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Theatrical constipation

Digital duplication clogs Missoula movie screens

This Friday and Saturday, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End will screen 30 times per day, occupying nearly half of the total screen time available on Carmike Cinemas’ 16 Missoula screens. At the same time, recently opened blockbusters Shrek the Third and Spider-Man 3 will screen 24 and nine times, respectively. Together, the three movies will soak up a whopping 83 percent of what’s shown on the only first-run movie screens in town (excepting the two screenings per day offered by the independent Wilma Theatre). The budding technology of digital projection has borne its first fruits—and it smells like vanilla.

Earlier this year, Carmike Cinemas equipped the Carmike 10 and Village 6 with Digital Light Projection as part of a nationwide push by the theater chain to convert from reel-to-reel film to hard-driven bits-and-bytes magic. The promise of the shift is twofold: quality and quantity.

First, digital projection promises higher fidelity. Absent actual film, dust, dirt and scratches cannot mar the picture being projected. Further, digital content delivery guarantees a precise frame rate, with none of the jitter of film passing through a projector, promising a dead-steady picture.

More important to a typical moviegoer, digital projection changes the distribution model for movies. Printing on projection reels and shipping them to theaters all over the country is a considerable expense, one limiting both how widely a film may be distributed and how many concurrent screenings might be feasible.

Digital projection eliminates the need to print a film; instead, copies are delivered to theaters by satellite. Potentially, this means films that might skip Missoula because of small printing budgets would no longer need to. But just as easily, any particular film, once delivered digitally, could be endlessly duplicated at no cost and shown, potentially, on every screen in the theater.

Enter the movie industry’s current business model. Opening weekend ticket sales have become hugely important, especially as studios churn out limp excuses for entertainment. Therefore, it’s essential to get as many people in the theater before word gets around—and attendance falls through the floor.

Digital projection takes the risk out of gluttonous opening weekend screening schedules because duplication is costless—except for the opportunity to show anything besides the blockbusters. And so the only limit on how many shows a day moviegoers can expect is how many seats the bean counters think they can fill.

Tipping our cap to Carmike’s style, the Indy offers up a preview of the summer movie season’s commercial potential by way of two over/unders: opening week screenings and weeks of staying power.

Breaking down the blockbusters

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (July 13)
Harry and his pals struggle against bureaucratic complacency, sugary authoritarianism and a rising tide of pure evil in the latest adaptation from J.K. Rowling’s magical series of books. Eagerly anticipating the release of Rowling’s final book just a week after the movie opens, crowds are sure to be heavy during opening weekend and back for multiple screenings.

Opening week screenings: 32. Weeks of staying power: 12

Ratatouille (June 29)
Writer and director Brad Bird—veteran of The Incredibles and The Iron Giant as well as “Homer the Heretic,” probably the best episode of “The Simpsons” ever—supplies the soul for this Pixar flick about a Paris rat who dreams of cheffing his own bistro but must overcome cruel prejudice and health inspectors to do so. Pixar + “Daddy, can we see it again?” = big opening and major staying power.

Opening week screenings: 28. Weeks of staying power: 16.

The Simpsons Movie (July 27)
Professor Chaos (a character from “South Park”) once complained that “The Simpsons” had already done every plot line in comedy. But why stop making funny when you’re in command of America’s favorite cartoon franchise? Maybe because the jokes are getting thin. Count me a skeptical fan.

Opening week screenings: 24. Weeks of staying power: 8.

Transformers (July 4)
Malevolent aliens with the power to change shape invade Earth as Michael Bay (The Rock, Armageddon) directs this live-action adaptation of the 1980s cartoon series/toy commercial. Potentially awesome and eagerly anticipated, but will it outlast the merch campaign?

Opening week screenings: 18. Weeks of staying power: 6.

Live Free or Die Hard (June 27)
A Luddite terrorist attacks the technological infrastructure of America and über-cop John McClane puts an old-fashioned boot in his ass. I can smell the cordite from here.

Opening week screenings: 15. Weeks of staying power: 5.

Ocean’s Thirteen (June 8)
Revenge is the motive fueling this latest Clooney & company casino-heist coolfest in which Al Pacino is the victim of the good-natured grand theft. Tried and true actors, themes and recipe. Ho hum.

Opening week screenings: 13. Weeks of staying power: 4.

The Bourne Ultimatum (August 3)
Pissed-off amnesiac super-agent Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) gets knocked on the noggin and remembers everything, giving him a whole new set of reasons to bust some heads. Lots of people like that sort of thing.

Opening week screenings: 10. Weeks of staying power: 5.

I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry (July 20)
Kevin James puts a new spin on being the king of Queens when he and fellow NYC firefighter Adam Sandler fake a domestic partnership in order to get some benefits. Jessica Biel fights for their rights while reminding Sandler just how straight he is.

Opening week screenings: 5. Weeks of staying power: 5.

Knocked Up (June 1)
Judd Apatow, creative force behind The 40-Year-Old Virgin, turns from chastity to casual sex as the inspiration for a film in which a lucky stiff winds up conceiving a child with a well-manicured babe and together they decide to try parenting. This is what Chuck and Larry wishes it could be.

Opening week screenings: 5. Weeks of staying power: 12.

Superbad (August 17)
Seth Rogan (Knocked Up) wrote this boozy tribute to high school starring Michael Cera (“Arrested Development”) and Jonah Hill (looking eerily like Rogan while playing a character named Seth). Much of the best, least-appreciated comedic TV talent of the last few years is behind this.

Opening week screenings: 4. Weeks of staying power: 12.

Balls of Fury (August 31)
The imprimatur of “Reno 911!” is behind this film in which Christopher Walken dresses up like Bram Stoker’s Dracula to host an international ping-pong tournament complete with fart jokes, crotch shots and, potentially, laughter.

Opening week screenings: 4. Weeks of staying power: 3.

Eagle vs. Shark (June 15)
Two tremendously awkward characters grope about for love in this well-received Kiwi romantic comedy. No point in wasting my breath. Check the Wilma this fall.

Opening week screenings: 0. Weeks of staying power: n/a.


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