To prepare a 35mm film for showing, a theater must splice together five or six reels of the movie, as well as insert the previews at the beginning. Some studios have stopped providing 35mm versions of those coming attractions. "It's their way of saying, 'We're getting out of the (35mm) film business, and you probably should, too,'" Barnhart said.
Putting digital in the Indiana is an especially hefty venture, given the immensity of its screen — the state's second-largest, next to the IMAX at Indianapolis — hanging above the 54-foot-wide stage. Lundstrom estimates the price of a full-blown digital system at $150,000, but has found a more cost-effective option. By placing the digital projector in the middle of the auditorium, a more compact unit can be used and the picture will still cover nearly three-quarters of the screen.
And those moving images will be sharper, more high-definition than 35mm film can offer.
The look and sound digital provides is "just phenomenal," Barnhart said. Near as it is to the hearts of theater purists, 35mm films shake, and show dirt and scratches as the copies — which are called prints — are passed from one cinema to the next. The digital hard-drive versions are "just perfect, crystal-clear, sharp," Barnhart said. "Exactly what the filmmakers wanted you to see and hear."
It also eliminates the occasional glitches posed by 35mm projection, such as "brain wraps." Those occur when a fully spliced film snags in the center of one of the wagon-wheel-sized platters. On a "tree" of platters, the film feeds from one platter across the room to the projector and then is routed back to another rewinding platter. A brain wrap threatens the process and forces the operator to frantically unclog the film, and even re-splice it, while the show goes on.