Saturday, December 12, 2009

Back to the Future

Willow Creek Theater is running retro movies every weekend; see my post about Jurassic Park. Today was Back to the Future; last week was The Christmas Story ("You'll shoot your eye out, kid"). Back to the Future is pretty much a perfect adventure story. It told a novel story - still novel today, really, and is so visually interesting, it begs to be viewed on the big screen.

Alas, where Willow Creek showed a film print of Jurassic Park, Back to the Future was digital. Maybe the source was a DVD, maybe some special theater-type of file, but digital nonetheless. It wasn't pretty. There was pixelation around the edges of objects and the colors were a bit washed out. Same thing goes for The Christmas Story last week.

I've seen many a modern digital movie and I can no longer tell the difference between film and digital. I consider this progress and don't consider myself a purist, so show me modern digital all you want. But the differences between film and home digital are still staggering. I imagine that whatever the source is that Willow Creek uses, it is more like home quality than modern digital. If you used a digital projector like we have at work and shot it on a wall 10-15 feet high, you'd see the same issues.

While I was watching Back to the Future, I did a little math. The screen at Willow Creek auditorium 7 is about 32 feet wide, which makes it 18 feet high. Let's assume they're showing us a Blu-Ray quality source. Blu-Ray is digital the same way your computer screen is, where your computer screen might be 1024x768 pixels, Blu-Ray is 1920x1080. A Blu-Ray DVD is 1080 pixels high. An 18-foot tall screen is 216 inches. Dividing it through (1080/216), you get five pixels per inch. That's a huge pixel and you'd notice if the building blocks of your film experience were a fifth of an inch high, even if you're sitting 20-30 feet away. I suspect Willow Creek's source is a little higher quality but still nowhere near modern digital projection quality. If you're going to go to the trouble to go to a theater, you might as well watch film, not TV.

Next weekend is Raiders of the Lost Ark. Like Jurassic Park, Raiders must be on film or I won't bother. The following weekend is Christmas Vacation, which I'm going to skip no matter what.

The guy at the theater said they may not be able to get Raiders next weekend. If so, they'll substitute The Goonies. I saw The Goonies when it came out in 1985. I wasn't impressed. After seeing how many people raved about it over the years, I was curious and watched it on DVD in October, 2005. I was even less impressed than I remembered after seeing it 20 years earlier. If they substitute The Goonies for Raiders of the Lost Ark, I'm skipping it, film or not.

Finally, in Back to the Future, Marty's girlfriend was played by Claudia Wells, a then 19-year-old ingenue. Seeing the movie today reminds me just how pretty that girl was but, alas, she got out of the business shortly after Back to the Future. Her character was played by Elisabeth Shue in the two sequels. It's too bad. Claudia was quite the cutie.

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