The following article reflects the views of the author alone, and not of the publication or website.
Below is a letter I sent to the senior manager of ODEON Cinemas Southampton on 4 October 2011. When this post was originally published on The Edge I was still waiting to hear anything from the cinema. I have since received a response to this letter, and have published a follow-up piece which can be read here. The original letter shall remain on The Edge for reference purposes.
(Addressed to the Senior Cinema Manager)
I would first like to thank-you for your assistance in the matter concerning a faulty screening of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (2D) during the summer. My complaint (about the projection quality, aspect ratio and sound) was dealt with the upmost professionalism, and I was very grateful to receive the complimentary guest passes.
However, I’m afraid I am writing to you to convey some serious concerns I still have with the service customers are receiving at ODEON Southampton. In your letter, you expressed a hope that I would use my free guest passes to enjoy a cinematic experience that would prove to me that ‘the level of service [I] received previously is not typical of ODEON Southampton’. I used one of these tickets to see a showing of Jane Eyre. I was looking forward to a good, satisfying cinema experience. However, around half way through the film, the auditorium lights came on. They stayed on for the rest of the film, ruining the second half.
This issue with the lights coming on was not an isolated incident. I had a few weeks previously come out of a screening of One Day having had the full-glare light treatment ten minutes before the end credits started to role. This, unfortunately, helped feed my suspicion that ODEON is not dedicated to good cinematic experiences, but more interested in overpriced sweets, soft drinks and popcorn.
Following this unfortunate misadventure with Jane Eyre, I decided to email my concerns to the cinema using the ODEON Southampton email address I had communicated with last time. I got no response. I then decided to email the official complaints department. I got a response that acknowledged my email and asked me to wait for further communication. No such further communication arrived.
I decided, in a moment of weakness, to give up. I put these three poor screenings down to erroneous errors, and told myself to just have faith in the ODEON chain. After all, it is, as the logo tells us, ‘Fanatical About Film’. Surely this must shine through eventually. How wrong I was. A few weeks later I attended a screening of the film Friends With Benefits. The adverts before the film were of a good, normal level of volume. The film itself was at a lower, muffled volume. I was once again irked by this substandard service. But I decided not to complain. I had had enough with complaining, and felt it would be easier just to move on. So I did. I moved on. So I tried to ignore the sinking feeling I felt when I bought a ticket to see the movie Warrior. I tried to banish the thought ‘what will go wrong this time’ from my head, and tried to settle down into my seat in the darkness in a relaxed and happy fashion. But I could not. Because the adverts were being projected onto the ceiling. They were spilling off the screen, onto the walls and ceiling around it. Of course, these are just the adverts. They aren’t the actual film. But it doesn’t lend to a relaxing atmosphere when one sees incompetence from the very start of the programme, even if they are just commercials for Lucozade and Clearasil. Luckily, there was a member of staff walking past the door to the screen, and after a quick word with her the fault was corrected. But all was not well. When the main feature begun, the screen was the wrong size for the projection. Both were of the correct aspect ratio, but the film was being projected in too small a size for the screen, and too far to the left, so it looked like the example below (with the image being the projected film, and the black representing the reduntant part of the screen):
After fifteen minutes had passed, I decided to go out again and find a member of staff. Predictably, this took quite a while, but when I had finally located one willing to speak to me he told me it would be corrected. Twenty minutes later, I was still watching a film projected at a size too small for the screen. So I went out again, missing more of the movie I had paid money to see. The person at the desk didn’t seem very surprised when he had to phone up again to ask the projectionist to change the screen size. After a good ten minutes, the screen size altered slightly, so there was less black space around the bottom, but still bars of black at the side. I had tried to have confidence in ODEON, but when the projectionist doesn’t even notice the screen size is wrong until a member of the public tells them, surely there must be a problem?
I come now to the spark that lit the fire of this letter. On Monday 3 October I attended the 8:30PM showing of The Debt in Screen 10. Once again, I tried to keep relaxed. The adverts were projected perfectly. All was fine. But then the movie started, and I became close to furious. Below is an example of how the film was being projected:
It was not only of the wrong size for the screen, it was also noticeably wonky. I tried to explain to a man on duty about the fault. He didn’t understand: “You want a bigger screen, do you?” he said, looking puzzled. I explained again, as calmly as I could (well aware I was missing the start of the film I had paid for) that the screen size was incorrect and the picture askew. “I’ll talk to them” he said finally. I went back to watch the film. The picture stayed wonky and too small. Half an hour later I ventured out again and spoke to the same man. “I spoke to them as soon as you came out the last time” he said. I explained the film was still incorrectly projected. “I could ask them again, if you’d like?” he said. I was beyond irritated at this point. I went back to watch the film. No effort was made to alter the picture for its entire running time. It was projected badly, at an angle, at a small size, the whole of the way through, in spite of me notifying staff two times during the performance.
Why did the projectionist not right the film himself/herself? Why was nothing done when I complained the first time, and then the second? Was there even a projectionist there, up in the heavens, or just an untrained teenager flicking on an ‘On’ switch before walking off? These are the questions I want answered.
I would like to make it clear that I am not on some kind of crusade to get more free tickets. I am simply trying to make it plain and clear to you that there are some serious, deep-rooted problems in your cinema. Incompetence in cinema practice is spreading like a plague, and your cinema is, judging by this evidence, at the forefront of this surge of bad service. This now mounts up to five screenings that have been ruined because of staff failings in the past two months. I would like to know how this has been allowed to continue for so long, and what precautions are being made to ensure students, like me, never have to regret paying a cinema chain to do what they are supposed to do: project a film at a professional standard.
Film Editor of Southampton University’s The Edge Entertainments Magazine, and author of The WALTERMEDIA Film Blog.