Close to being certified best in show

Senator getting shot at film, sound quality recognition

March 04, 2003|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Area moviegoers already know the Senator is about the best place around to see a movie, but soon, it should become official.

Striking a welcome balance between modern technology and historic preservation, a California-based company that evaluates movie theaters for the quality of their presentation has developed a set of criteria that can be applied to the nation's classic moviehouses.

"It's not really a new set of standards," says Tim Schafbuch, director of THX Cinema. "We're still honoring our core cinema standards that we've had in place since 1983. But because they are historic theaters, we're honoring the limits that are imposed by the historic architecture. We don't want to interrupt the historic significance that they represent."

Details of the Historic Cinema Certification Program will be announced in Las Vegas this week at ShoWest 2003, an annual gathering of movie exhibitors from around the world. The Senator will be the first theater evaluated under the new program, and owner Tom Kiefaber will be at ShoWest to talk it up.

"This is the culmination of years' worth of discussions," says Kiefaber, who has long worked with officials from THX at developing standards that acknowledge the value of classic moviehouses like his without forcing them into molds designed for theaters built in the past 20 years. "THX certification is something that I've wanted to do at the Senator for many years."

THX was founded in 1983 by George Lucas, producer of the Star Wars films. Named after Lucas' first movie, 1971's THX 1138, the company has certified some 3,000 theaters around the world.

The Senator has long been a favorite of Lucas, whose Star Wars films have repeatedly opened and done huge business there. Kiefaber, who has taken the premieres of the last two Star Wars installments as occasions to upgrade his theater's sound and projection systems, has twice visited Lucas' Skywalker Ranch production facilities to consult with THX officials.

Movie audiences can hardly avoid the THX seals that appear on-screen in selected theaters, black-and-silver logos, accompanied by booming waves of sound that certify the films are being seen under the best possible conditions: crisp projection, clean sound, clear sight lines.

"The goal is to optimize both picture and sound," says Schafbuch. "We've developed criteria for room acoustics, for how the sound is inside the auditorium, standards for reverb and background noise, to insulate and isolate the sounds. We also look at image distortion and cropping of the overall image."

Neither Schafbuch nor Kiefaber think the Senator, a York Road landmark since opening in 1939, should have much trouble with the new specifications. A group from THX was at the theater last week for an early feasibility study, and the suggestions they made involved such fine-tuning as lowering the level of background noise.

"Tom's theater has always been a shining example of first-class presentation quality," Schafbuch says. "He is not going to have much difficulty meeting the THX criteria."

"There is a level of fanaticism to Lucasfilm and the Senator that shows in what we do," Kiefaber says. "It certainly shows on their side of it; they're the ones that have developed a lot of the technical aspects of film presentation."

As for his theater, Kiefaber says, "it was a high-tech futuristic thing when it was built, and we've constantly tried to push it forward."

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