved better treatment. It was opening night, for crying out loud! It was showing at two screens at the V&A Waterfront NuMetro, so you'd expect to be wowed. I was wowed all right. But in the completely opposite direction. We couldn't believe the utterly shoddy show.
Now, you ask, then why did I not walk out or complain? Well, I personally have never walked out on a movie. We paid good money for that. I also didn't complain because this rarely has any effect what-so-ever. My girlfriend is a bit of a stickler for movies, and has complained numerous occasions that something was going utterly pear shaped. And generally to no avail. Why would they start listening now? What irks me is that the V&A Waterfront is billed as one of Cape Town's big tourist attractions, mainly aimed at the folks that come swaggering in with dollars (US, not Zim..) and pounds. You'd think that they would therefor up their game a little with this specific theatre, try to pull it at least on par with something that the UK or US has to offer. It's a chain of theatres, raking in millions from their horrendously overpriced and under choiced, if there's such a word, compulsory concessions. It's widely known that they apparantly don't actually make that much on ticket sales, which goes to the distributors (wait a mo.. A quick Google reveals.. Hmm..), but they're not exactly paupers now, are they? Not with sold out screenings of the latest international blockbuster. Are they even considering digital projection? This looked very much like a reel of film, possibly smeared in places with the projectionists Steers sauce from his dinner. It's not like we're looking at whether or not to roll out digital TV because Mavis in her RDP house might not be able to receive it, we're looking at movie theatres where people spend a lot of money to watch the latest that Hollywood et al has to offer. I was wondering why DSTV was advertising so much before the movie started. I noticed at least two advertisements. Basically even NuMetro's own advertisement placement department is sending a passive message to the audience, saying: "Don't bother, rent it instead.. We did.."
One thing I noticed when I was in the UK last year, was that when I went to the movies there (notably Cardiff's Odeon at the Red Dragon centre), every single staff member had their favourite movie on their name badge. Everyone was passionate, or at least interested, in the product they are selling. Movies. Why can't I expect the same here in SA? There is literally no reason why that cannot be the case. None. And that's where the big difference comes in. Instead of someone who tweaks the focus to be just so, or a popcorn vendor asking what you're going to go watch with genuine interest, we get people who just show up for a pay cheque. Which is essentially why we all show up for work, but why should we suffer if they really don't care? Why do we have to settle for it'll do when going to watch a movie? Granted, South Africa has bigger problems than having projectors focussed by someone who really needs a new prescription, but that's why we go to the movies! To get away from the awfulness that is the outside world, even if it is just for two hours. That's why it's called entertainment! What I witnessed tonight wasn't Cirque du Soleil, it was a blatantly drunk pseudo homeless guy who smells vaguely of urine in a half-arsed clown costume juggling two balls, dropping one and muttering: "meh, whatya gonna do about it?" Clearly nothing, because I didn't notice anyone else say or do anything about it, they just accepted it as the norm because clearly mediocre is about as good as they can expect. My girlfriend's sister complained to the manager, to the point of having to stop herself from shouting. Complaints were taken down along with contact details and, presumably, filed in the out box under the desk marked 'recycling only'. She was offered a free ticket. She counter offered them to stick it.
I'll tell you what I'm gonna do about it, though. NuMetro, specifically V&A Waterfront, may take their movies and place them where their unfocussed projectors don't shine. I'll take their own advice and watch it on DSTV instead.