Edgartown’s Entertainment Cinemas switches to digital, adds 3D

Out with the old: Bob La Sala sits atop the old movie theater equipment that will soon be turned into scrap metal. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Although Hurricane Sandy and last week’s Nor’easter threatened to delay the installation, state-of-the-art digital cinema and 3D capability should come to Entertainment Cinemas in Edgartown on Friday, Nov. 16. The changeover from celluloid film was slated to begin on November 13, and the theaters will be closed while it takes place.

“It’s a win-win for everyone,” Deborah Belisle, Director of Operations for Entertainment Cinemas, said in a telephone interview last week. “The industry is shifting. They’re not making 35-mm films any more.” Entertainment Cinema owns the Edgartown theaters.

The first screenings with the new digital equipment are expected to begin on Friday with “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part II.” Ms. Belisle is working on bringing a second, just-released film as well, possibly “Life of Pi.”

One of the biggest advantages of digital is that it allows theaters to offer 3D movies. The changeover in Edgartown includes installation of new silver projection screens, which will provide more light output and a brighter image. The parent company will also bring an enhanced 5.1 digital, six-channel surround sound system to its Edgartown theaters. Some of the benefits of the new technology include elimination of scratches and dust on the image, and no more broken, spliced, faded, or melted films. The digital film process also makes it easier for the projectionist to screen a movie.

In the U.S., 85 percent of movie theaters have already converted to digital, according to Ms. Belisle. Hollywood studios are helping movie theaters like Edgartown Cinema pay for installation of the new equipment. The first step is the removal of the old 35-millimeter projectors, which are no longer being manufactured and will be turned into scrap metal.

Initially, hard drives containing a digitalized film will be delivered by plane, but Ms. Belisle estimates that within a month, satellite delivery will begin. That means newly released films will appear more quickly in Edgartown.

Under the old system, reels of celluloid containing the film print were delivered in metal cans to a specific theater, then sent on to another one. In recent years, the number of prints, which are costly to make, has diminished, as the use of digital has grown. That means new films take longer to reach theaters still screening 35-mm celluloid in all but the biggest markets.

“We’re already getting calls from customers,” Bob La Sala, who manages the Edgartown Entertainment Cinemas, said last week. The new digital system will not change ticket prices there, which will remain at $9 for adults and $7 for seniors and children. There will, however, be a surcharge for 3D films, because of that specialized technology’s licensing cost.

While some members of the film industry argue that digitally made films cannot match the image quality of celluloid ones, Ms. Belisle says she disagrees. She travels all over New England and New York to visit the theater chain’s 15 sites in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Long Island and views the new digitally projected films where they are already being screened.

Many aspects of filmmaking, such as editing and postproduction, were digitalized years ago. Those changes have led to new, stylistic developments like more frequent use of fades, and less reliance on straight cuts. Advocates of digitalization argue that this technology is continuing to evolve, while celluloid has peaked. Proponents of celluloid counter that it remains the best way to archive movies.

Benjamin Hall, who owns the Capawock, Island, and Strand theaters, pioneered use of digital projection in Vineyard movie theaters, installing an early form five years ago for special events and an opera series. The Martha’s Vineyard Film Center, which opened in Vineyard Haven in September, uses digital technology, and Mr. Hall expects to install a new digital projector in the Capawock Theatre, also in Vineyard Haven, in January. He plans to upgrade the Island Theatre’s system in Oak Bluffs later in the spring. The Strand Theatre, also in Oak Bluffs, is not currently being used to screen films.