Michael Bay and 'Transformers' 3 shine a light on theater projection


Image Credit: Jamie Trueblood

People who like the Transformers movies (myself included) may not be the brightest bulbs, but Michael Bay says we at least deserve to have them in the projectors showing his film.

The moviemaker has been lobbying theater companies to turn up the brightness of their projector bulbs to make Transformers: Dark of the Moon look better in 3-D, since the stereoscopic presentation absorbs more light than traditional projection and can lead to a dimmer image. (The polarized glasses exacerbate the problem, adding another level of filtration to the process.)

Meanwhile, Paramount Pictures has taken the added step of shipping an extra-bright digital “print” of the film to about 2,000 theaters showing it in the RealD 3-D format. “We want the best presentation possible,” Bay told Variety. “We have created a special version with extra sharpening, color and contrast.” (The director was in Moscow for the premiere of the movie and unavailable for additional comment.)

The issue arises as 3-D — once heralded as a way to reinvigorate the moviegoing experience (not to mention combat piracy) — has, well, faded in popularity. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Kung Fu Panda and Green Lantern have had middling 3-D earnings domestically, though the process seems to be holding up well overseas (for now.) Still, moviegoers have grumbled about the added cost as well as the quality, since some movies merely reprocess a 2-D image into a 3-D one. Then there’s the brightness issue.

Why would a theater be reluctant to pump up the wattage? It’s because the bulbs can average around $3,200 or run as high as $5,700 and burn out after about 500 screenings, which adds up quickly at a multiplex. Keeping the bulbs dim may lengthen their lifespans slightly, though film critics routinely complain it’s not worth it if that lifespan is full of muddy, underlit movies.

Patrick Corcoran, spokesman for the National Association of Theater Owners, says dealing with new technology is a work in progress. “3D is a new and exciting technology and exhibitors are striving to adapt to the new challenges it presents,” he said. “Exhibitors I have spoken to are committed to giving every film — not just Transformers 3 — the best possible presentation.”

Of course, no one cops to bad projection. And it can be a hard thing to police, since moviegoers may not be aware of how a film should look if they’re seeing it for the first time, and only the most egregious underlighting might be obvious to the untrained eye. In keeping with the Transformers theme, Bay just wants to make sure more meets that eye.

And if not? Perhaps Optimus Prime can show up and flash his high beams?

Comments (41 total) Add your comment
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  • John C

    The projector lightbulbs are the least of the problems with these crap movies. If Bay was going to worry about something he should worry about telling a good story.

    • you’re missing the point

      I’m all for good story, well-drawn characters and comprehensible plot. But when I go see a.) a Michael Bay film and b.) a movie about giant robots fighting each other, I don’t really expect any of those things. if you embrace the theory that a film should be graded on what it sets out to do and whether or not it accomplishes that (which, when you think about it, is one of the more logical ways to do it) then how can you challenge Michael Bay’s request to brighten the 3D image? If you’re chief complaint was that too many movies are in 3D nowadays, that’d be another story. We’re talking a 3-to-5 dollar premium for a crappy conversion process that just ain’t worth it most of the time. But Bay is trying to curb what many are complaining about – dimness of image – and I think that’s something he should be commended for…even if it’s to save his own a**. If this leads to theater owners seeing happier customers and higher receipts, then maybe the darker 3D image will start to disappear.

      • John C

        Bay is all about big summer mindless popcorn stupidity. I get that. The premise of Transformers is absurd to begin with, so I’m not expecting anything great. I would be expecting something fun though, and the last one wasn’t even that. For a mindless summer movie Transformers isn’t even good at that. When even the film maker goes on record acknowledging that the first sequel was a piece of garbage, it stands to reason that he is fully prepared to blame the movie theater projectors for this one not only having a lousy story, but looking lousy as well.

      • Sam

        I’m able to recognize the qualities of popcorn movies and the purpose they serve as a source of escapism…My biggest problem with Michael Bay’s movies, the one which makes his movies totally unwatchable for me, is the editing. If I’m going to waste money on a popcorn movie, I’d like the action scenes to be watchable. I don’t share Michael Bay’s obsession with rapid cuts and closeups (I guess he feels it’s easier to imply good action scenes than to direct them).

      • sean

        We’ll ill give you good news on two fronts. @John C – Michael Bay said part 2 was a piece of crap not only because it was a piece of crap, but because it got written during the writer’s strike so it was even more godawful and rushed than the first one. So, he’s not looking to pass blame – he’s readily acknowledged the second one was not good, and he’s trying to rebound because of it. @Sam – Bay has said he had to lengthen his shots for this sequel because of the limited watchability of crazy cuts in 3D films. In fact, if you watch the trailer for Transformers 3, there are some pretty amazing, lengthy shots in it. All that to say this – I’m going to see it (in 2D) because I haven’t seen my crappy Summer blow-everything-up movie yet, and I’m hoping this is it.

      • MysterWright

        The point isn’t just the conversion and its not just story or plot. Its about finding common ground. Something everyone can concede as being “somewhat agreeable within reason.” Make a better story and make a better print. Then everyone will be happy. Perhaps even crossover the focus groups. Get people who like a better picture to give insight to story and vice versa so that a.) nobody is left out and b.) beyond the two having their requests met equally it’d allow room for growth in said areas, that perhaps hadn’t even been considered, with a fresh perspective.

  • Mr. Holloway

    God forbid movie theatres give us the best presentation possible (without any extra prompting from filmmakers or studios) given the increasingly high prices we’re paying to see these movies.

    • Bib

      The studios make those prices. Theaters don’t get money for the first couple weeks of a release. It is douche bags like Bay that make more money off these movies than most people will see in a lifetime three times over. Don’t be one of the ignorant jerks that yells at the high school kid that make minimum wage who is serving your popcorn.

      • doug

        theaters could easily distance themselves from these problems by playing more independent movies, which have a consistently longer time span in theaters as they slowly build word of mouth. not every film can be “avatar” or “titanic”, which were windfalls for theaters because of their long stay in cinemas.

  • Ian

    The studio is assuring everyone that while they’re putting a lot of effort into the brightness, they still put zero effort into the script.

    • Ryan


  • Michael Bay’s coke dealer

    Mo’ money, mo’ problems..

  • Jack

    Guess what movie didn’t seem dim? Avatar. Why? Because it was a movie meant for 3-D. Why are these other movies dim? Because 3-D isn’t necessary! Alice in Wonderland was awful in 3-d and incredibly dark, even in the Imax. I’m glad 3-d sales are dwindling. Should be a treat for certain movies, not every movie. I’m so glad Nolan, Abrams and other actual good filmmakers realize this and don’t join the fad. If Dark Knight Rises and Star Trek 2 are in 3-d I’d be very surprised.

    • Sam

      Back when it was released, Avatar set the standards for 3-D, or so we thought. The colours were quite vibrant and the opening scene, the zero-gravity scene, was breathtaking. But instead of trying to best Avatar, movie studios are seeing 3-D has a cash cow, releasing movies in 3-D for the simple reason that they can charge a premium on the tickets. Alice in Wonderland is a prime example of this. It was far too dark to be enjoyable in 3-D and the effects were unimpressive, an after-thought to the decision to release the movie in 3-D.

  • Henri M.

    This is disapointing, I was hoping for the decline of 3D, but this might make the fad last a little longer.

    • sean

      I’m holding out for one small hope – that other directors, theater owners and producers see this and think “hmm, if we give the theatergoers the correct presentation, then maybe 3D can be a good – rather than merely a profitable – thing”. Now, to be fair, that presentation not only includes a brighter, richer image, but movies that are FILMED and MEANT TO BE FILMED in 3D. While I thought Avatar looked truly in amazing in 3D, I don’t agree with Cameron’s assertion that all films can benefit from 3D. It just doesn’t make sense – why see something as plain and talky as Michael Clayton in 3D? Either way, if this leads to a better 3D experience for people who actually like 3D films, then go for it.

  • Gavin

    How about if the movie is called Transformers, they make a movie about transformers instead of Shia Labeuf and his victoria secret model girlfriend

  • Pogi

    I don’t prefer 3D in the first place…but one of the main reasons (prices aside) was how dark the picture looked at every 3D movie I’d seen…which was extremely annoying. If theaters are forcing us to see 3D, at least make it presentable…brighter please! Or just get rid of it, unless a special occasion!

  • winston

    What Bay should worry about is the awful middle school humor in his films. Is it so hard to believe some people like their over-the-top spectacle without horrible one liners and stereotypical sidekicks.

  • andy a

    I complained during AVATAR in 3D to the theater about it being too dark. They did nothing. I won’t see anymore 3D films due to this. AVATAR was much better in 2D bright than 3D dark. Waste. Of. Money.

  • Benlinus

    Right this is a popcorn flick, the last bus to Give a Crap city went that way >>>

  • D.W. Videus

    Given the quality, or lack thereof, of these Transformer films it’s not surprising that the new lead actress, the Victorias Secret model Rosie Huntington-Whitey, has turned out to be a sex-change recipient she-male and apparently Bay knew it all along and uses it as a kind of in-joke. That’s the quality of entertainment we get from this giant Michael Bay Transformers rickroll. Bright bulbs, indeed.

  • jason

    i don’t know why but i am excited for this movie. I HOPE/really think it will be good after the terribly disappointing last one.

    • Laura

      Me too. I’m hoping that Bay isn’t lying when he says it’s way better than the second one. I don’t care much for him but I liked that he admitted that Transformers: RotF was a piece of crap. And I just can’t stand this whole 3D thing. I saw Resident Evil (which was just awful) and I thought the only cool part about the 3D was the rain at the beginning (probably sad on my part I’m sure). I agree with a poster above that some movies are okay in 3D but this whole movement is unnecessary I think. I like plain ol’ 2D movies.

  • bitting

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  • Foxy

    Who gives a crap. I’m still seeing it in 2D. And always will until this childish fad dies out in a year or two.

    • Lola

      Well said. Me too. Can’t stand 3D movies.

    • doug

      soo you’re saying once this fad is over, you’ll start seeing movies in 3D?

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