Terrence Malick Instructs Projectionists on How to Show THE TREE OF LIFE

     June 3, 2011


It looks like proper film projection is a dying art.  At my Atlanta press screening for X-Men: First Class earlier this week, the image was fuzzy.  Getting the image in focus is Projection 101 and it looks like projectionists for the major theater chains are flunking that class.

That’s why it’s bittersweet that Terrence Malick has sent out a letter of instruction to projections who show his new film The Tree of Life.  While I had some issues with the film, it’s indisputably gorgeous and it deserves to be shown in the highest quality.  Hit the jump for Malick’s four requests and why I think they won’t be followed.

Here are the four instructions from Malick’s letter as reported by the San Diego Reader [via The Playlist]:

1.) Project the film in 1.85:1 aspect ratio

2.) Set the fader on Dolby and DTS systems to 7.5 or 7.7 (higher than the standard setting of 7)

3.) With no opening credits, he asks that the “lights down cue is well before the opening frame of reel 1.”

4.) Projection lamps should be at “Proper standard (5400 Kelvin)” and that the “foot Lambert level is at Standard 14.”

Unless you go to the Alamo Drafthouse or various theaters in the Los Angeles area, do you honestly expect projectionists to do this?  I’m at the point where I’ll be happy if the image is in focus.  That’s how low my expectations have dropped.  Not about brightness levels, not about getting high sound quality.  Just make sure everything on screen isn’t fuzzy.

Sigh.  The Tree of Life is expanding this weekend to Chicago, Boston, Washington D.C, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Austin, and Dallas.  Sound off in the comments section if you go to see it and want to let everyone know about the quality of the projection.


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  • Hernan Giaggio

    I’m going to see it in Austin in a couple of hours (not at the Drafthouse) and I actually kind of do expect that they’ll follow this. But we’ll see.

  • bubbatwo420

    I’m totally printing this out and bringing it to the theatre in Denver next weekend.

  • TheTrickster

    People pay extra bucks to see movies in 3d that have blurry and dark images, all for a “better experience”. I don’t think those people will care about it. A shame, nonetheless.

  • reelrootsryan

    I saw it over the weekend at the Landmark here in LA and the projection quality was solid. The Landmark is a higher end chain not unlike the Angelika in Dallas and the Arc Light also here in LA, so I expected the projectionists to know what they’re doing. However, I do not know if The Landmark is a dual projector or platter system. I was too preoccupied with the film to look back and see. Kinda surprised that Malick didn’t demand that ToL be shown on solely dual projector systems, but then again that would limit the # of screens even more.

    The biggest surprise — to me — is that ToL is in 1.85:1. Need to go check my Blu-ray collection but I always remembered Malick’s work being in a wider aspect ratio.

  • reelrootsryan

    Just realized the answer to my previous comment. ToL was shot on both 35 and IMAX 65mm. 1:85:1 is the widest aspect ratio for IMAX. There’s no anamorphic for IMAX.

  • Jay

    its a shame that you have ask for most of this stuff.

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  • Yibbet

    I saw THE TREE OF LIFE at the Tara in Atlanta this afternoon. Surprisingly, the projection/picture was great. I can name a least a dozen and a half films I’ve seen there in the last two years that were out of focus and dingy looking, not what you expect from the city’s most expensive ticket.

  • Aurora Vampiris

    ROFLMAO. Matt, I just popped over to Chud to see what they had to say about this whole issue and well… they seem to think differently. In fact, they completely disagree with your opening statement on X-Men: First Class.

    They also mention that Malik’s instructions are not part of some glorified crusade (as you make it out to be, albeit very subtly) and that such instructions are routinely sent out, especially for films with unusual opening sequences and certain uncoventional features (such as little dialogue).

    So now, the question is, who should I trust? :S

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  • Nope

    Disney/Pixar have been doing this for years. If the image is blurry, SAY SOMETHING. As a projectionist I can tell you, it’s not as easy as one might think to do. A projectionist is the furthest person away from the screen, that means that it will look different than it will for people, say, in the front several rows.

  • Bheaya Emortalis

    I would love to become a projectionist n this is a problem i often see here (Atlanta Metro). Places have been getting better but i will have 2 agree with a previous comment. I will take this 2 every theater i go 2. This should actually be a standard. Well the Dolby thing doesn’t have to be in a 7.5+ but it should still b kept at the 7.1. No less than that. He will forever be in my books for this.

  • Dingus Khan

    “it’s not as easy as one might think to do. A projectionist is the furthest person away from the screen”

    A good projectionist will use binoculars and focus on the grain.