The Sawmill Theatres will blast through the digital 3D barrier on Thursday, with the showing of “Iron Man 3,” marking the local movie house’s high-stakes investment in the most advanced movie technology.
The six-screen theater recently completed a conversion from film to digital technology with the installation of six, hulking 4K digital projectors in a lease arrangement with Sony, one of the leaders in the industry.
Sawmill Theatres Manager Craig Triphahn said he’s hoping for a sellout as the Sawmill makes Rim Country theater history on Thursday at 9 p.m. for the 3D showing of “Iron Man 3,” already getting Hollywood buzz as the likely blockbuster of the summer.
The theater has already converted one screen into the silver-coated surface necessary to reflect the new, digital 3D images. Last week, the theater took delivery of a 3D lens the size of a love seat to mount in front of one of the new digital projectors.
The theater will charge a $3 premium for tickets to 3D movies, with a top price of $12.50 for adults. That’s still about $1 less than in the Valley. Most of the movies will continue showing in 2D, with one screen even showing a 2D version of “Iron Man 3.”
Critics have praised “Iron Man 3,” mostly because of the character-driven performances of Robert Downey Jr. as the brilliant, moody and post-traumatic-stressed Tony Stark; Gwyneth Paltrow as his brainy, eye-popping girlfriend; and Guy Pearce and Ben Kingsley as his densely created foes.
The installation of the digital projectors leapfrogs the Sawmill to front-row seats in the digital transformation of movies, which has moved at astonishing speed during the past decade. In that time, digital projection has gone from a handful of screens to the near-extinction of film. The Sawmill effectively skipped the era 2K projectors to install the latest, 4K version, in a deal with Sony that will allow the theater to cover the steep cost of the new technology over time. Some estimates put the total conversion cost at $100,000 per screen.
The digital projectors run enormous digital files off a cassette that looks like an old-style computer hard drive, replacing enormous reels of film delivered by truck every week for years. Making a film-based copy costs about $2,000 or more, while the digital copy costs more like $150 — an enormous savings with thousands of screens nationwide. The hard-pressed film industry will save billions annually on film reproduction costs, while the theaters gain much greater control over programming the movies.
Theater managers like Triphahn will also face far less work in setting up the movies to run, scheduling and labor. They also won’t have to handle the enormous, incandescent bulbs that could explode like hand grenades if dropped.
The digital stereo systems still rely on equipping the audience with special glasses, which come with the ticket price. The silver screen versions create a 3D effect through polarization. The lens and the glasses together ensure that each eye sees a different polarization of the image, creating the illusion of depth while staring at the flat screen. The new technology reportedly causes fewer problems with disorientation and even headaches than the old, colored glasses.
The Sawmill owners have held on through the Rim Country recession, superimposed on top of uncertain times for the movie industry in general. They’re hoping that the massive technological upgrade will keep seats filled, especially with the 3D summer blockbusters — which will include “The Great Gatsby” and the animated film “Epic” in May. Curiously, the new “Star Trek” movie won’t be released in 3D, although the blockbuster “Man of Steel” will. The movie industry has reported mixed results for the new wave of 3D movies, without movie-goers resistant to the extra cost if the movie’s not great without the eye-catching special effects.
The Motion Picture Association of American figures for 2012 showed global box office up 6.4 percent for the year to $35 billion — including $11 billion in Canada and the U.S. Total film industry revenues stand at close to $90 billion worldwide, with all the spinoffs factored in. The 2012 box office figures represented the first increase in admissions in two years. Young people have provided the lion’s share of the increase, with attendance dropping for people over 50 — which would account for the Sawmill’s appeal to young audiences in its movie lineups.
On the other hand, Triphahn said that “Lincoln” proved one of the most popular Sawmill selections in the past year. He said Rim Country audiences don’t go as much for the R-rated horror movies and comedies as the rest of the nation, but that “‘Lincoln’ was amazing for us.”
In the meantime, the 3D version of “Iron Man 3” ought to jump-start the summer blockbuster season — and make a little Rim Country movie history in the process.