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Major technological upgrades to Pittsfield’s only cinema accompany release of “Avatar” sequel

The Beacon Cinema in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
Josh Landes
The Beacon Cinema in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

The long-awaited sequel to “Avatar” begins its run today at the only theater in Pittsfield, Massachusetts — and with it, sweeping technological advancements for local moviegoers.

Phoenix Theatres President Cory Jacobsonwho’s owned and operated downtown Pittsfield’s Beacon Cinema since 2018 – vividly remembers when James Cameron’s science fiction epic was released 13 years ago.

“When the Beacon first opened back in 2009, the first film that played here, you know, that was a huge success was ‘Avatar,’ and that introduced 3D and digital 3D to Pittsfield for the first time,” he told WAMC.

Over the years, “Avatar” has become the highest grossing film of all time, banking around $3 billion. With its much-belabored follow-up finally hitting screens, Jacobson feels that it’s his duty to keep apace with advancements in the industry.

“We're looking at this and saying, well, this is James Cameron's upgrade of all of the technology," he said. "So, we have to provide the best technology that we can that matches where he's at with his technology.”

That means Jacobson has carried out major upgrades to the Beacon’s screening capabilities.

“That means high frame rates," he said. "So, we put in equipment now that has lots of high frame rate capacity. So, if the technology changes even further, we can accomplish that. But importantly, it goes from 24 frames a second to 48 frames a second for the action sequences of ‘Avatar 2,’ and that will get rid of motion blur that you see in in fast action sequences and films. And just the clarity of this, and just the intensity of the 3D is just amazing.”

But what do high frame rates mean for viewers?

“Going back to film, it really was what the sound would synchronize with the actual movie stock film, and this dates back to 1927, when film started to have sound included on it," explained Jacobson. "So, there's 24 images that hit that hit the screen – you don't really see them change, but they do – there's 24 images in a second that go past on the screen. Now, that standard has remained the same since the 20s. And this expands this to 48 frames. So, you're literally getting double the number of images or flashes of the same image on the screen at the same time that your mind- It tricks your mind, you really don't know that that's happening, but it does, which is how movies work.”

High frame rates aren’t the only visual advancement Jacobson has installed for the arrival of “Avatar: The Way of Water.”

“The upgraded 3D system is a RealD system, as opposed to the old, old system that was here originally. the RealD system will give you more light on the screen," he told WAMC. "And the more light you have, the more clarity you have with 3D, which is why we're making that improvement as well.”

The Beacon has also had its audio capabilities overhauled for the first time in 13 years.

“We're putting in Dolby 950 sound systems in all the auditoriums, which is a very precise sound system that, again, all the systems that were here were Dolby 750s that were top of the line back in 2009," said Jacobson. "And today that's yesterday's news. This is something new and exciting because that also has a computerized ability to time low frequencies and high frequencies so they hit your ear at the same time, and the tuning of these rooms is with eight microphones as opposed to just one, so. they have a pattern that is selective throughout the auditoriums so the mics are placed in specific places and it really the measures the acoustics in each room individually, the speakers individually. It's really an advancement in sound technology that really, between that and the new high frame rates, really create an immersive experience that you wouldn't have otherwise.”

Jacobson isn’t just carrying out these upgrades just behind expectations that “Avatar: the Way of Water” will be as lucrative as its predecessor.

“Well, we had the best summer that we've ever had in the history of this business, and I've been in it for 22 years owning my own company " he said. "And I've been in the business for over 40 years. And June, May, June, and July were fabulous. I mean, we've had films such as ‘Elvis’ and ‘Minions’ and ‘Crawdads.’ And then of course, the 900-pound gorilla that came into the room was ‘Top Gun.’ We were just talking about it this morning. And just you know, we should have a statue in every theater’s lobby for Tom Cruise going out there and really pushing this movie and making sure that it remained a theatrical film, because of the size and scope of it.”

By way of disclosure, Phoenix Theatres has been a WAMC underwriter, and the WAMC Berkshire Bureau is housed in the Beacon Cinema.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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