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Theater Screen Masking (or lack thereof)... (1 Viewer)

Bryan Tuck

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I couldn't find a thread for this, so I hope it's okay if I start one here.

Has anyone noticed that in recent years, some theater chains have more and more been forgoing screen masking in some or all of their auditoriums? Many of the "premium" auditoriums at AMC (Dolby Cinema and AMC Prime) were apparently designed without it in the first place, but apparently some places are actively removing masking apparatuses that were already there (and by all appearances working just fine).

With this, we are often left with a 2.35 movie letterboxed on a 1.85 screen, or a 1.85 movie pillarboxed on a 2.35 screen. I guess this is preferable to zooming and cropping the movie to fit the unmasked screen (which I know some theaters have done in the past), but it still weakens the immersive qualities that a movie theater is supposed to provide. It feels like you're watching the movie on a big TV rather than a theater screen, and it undermines all the other efforts that have been made to improve the experience (more comfortable seating, Atmos sound, etc.)

I can't be the only one bothered by this. And since I'm seeing it in Los Angeles of all places, I'm sure it has to be happening elsewhere.
 

Worth

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Yup. This is a pet peeve of mine, as well. Pretty much all the newer cinemas in Toronto have no masking of any kind. Even worse, they're all 1.85, so 'scope films are always smaller and letterboxed. And almost all of the older, single-screen theatres are gone, so there are only a handful of screens left that still have it.
 

Bryan Tuck

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I've just assumed it's the standard at chain theaters now.

One of the AMCs in Burbank has been like that for a while, but they have about half of the screens fixed at 1.85 and the other half at 2.35, so you can at least plan accordingly once you figure out what's playing in which room. And I actually first noticed it at the Universal Citywalk back in March when a friend of mine rented out an auditorium for Godzilla vs Kong; I thought it might have been a fluke, as it was pretty early on in the "reopening."

But I just tried to see Black Widow there this weekend, and they still had the full 1.85 screen exposed. I went out and asked the doorman about it, and he heard from the manager that the masking had actually been removed.

I wish this didn't bother me so much, but it really is incredibly distracting; it's almost like setting the house lights to dim only part of the way down. And I can almost guarantee it bothers more people than just us, even if they're not sure how to articulate it.

I wonder how much it cost AMC to physically take out the masking apparatus from all those rooms. As annoyed as I am when they leave the 3D lens over a 2D movie, that at least can be chalked up to laziness or cheapness. But now they're spending money to actively worsen the theater-going experience for their customers.
 

Mark-P

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I agree with you that it's poor showmanship in the the industry, as one of the rules of "good showmanship" established in the 1950s when ratios became diverse, was that "no area of the screen not illuminated by the projector shall be exposed". In fact I follow that rule in my own home setup with masks and curtains to show anything from 1.19:1 to 2.76:1 with no black bars. The problem is the industry standard has been changed due to the home video industry which has taught people that black bars are proper and preserve the original aspect ratio and as a result, new patron tolerance of black bars means that theater owners can save effort and money to install and maintain motorized mattes. I think in terms of waging a battle, that ship has sailed.
 

DFurr

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I hate a theatre without masking. To me the picture doesn't jump out at you without masking. Big mistake for the serious movie goer.
 

Bryan Tuck

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I agree with you that it's poor showmanship in the the industry, as one of the rules of "good showmanship" established in the 1950s when ratios became diverse, was that "no area of the screen not illuminated by the projector shall be exposed". In fact I follow that rule in my own home setup with masks and curtains to show anything from 1.19:1 to 2.76:1 with no black bars. The problem is the industry standard has been changed due to the home video industry which has taught people that black bars are proper and preserve the original aspect ratio and as a result, new patron tolerance of black bars means that theater owners can save effort and money to install and maintain motorized mattes. I think in terms of waging a battle, that ship has sailed.

Ha; we just can't win, then. We finally got everyone used to the black bars at home, and now they don't notice them at the theater. :rolleyes:

Seriously, though; I think it's ridiculous that theaters are actually going to the trouble of removing even the ability to mask the screen correctly.
 

Mark-P

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Seriously, though; I think it's ridiculous that theaters are actually going to the trouble of removing even the ability to mask the screen correctly.
It might have something to do with automation. There aren’t individual projectionists anymore. The whole day is completely run by computers. It’s possible the matte adjustments required someone to push a button and it was easier to eliminate them rather than find a way to automate them with the computer.
 

Bryan Tuck

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It might have something to do with automation. There aren’t individual projectionists anymore. The whole day is completely run by computers. It’s possible the matte adjustments required someone to push a button and it was easier to eliminate them rather than find a way to automate them with the computer.

Maybe, but I would think if a piece of cue tape on a leader running through a mechanical projector could automatically activate a screen's masking, then surely a computer hooked up to a digital projector could be programmed to do the same thing pretty efficiently.
 

TravisR

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It might have something to do with automation. There aren’t individual projectionists anymore. The whole day is completely run by computers. It’s possible the matte adjustments required someone to push a button and it was easier to eliminate them rather than find a way to automate them with the computer.
In my viewing experience, the masking has been automated as long as the projectors have been automated. It's been a few years since I've been to a theater when there was a switch with the masking but when it still happened, it went from the pre-show commercials to the trailers and the masking would adjust if needed. I can't imagine someone that there was someone sitting there and always syncing it perfectly to the trailers.

Realistically, I think it's something they abandoned because almost no one cares and because it's one less thing to break and one less thing that has to be remembered to be programmed in.
 

Malcolm R

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When I saw Conjuring 3 I had to go out to the lobby to get someone to open up the masking, as it was a scope film and the screen was set up for 1.85. I'm not sure how long it had been that way; if people had just watched the film bleeding over on both sides like that in previous shows. I briefly considered just watching it that way, but decided it would bug me too much. Turns out it was just a pull cord on one side of the screen that I could have fixed myself.

But it becomes a problem when they're putting different films in the same room each day with different AR's. It probably becomes a pain for them to keep switching it back and forth, or have people complain when they forget. So they figure it's easier to just get rid of it in some places.

Most theaters around here seem to keep making the effort. I haven't noticed any letterboxed or pillarboxed films so far in area theaters.
 

KPmusmag

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The closest theater to me is a Regal (although I haven't been in a year and a half). They have two very large auditoriums, and in my experience they are always masked correctly. However, the smaller auditoriums are not and are like watching on television. It really bothers me, so I always check which auditorium before I buy a ticket.
 

Josh Steinberg

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I’ve been lucky thus far in that my local Regal and AMCs all retain masking except for the “premium large format” auditoriums which were intentionally designed not to have it. I haven’t seen any instances of functional masking being removed, and actually saw Regal repair a damaged one a couple years ago. Maybe it’s less of an across-the-board policy change and either a local or regional phenomenon?
 

Bryan Tuck

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I’ve been lucky thus far in that my local Regal and AMCs all retain masking except for the “premium large format” auditoriums which were intentionally designed not to have it. I haven’t seen any instances of functional masking being removed, and actually saw Regal repair a damaged one a couple years ago. Maybe it’s less of an across-the-board policy change and either a local or regional phenomenon?

Maybe. Most of the theaters I go to in LA were still masking before the pandemic (aside from the AMC Prime auditoriums, of course). I've only been to a couple since reopening, and the AMC at the Citywalk is the first one I've seen that has actually removed masking that was in there before. Regal has taken over what used to be the Arclight Sherman Oaks, and I've heard that they've stopped masking, but can't confirm.

Obviously this is a small annoyance in the grand scheme of things, but it really is strange. Like I said, it's like not dimming your house lights all the way down; it really detracts from the "immersion."
 

DFurr

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Seems to me the AMC's with top movable masking would be hard pressed to remove the masking simply because the scope picture would be to the bottom of the screen and blank screen on top. 1:85 would fit great but not the 2:29. Having said that, I don't know if a digital projector can change aspect ratios fast enough to make the different ratios fit the screen when it goes from a 1:85 trailer to a 2:29 feature.
 

William Moore

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The automation should be able to be programmed for the proper aspect ratio, but since most theatres have shit-canned their projectionist(s), management has to build up and "program" the movies, which means in many cases that the usher is sent up to the booth to take care of it. Besides that, most theatres now run a bunch of commercials before the movie starts which ruins any thoughts of presentation or quality.
 

cadavra

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Most of the chain theatres I attend in L.A. use something akin to the old Toris system: the screen is wall-to-wall, preset to 1.85. The difference now is that for 'Scope, they lower a top masking. After a couple of minutes, your eyes settle and it's no problem. Well, at least for me.
 

Brian Dobbs

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With this, we are often left with a 2.35 movie letterboxed on a 1.85 screen,
I've noticed this, and I hate it.

I have additional thoughts here, slightly off topic, relating to the home experience.
 

OLDTIMER

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I'm old enough to remember when the need for masking first came in - Cinemascope in the early 1950s. I remember the sound of the masking being adjusted as it ran along its track. In Melbourne, AU, I would guess that masking is gone in most cinemas. Even worse, I believe that there are only two cinemas left (out of about a dozen or more) that run real film. The others run video projectors.
 

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