Torn and stained screens in shabby old cinemas aren't helping the film industry's quest to win Australians back from movie piracy. Something's got to give.
At first glance you might assume that all cinemas are created equal, but if you have an eye for detail then you'll appreciate how widely the quality can vary even within the same cinema complex. Having taken my family to Hoyts Highpoint in Melbourne's north west twice these school holidays, I've vowed not to go back until it does something about its decrepit older cinema theatres.
We only go to the movies a few times a year, so it's frustrating to spend your money only to discover that the picture would have looked better at home. While the cinema chains like to brag about the quality of their new cinemas, they're clearly happy to let their old cinemas fall into disrepair.
First my family saw The Lego Batman Movie in Cinema 9, which has a large stain on the right-hand side of the screen which is clearly visible during bright scenes. The movie has been out in the US for months, I was determined to wait until it reached Australian cinemas – to set a good example for my children – but you shouldn't need to take a squeegee on a stick to the movies just to ensure the screen is actually clean.
Next I took my teenage son to see Ghost in the Shell in Cinema 2, which I discovered has a large tear at the bottom left of the screen that has been stitched up to leave a thick scar. The overall picture quality was also rather underwhelming and I don't think it did such a visually spectacular movie justice. I'm tempted to see it again in cinema with a better projector and screen just to see how much of a difference it makes.
Part of the trouble is that Hoyts' Highpoint complex is at least 30 years old, and it's been expanded over time. If you walk past these shabby cinemas and up the stairs you find newer cinemas with better screens and sound. These are the cinemas which we've seen most movies in over the last few years, but unfortunately there's no easy way to match up session times with specific cinemas – so you pay your money and take your chances.
That's not good enough considering how much it costs to take a family to the cinema these days, so I rang the box office to ask the best strategy for ensuring that you see a movie in one of the better cinemas, without resorting to paying extra for IMAX or LUX.
The person who answered the phone was very understanding, conceding that some of the Highpoint cinemas leave a lot to be desired, but said the only real option is to call in the morning and ask which sessions have been allocated to which cinemas that day – which presents a challenge when the Hoyts Highpoint Facebook page is full of people complaining that it's hard to get someone to answer the phone.
Even if someone does pick up the phone, you don't know how helpful they'll be and whether the schedule might change during the day. I also can't find any details as to the layout of each complex and the quality of the individual cinemas, so you'd need to do some recon to figure out which theatres are best at your local complex.
At this point it looks like my best course of action is to drive further to newer complexes like Hoyts Watergardens or Village Sunshine in search of more consistent picture and sound, or else head into the city.
To be fair, I'm sure some Village and Greater Union cinemas are just as bad – the Village complex at Airport West has also been there for decades and the cinemas were pretty shabby last time we went there.
With Guardians of the Galaxy II coming out soon, there's no way I'm taking my family back to Hoyts Highpoint to risk watching it on a shabby screen. If Hoyts expects me to pay top dollar to see a movie they can at least deliver a decent picture.
Which cinemas will you favour this long weekend? How do you find the sound and picture quality?