Make no mistake about it: when you see a film at an AMC Theatre, chances are you are not getting the full picture.
Case in point, auditorium #9 at AMC Mission Valley. The masking was set to 1.85:1 when I arrived for last week’s screening, an odd ratio for a big summer blockbuster, most of which are filmed in widescreen 2.35:1.
It’s no secret that AMC has a nasty habit of blowing out the image so patrons will never witness so much as a trace of black at the top and bottom of the image. To make matters worse, the Sony projectors they’ve installed have fixed focus and aspect ratios, making it impossible to adjust the picture from show to show.
How can you tell? If there are subtitled sequences in a film, you will never see the second row of dialogue. In the case of last week’s film, the opening sequence was a mockup of television news footage. Only a hint of the crawl at the bottom of the frame one associates with most TV news providers was visible.
Danny Baldwin, film writer and San Diego’s patron saint of digital projection, actually put in a call to AMC Fashion Valley a few years back when they held a press screening of the subtitled Iranian film, A Separation. They brought in a technician to rectify the problem for the presentation, successfully avoiding what would have been a farce in Farsi.
There was more bleeding off the borders during last week’s presentation than you’d find during the opening scene from Carrie, and God only knows what aspect ratio it was presented in. Before the show, the top masking dropped slightly, but the image ratio remained fixed at 2.2:1, not the prescribed 2.35:1, meaning that a lot of visual information was relegated to the nether regions of the frame.
This isn’t HBO where you pay for the privilege of watching HD prints of ’Scope films presented in a fixed 1.85:1 ratio. Hire a technician to spend a day at AMC Mission Valley removing the cropping on the digital projectors and put the entire film on screen. Start with auditorium #9 and work your way up.