Cinema Product Reviews

Movie Tunes
Manufacturer:  National Cinema Network
Grade:  F
Reviewed June 2001 by Scott Norwood

Most of us already have strong feelings about the inappropriateness of advertising in movie theatres.  I agree with this sentiment; however, in order to avoid turning this review into a rant against in-theatre advertising, I will not even address this issue here.  I also will not directly address the issue of the appropriateness of playing the same non-sync music before every feature and every demographic, ranging from animated films for children to serious foreign films to action titles to teen flicks.

What I will address is the quality of the product itself, which is NCN's attempt to provide music interspersed with recorded advertisements for customers to listen to while they are waiting for the film to start (and, in many cases, watching NCN advertising slides on screen).  The product itself is a CD-R (or, in some cases, a real, pressed, CD) which is delivered monthly to each theatre.  Theatres with multiple CD players receive multiple copies of the same CD-R or CD.  Like other NCN "products," the theatre manager is supposed to call NCN and confirm receipt of the disk.

On a purely technical level, this product is not very good.  The biggest problem is that the recording level varies widely from month to month.  A difference of about 4dB (measured on a standard analog VU meter) between disks is not uncommon.  This is unacceptible and really inexcusable; it is very important for some sort of consistency to be maintained from month to month, since few theatres are going to re-adjust their non-sync input level for each new issue of Movie Tunes.  NCN may think that their product is important enough to justify this, but no one else does.

Also, the entire program is recorded as a single track on the CD.  I assume that this is done by intention in order to make it difficult for individual theatres to edit the program.  While this may make sense from NCN's point of view, it makes it impossible to program the CD player to omit individual tracks that may be inappropriate or undesirable for the type of film being shown.  Additionally, each program begins with a "Welcome to Movie Tunes" message (usually including the name of the theatre circuit, where applicable) and concludes with a "Thanks for listening" (as if customers had any choice...) message.  This is silly and unnecessary, as the program should immediately repeat at its end, and so there is really no need to have a defined "beginning" and "end" to the program.

There are, of course, aesthetic problems with Movie Tunes as well. First, it sounds exactly like radio, complete with audio compression (maybe not a bad idea in this context), cheesy announcer voice, and (often) radio-style commercials.  The problem here is that non-sync music really should be "background" music which, like Muzak in restaurants, is relatively subtle, mostly instrumental, and which serves primarily to avoid uncomforable silence in theatre auditorium prior to the start of the film and, ideally, reinforce the mood of the feature to be shown.  Movie Tunes is the exact opposite of this, and sounds much more like a top-40 station with a loudmouth DJ than proper background music should.  The music selections include essentially something for every demographic to hate, and are likely to ruin the atmosphere for almost any type of film.  The announcer (Chris Eric Stevens) serves primarily to interrupt the music and annoy customers by telling them to "go pick up a copy after the movies" of every recording he plays.  Further, Movie Tunes includes multiple advertisements for itself, emphasizing the obvious ("we have a totally captive audience!") and, again, breaking the flow of the music and annoying customers.

There may not be any better non-sync-music programs out there than Movie Tunes, but I certainly cannot imagine much worse.  I will submit that dead silence is more appropriate than Movie Tunes in all cases, for those theatres which are unwilling to pay for an ASCAP license or PD recordings or which do not want to risk being sued for copyright violation.

Bottom Line:  If you have any conception of what "showmanship" means, you wouldn't even consider using this product.

-Scott Norwood

Scott Norwood is a film geek and computer geek. He is currently an system administrator for WinNT and Unix machines. As a hobby, he has worked part-time as a projectionist at various theatres, including the Williamsburg Theatre and the Cape Cinema. Scott is not a technician and has no test equipment, but is a fairly experienced projectionist. These reviews are representative of the performance of the equipment and services from his perspective.

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