There's nothing like seeing a movie in a theater with a big screen and big sound. Of course, for the millions of people who are blind or deaf, the experience is quite different. They pay the same price, but at most theaters, blind and deaf patrons get a whole lot less for their money. Some blind people go with a sighted friend who can tell them what's going on. Some deaf people attend special screenings with subtitles.
Or, as CBS This Morning Consumer Correspondent Herb Weisbaum reports, they can now go to a handful of theaters with new digital technology.
Jamie Gould is a deaf moviegoer. He said, "I'm tired of going to the movie theater assuming what they're saying, trying to understand what they're saying, watching, looking at the pictures without understanding what's going on."
Now, in a few theaters around the country, including the new General Cinema in Seattle, moviegoers with vision or hearing problems can enjoy a richer experience.
Sharon Keeran, a blind movie patron, said, "I go to movies all the time as it is and love movies. But this way I didn't have to hit my neighbor on the arm and say, 'what's happening'?"
For Sharon and others with vision loss, there's the DVS Theatrical system. By wearing a wireless headset, they can hear the entire movie soundtrack, plus a narrator describing all the on-screen action.
A scene from the Nicholas Cage thriller 8 mm in DVS Theatrical describes what's happening: "Bye. Wells sprays air freshener. Later, as Wells drives down a private road, he passes a gardener raking leaves."
"I thought it really opened up the whole experience to me," said Marlin Libber after her first experience of "seeing" a movie this way.
"And it's not just some guy sat down, watched the movie and told a bunch of blind folks what was going on," added Libber.
It's much more complicated than that. The DVS Theatrical experience begins in a recording studio like the one at WGBH television in Boston. Using a script timed to fit gaps in the film's dialogue, a narrator explains what's happening on screen.
We were there as Wendie Sakakeeny described the 1993 classic Dinner at Eight.
The narration was "Here's your new hat. Oh goody. Kitty takes a black velvet cap out of a box and tries it on while Tina holds up the mirror. Oh higher, you fool! Kitty adjusts a veil of sheer netting, then poses with a bright grin. Don't it look cute, huh?"
Another new technology called Rear Window Captioning helps the hearing impaired. It is called Rear Window because the dialogue is displayed at the back of the theater. A see-through plastic screen which fits into the popcorn holder on the seat reflects that image so the words go in the right direction. It's sort of like having your own private subtitles.
Deaf movie patron Consuelo Gonzalez said she could follow all the dialogue, "totally, everything. Not a word missd."
"It was great. I understood things so much better," said blind movie patron AJ.
"If they didn't have the captioning I would probably fall asleep; too much dialogue," said Theron Parker, a deaf movie patron. "If you don't mind the pun, it's a sign of the times, you know?"
A sign of the digital times. But this is more than a story about technology. And it's more than about enjoying a movie. It's about being included.
Brian Callaghan, head of marketing for General Cinema, said, "It's just really a delight when you see a child come into the movie theater for the very first time or maybe a group of her friends to see something like Titanic. And she's able to do it just like any other kid. It makes it all worthwhile," said Callaghan.
At the screening we attended, these two new technologies got 5 stars and 2 thumbs up. "We can interact with the hearing world or the deaf world instead of only the deaf world. It's nice to have that," said deaf movie patron Jamie Gould.
The really nice thing about these two new technologies is that they help those who need it, without forcing them to bother everyone else.
Right now only four General Cinema theaters in the country have both of these systems in place. Two of those theaters are in Seattle.
The others are in Sherman Oaks, California and Atlanta, and four more in Baltimore, Philadelphia, New Jersey and Chicago should be up and running within a few weeks.
Who is paying for these enhancements? Kodak and General Cinema are paying to install the hardware. The movie theaters are covering the cost of the descriptive narration and the captioning.
For Star Wars, Seattle billionaire Paul Allen personally paid to have the movie done this way so it could be accessible to everyone. By the way, customers do not pay any more to take advantage of this visual or audio enhancement.
Here is a list of the General Cinema Theaters that have the DVS Theatrical and Rear Window Captioning in place now:
2100 4th Ave.
Seattle, WA 98121
600 Pine St.
Seattle, WA 98101
3101 Cobb Parkway
Atlanta, GA 30339
Sherman Oaks 1-2:
4500 Van Nuys Blvd.
Sherman Oaks, CA 91403
These General Cinema theaters should have both systems in operation within the next few weeks.
80 Yorktown Center
Lombard, IL 60148
405 Route 3 East
Clifton, NJ 07014
1800 Plymouth Meeting Mall
500 Germantown Pike
Plymouth Meeting, PA 19462-1310
10100 Mill Run Circle
Owings Mills, MD 21111-5577
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