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Big screen stretches beyond films


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POSTED: Tuesday, November 24, 2009

New York's Metropolitan Opera is so revered it's known simply as “;The Met,”; and everyone knows you're not talking baseball. The 126-year-old opera company puts on fantastic productions, starring the greatest singers in the world and directed by music, design and choreography geniuses. To experience this opera is to be transported.

But not transported enough. The Met is in New York, after all, and not likely to move anywhere else. So, for 123 years of the Met's existence, opera buffs had to go to the mountain to get their fix.

On a recent night at Regal's Dole Cannery movie theater, Honolulu opera buffs got to experience up close a current Met production. Puccini's “;Turandot,”; grandly directed by no less than Franco Zefferelli, was transmitted via high-definition video via satellite to movie theaters all over the nation, extending the Met's reach thousands of miles.

It's just one example of how movie theaters are multitasking these days, thanks to high-def delivery systems. Theaters use digital projection systems and sophisticated sound systems to re-create a traditional theatrical experience for narrow-focus interest groups. As fabulous as a Met production can be, a traditional film production, copied onto reels and shipped to thousands of movie theaters, would be financially chancy. The digital age, however, allows special-event programming to reach those already interested. This gives theaters an additional income stream from nonmovie uses.

“;People use the theaters for all sorts of events, including training seminars; corporate presentations; birthday, anniversary and graduation parties; church services, et cetera,”; said Rachel Gibson, Consolidated Theaters events and promotion manager. “;The screen isn't only for movies. We've had groups hook up video games and karaoke machines—lots of fun!”;

The audience at the Honolulu showing of “;Turandot”; tended to skew toward the gray end of the age spectrum. They enjoyed the communal magic of the presentation, however, as well as the little things one can't get at home, like enormous buckets of popcorn.

The Metcasts are handled by Fathom Entertainment, which also celebrated the 70th anniversary of “;The Wizard of Oz”; in theaters last week and plans to add one-night-only documentary screenings.

Admission to “;Turandot”; was $18, about double the cost of a usual movie ticket but a fraction of the cost of seeing a New York performance. The quality of the production, filmed on Nov. 9, was very high, revealing almost no clue it was a video transfer. The sound quality was very good, albeit stereo with little, if any, sense of “;surround”; sound.

You could hear the pattering of performers' feet as they moved around the stage. The filming also used sophisticated camera moves among the performers, and there was virtually no audience noise, so the performance was likely made just for the camera. If you're an opera buff, you'd have enjoyed it immensely.

“;THE MET: Live in HD”; kicked off in December 2006 and reaches about 1,000 theater complexes in 42 countries today. Even if only a few hundred attend in each theater, that's an enormous cumulative audience.

The performances are sometimes later released on DVD or aired on PBS, but unless your home has the projection and sound quality of a modern movie theater, it's not the same experience.

And it's not just opera. The guys who created “;Mystery Science Theater 3000”; have what they call “;RiffTrax Live,”; which is streamed to theaters all across the nation. A recent RiffTrax dissection of “;Plan 9 from Outer Space”; at the Cannery theaters attracted only a few dozen fans, but they—we—laughed our okoles off.

The projection used an interesting way of plopping the performers off to the side instead of putting Mike, Crow and Tom Servo as silhouettes down in front. The festivities, projected from a theater in Tennessee, included a very funny musician and additional material. The sound quality was excellent.

The RiffTrax team will tear into a variety of Christmas shorts in mid-December. If that's not your cup of eggnog, Fathom is also presenting Glenn Beck performing his Christmas classic novelette called “;Glenn Beck's The Christmas Sweater,”; the story of a boy who hates his Christmas present and then his mother dies in a car crash.

Attracting far more fans are live broadcasts of University of Hawaii football games at Consolidated's Koolau Stadium theaters in Temple Valley and at Maui's Kaahumanu Theaters. According to Koolau general manager Art Downing, the games attract a few hundred people and are held in the complex's largest venue. “;Until this weekend,”; said Downing. The “;New Moon”; vampire movie has taken over the big theater.

“;The audiences are generally seniors who don't want to deal with driving to Aloha Stadium. We get the signal in a deal with Oceanic, and you should see the quality of the high-definition signal for home games. Fills the whole screen and you can see every detail.”;

The away game on at that moment pitted the Warriors against San Jose State and was a standard low-resolution signal. It still looked very good, and the steep rake of the theater gave everyone a clear view. “;See that usher off on the side?”; said Downing. “;You just have to raise your hand and they'll fetch snacks for you from the concession counter so you don't have to miss—whoa! Did you see that?”;

UH tied San Jose 10-10 and the place erupted in cheers. It got even louder when UH won. The communal feeling in the theater was palpable, like seeing the game at someone's house.

Speaking of which, what does it cost to rent a theater for private use? It depends.

“;I really can't give any approximate costs because it varies so much depending on location, the time and what movies we are showing,”; explained Consolidated's Gibson. “;But mornings are always less expensive than evenings, and weekdays are cheaper than weekends. We can work with budgets, though, and we try to be as accommodating as possible.”;

SPECIAL EVENTS AT REGAL DOLE CANNERY

”;The Christmas Sweater A Return to Redemption”;
Glenn Beck's tale of love, faith and family.
» Dec. 3: 7 p.m.; $20
» Dec. 10: 6 p.m.; $18

The Metropolitan Opera
» Dec. 19: “;Le Contes d'Hoffmann”; (live), 6:30 p.m. Jacques Offenbach's fictionalized take on the life and loves of the German Romantic writer E.T.A. It stars Anna Netrebko as the tragic Antonia, Elina Garanca as the ambiguous Nicklausse and Alan Held as the demonic four villains. Tickets are $18.
» Jan. 6: “;Le Contes d'Hoffmann”; (encore), 6:30 p.m.; $18
» Jan. 9: “;Der Rosenkavalier”; (live), 1 p.m. Richard Strauss' comic masterpiece of love and intrigue in 18th-century Vienna stars Renee Fleming as the aristocratic Marschallin and Susan Graham in the trouser role of her young lover. Tickets are $22 general, $20 for seniors and $15 for children.
» Jan. 16: “;Carmen”; (live), 1 p.m. Elina Garanca plays the seductive gypsy of the title, opposite Roberto Alagna as the obsessed Don Jose. Tickets are $22 general, $20 for seniors and $15 for children.
» Jan. 27: “;Der Rosenkavalier”; (encore), 6:30 p.m.; $18
» Feb. 3: “;Carmen”; (encore), 6:30 p.m.; $18
» Feb. 6: “;Simon Boccanegra”; (live), 1 p.m. Tenor Placido Domingo makes history singing the title role in Verdi's political thriller, which is written for a baritone. Tickets are $22 general, $20 for seniors and $15 for children.
» March 27: “;Hamlet: (live), 1 p.m. Shakespeare's classic tale stars Simon Keenlyside and Natalie Dessay. Tickets are $22 general, $20 for seniors and $15 for children.
» April 14: “;Hamlet”; (encore), 6:30 p.m.; $18
» May 1: “;Armida”; (live), 1 p.m. Rossini's version of the mythical story of a sorceress who enthralls men in her island prison stars Renee Fleming opposite no fewer than six tenors. Tickets are $22 general, $20 for seniors and $15 for children.
» May 19: “;Armida”; (encore), 6:30 p.m.; $18
RiffTrax: Christmas Shorts
The stars of “;Mystery Science Theater 3000”; are back with special guest Weird Al Yankovic to present new and old favorite shorts including animated “;Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,”; classic commercials and a musical extolling the virtues of pork.
» Dec. 16: Live presentation, 8 p.m.; $12.50

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AT CONSOLIDATED'S KOOLAU THEATRE

Advance tickets available at www.consolidatedtheatres.com.
» Nov. 28: UH vs. Navy, 5:35 p.m.; $12
» Dec. 5: UH vs. Wisconsin, 6:30 p.m.; $12