The DARK KNIGHT RISES early screening debacle; A local viewpoint

10 min read
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While Dark Knight Rises only got its official release this past weekend, some of you have been gloating over the rest of us for more than a week already, as you got to see it at the Ster Kinekor pre-release screenings on Sunday, 23 July.

Unfortunately, what should have been the geektastic experience of seeing one of most anticipated films of the year, was severely marred for some. A quick look on HelloPeter.com reveals that a number of cinemas across the country had problems with both sound and picture during the screenings, much to the chagrin of eager fans. Willem Grobler, a local filmmaker, editor and self-confessed Batman geek had the misfortune of finding himself in one of these affected cinemas, and he’s written in to tell us about what transpired.

 The Dark Knight Rises (TDKR) had to be my most anticipated film of 2012. Sure, there’d been a couple of really great summer blockbuster and studio tent-pole films, but in 2008 The Dark Knight raised the bar, not only for the superhero sub-genre of Action and Sci-Fi films, but also in terms of what we’ve come to expect from the cream of the crop of studio films. So I was delighted to discover, after reading someone’s status update on Facebook, that I could book tickets for a screening of TDKR a full 5 days ahead of local release. I booked a bunch of tickets for a few friends and myself at my favourite cinema – Ster Kinekor Cavendish – nearly two weeks before the pre-screening, and we were all quite literally counting down the days.

Roll on Sunday 22 July. The marketing machine was rolling full steam ahead: TDKR posters and cutouts everywhere, and a whole swathe of fans who were there for one reason, and one reason only – to see the grand conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s take on the Batman mythos. While we lined up for refreshments, I reflected on the fact that the people who were standing in line with me were the reason I love movies, and the reason I decided to pursue a career in filmmaking: here were the fans who were trawling the Ster Kinekor website for pre-screenings such as this one, and sharing the news with their friends on Facebook and Twitter as soon as they could. To say that we were all extremely excited is an understatement – this film, this pre-screening – this is the stuff we live for. Cheesy as it sounds, Ster Kinekor’s catchphrase ‘your happy place’ really rings true in this regard. And so, overpriced refreshments in hand, we left one line for another and slowly filed into the cinema. The lights dimmed, the proverbial curtain dropped… And then the problems began.

 

The first thing that really jumped out at me was that the commercials and movie trailers didn’t look up to spec. I don’t want to go deep into technical jargon here, so let me phrase it in lay terms: the image on-screen looked ‘pixelated’. If you’re a videogamer you should be familiar with the term ‘jaggies’. Well this was the case here, and it was especially noticeable on titles. Letters wouldn’t come out smooth, and I could often see the pixels on the curves of Os and Us. For my part I attributed this anomaly to one of two things: a subpar projector (which I doubt as, all 3D movies we watch these days are projected by 4K projectors as far as I know. That’s roughly four times full HD 1080p) or a subpar HD video file. In other words, it was like watching a 720p video on a 1080p HD display – not the end of the world, but not really what you expect when you pay top dollar. And once I knew this ‘pixelation’ was there, I saw it on every image. ‘Ok,’ I thought, ‘maybe it’s just the preview reel, so just sit tight and don’t let it ruin the movie for you…’ So I waited with bated breath… And was sadly disappointed. This subpar image persisted as TDKR began, but I sucked it up and decided to bear with it: there was no way in hell I was leaving the cinema now, and I soon forgot about the poor image quality – Batman was back and I, like everyone around me, was soon suspended in glorious disbelief… Until about halfway through the movie.

What happened next was, for me and almost every other person in the cinema, completely and utterly unacceptable: the movie stuttered. Stuttered. Not once, not twice, but for about 30 – 60 seconds. It was like someone had stuck a scratched Bluray into a Bluray player at the top in the projection booth. WTF right? How could SK allow something like this to happen on a film like this – probably THE film of 2012!? And the worst part was that as soon as this happened, a new fear developed in me: ‘what if it happens again? What happens if it gets so bad that we can’t watch the film to the end!?’ And in one fell swoop my whole movie-going experience was ruined. I couldn’t watch the rest of TDKR without worrying about whether I’d be able to see the movie through to the end. And true as God it happened a second time – this time at a pivotal plot point. It got so bad, and the pauses between stutters were so long that it became difficult to follow the story. One audience member cursed allowed. Soon others followed suit. Eventually someone left the cinema to go and complain. I stayed put, desperate to try and figure out what was going on in the story –  still worrying that we were going to be ushered out of the cinema before we could see TDKR’s epic conclusion. We watched and waited with bated breath. Finally, the film drew to an end, but as if all of the above was not enough, as if it were some cruel, sick joke, the cinema’s lights brightened before the credits even began to roll! I kid you not…

We left the cinema to find a crowd of rabid cinema-goers having a go at the poor managers who were doing everything to calm them down. I soon joined the fray and complained about everything I mentioned above. We were told by management that due to piracy, they got the file on a hard drive, and they either didn’t have enough time or weren’t allowed to view the film before screening it on Sunday. We were then told that management suspected someone in the cinema was ‘using some kind of device’ and that this was the source of the disruption. I disputed this in front of a crowd of people, explaining that this was impossible and a weak excuse. We demanded refunds or compensation but were told that because we’d watched the movie to the end, and not left to complain earlier, that SK couldn’t refund or compensate us until they’d further investigated the matter. Needless to say that we left the cinema saddened and disappointed. Sadly, this is also not the first time I’d had such an experience at SK Cavendish, but it’s the first time I’ve felt compelled to speak out in this manner.

To conclude, I ran into some friends who watched the subsequent later screening on Sunday. I was told that they experienced the same stuttering. Clearly the ‘disruptive device’ had been a lie on SK’s part, and to further add to my disgust I was informed that those who attended this screening were all compensated for the poor service. I received a poorly worded email from SK on Monday morning, promising to compensate me for the poor screening, but I also requested a phone call from the manager. As of the writing of this article (Wednesday 25 July) this has not yet happened, and I hope that this article will galvanize SK into action. Further to this, I’ve been told that cinema-goers all over South Africa experienced this at SK venues. This is an unmitigated disaster. Giving me a free movie ticket or two doesn’t make up for a ruined experience. Especially not when it comes to an event film as big as TDKR. Nothing can make up for it. As consumers who pay exorbitant amounts of money for tickets and refreshments at the prime cinema establishments we deserve more, and we should stand up and demand it, cos if we don’t this will happen again and again.

Our very own Darryn was also subjected to the same sub-par screening conditions, and after filing a complaint was also eventually contacted by Ster-Kinekor late last week with an apology and a complimentary movie ticket. But for some, like Willem, that complimentary ticket is like putting a plaster on a gunshot wound to the face. Cinemas are already seeing droves of people refusing to frequent their establishment because of other, inconsiderate movie-goers ruining the experience for them. We don’t need the cinema houses themselves also driving people off with shoddy technical setups.

Personally, I’ve had many a rowdy discussion with cinema managers due to problematic venues. The latest trend I’ve come across (I’ve spotted it in about 8 different cinemas already, both Nu Metro and Ster Kinekor) is that the picture in cinemas equipped with digital 3D projectors is being slightly cropped on the top and bottom. It’s not a major problem in a 2D film – well as long as you dismiss the fact that the top of credits are missing, or that a framing shot of somebody talking has the top of their head and bottom of their chin cut off – but when it occurs in a 3D screening, it’s actually kind of a big deal. Often, when a film has a 3D scene, the 3D element moving out of the frame continues past the black section of the film along the bottom or top. If those sections are cut off, you’re missing out on a rather large aspect of the 3D effect.

What I found the most aggravating about this though was that when I complained about it, I was told by the staff they couldn’t see a problem, that I must be mistaken. The reason for this is twofold: One, they are not technically adept in the very field they are working in, and two, for most people, these things will be inconsequential

In fact, I’m sure that most of your average cinemagoers wouldn’t even notice those “jaggies” that Willem mentions. But for the cinephiles, the people who have made this business their passion, the people they should be doing everything possible to entice into their lobbies, it will stand out like a sore thumb. And if cinemas expect us to pay premium prices for these movies, especially in the case of 3D movies, then nothing short of premium service is expected.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Critical Hit as an organisation.

Last Updated: July 30, 2012

Kervyn Cloete

A man of many passions – but very little sleep – I’ve been geeking out over movies, video games, comics, books, anime, TV series and lemon meringues as far back as I can remember. So show up for the geeky insight, stay for the delicious pastries.

  • Decembermaloy

    Wow, glad I didn’t go watch it after all, Maybe they had UBIsoft DRM installed on the projectors 😛

  • This is why I try to avoid the cinema in general. Aside from being lumped into a dark room with strangers that usually haven’t come within a mile of anything relating to etiquette, I have had too many movies ruined by a badly managed cinema. 

    Case and point was The Dark Knight (watched at Nu Metro Clearwater Mall). The sound was completely unbalanced, the dialogue was too soft and the music / sound effects were so loud it was cringe-worthy. I completely missed Commissioner Gordon’s speech at the end because of the chair-rattling music “in the background”. Still have no idea what he said – and I haven’t watched it again. And this is why I am also reluctant to go watch TDKR – I’m really worried about being able to hear Bane’s dialogue. 

    I’ve also had experiences where the movie’s been out of focus for the first ten minutes (Brightwater Commons, think it used to be a Nu Metro as well), had un-synched dialogue (Ster Kinekor Northgate), etc. etc. 

    Probably contributing to the problem is that I never try and complain afterwards, because you know you’re going to get responses like the BS that SK gave. And you have to chase them down for what, one movie ticket to compensate? When you’ve spent so much more than that in time and effort? Don’t know if it’s worth it…

  • theLastBorn

    Had similar problems when I went to watch as well (not as bad with the sound problems though)…
    Liked the added point you make with the pixelated bane header image, I was waiting for the picture to load thinking it normal only to realize after I read the article that it was a point made, haha

  • Noelle Adams

    Mucking up a highly anticipated preview screening is the pinnacle of incompetence. 

    I think a big part of situations like this is staff who don’t have knowledge, training, customer service skills and just don’t care. I’ve been pretty lucky in terms of my cinema experiences *knock on wood*. Once I’ve had a bad experience somewhere I tend to boycott that cinema and go somewhere else that’s clearly better run. Then again I’m lucky to have that choice. 

  • Uberutang

    Yeah it looked pretty crappy at bayside also. Same issues. Now waiting for BD release to actually enjoy it propper.

  • Guest

    perhaps not the best word choice when you liken your poor TDKR viewing experience to ‘a gunshot wound to the face’

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