May 01--TAMPA -- With the digital projector in place in the projection room at the Tampa Theatre, two-1960s style film projectors sat silent on either side Tuesday night, sensing their demise and reluctantly welcoming the Christie CP-2220 Digital Cinema system.
Some 70 feet below, a throng of movie goers sat mostly silent as the specially chosen film, SAMSARA, ushered in the new age.
The visually stunning documentary that presented spectacular images from across the globe was a fitting first film for the high-priced projector, which barely made a sound as the digital image bounced off specially placed mirrors before making its way down to the screen.
"It was awesome," said Muriel Brathwait, a regular who showed up for the screening. She has been coming to the historic theater for 20 years and even kicked in a donation for the upgrade.
The general public mixed with about 60 or so VIPs, with reviews universally positive for the improved sound and image on the screen.
Gary Dowling, in a lab coat, ran the new projector. He predicted before the screening that people would notice "the quality of the sound and the picture, flawless."
Tampa Theatre CEO John Bell said the projector can faithfully recreate 32.2 trillion color shades.
"It's rather magical, actually," he said.
Some refitting of the projection room was needed to accommodate the space-age device, including new temperature and humidity control systems.
The whole project cost $137,000, of which a little more than $89,000 already has been raised from private donors, businesses and foundations. Part of the costs went into upgrading the sound system, including a full speaker array behind the screen that is laser driven to make sure everyone in the 1,400 seat auditorium hears the same crisp sound at the same time.
Amid the Mediterranean motif of the 86-year-old iconic downtown theater, patrons of the moving picture show were ushered from the past into the future. An added feature: The grand opening was free.
John Traky came from Clearwater to see the film. The last time he came here was for a Phoebe Snow concert a year or so ago. The quality of the film amazed him, he said.
"I was surprised," he said. "I was really impressed."
Not that the movies presented on traditional 35 mm film will go away. The now-antique projectors will be kept on standby for classic films and other movies available only in that format.
"We've heard from a couple of people who were concerned that we were getting rid of the 35 mm projectors," said theater spokeswoman Jill Witecki this week. "Well, no. We are not going to do that."
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