More than 500 people felt the force of the Lecture Series Committee's new digital sound system last week during the Registration Day showing of Deep Impact, the first of 25 films in this fall's LSC line-up.
The state-of-the-art sound system was donated by Digital Theater Systems, Inc. (DTS), a California-based company that launched the new sound system in 1993 with the release of Jurassic Park. The DTS donation will allow the LSC to take advantage of DTS-encoded soundtracks available on most recently released films, such as The X-Files (October 31) and The Mask of Zorro (November 21).
"This is the latest in a long series of improvements we've made to keep up with film technologies," said Jered Floyd, an MEng student in electrical engineering and computer science who serves as publicity director for the LSC. "The DTS system virtually eliminates the noise and scratchiness associated with older analog systems. We've also upgraded the speakers and amplifiers, bringing the potential power output to more than 7,000 watts. "
The LSC, a student organization founded in 1944 to bring lecturers to campus, began showing movies in 1950 as a means of raising money to pay lecturers' fees. Frank Capra's Mr. Deeds Goes to Town starring Gary Cooper and Jean Arthur was its first movie, screened on May 2, 1950. Recent speakers brought in by the LSC have included Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert comic strip, and J. Michael Straczynski, creator of the Babylon 5 TV series.
Two of the LSC's biggest movie attractions were the April 1998 screenings of Good Will Hunting, which brought in 2,000 people, and As Good As It Gets, which sold more than 1,400 tickets. The LSC generally pays a base price of between $700 and $1,000 to bring in new releases like those, plus a percentage of ticket sales over a certain number.
But changes in the movie industry over the past decade, primarily the introduction of home video, have had a negative effect on LSC movie attendance.
"We saw a very clear connection between the opening of video stores and the decline in our attendance," said Mr. Floyd, who hopes the upgraded sound system will encourage students to choose the "image quality of film" over TV and a VCR.
"A lot is lost when a movie is transferred to video, and not just detail -- the experience is different. Consider the difference in seeing a movie like 2001 or Titanic stretching across Rm 26-100 versus on your TV," he said. "LSC movies are one of the few social events that bring thousands of MIT students together. Watching Good Will Hunting in a room with hundreds of other students was much more entertaining than just seeing it on tape."
LSC movies are shown on most Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings. Admission is $2.50 for the MIT community; LSC members get in free. The fall schedule can be found at the LSC web site.
Anyone (students, faculty or staff) interested in joining the LSC to help out with publicity, film projection, refreshments, ticket sales or the lecture series -- in exchange for free admission to movies -- should send e-mail to email@example.com.
"We always need new members," said Mr. Floyd. "They keep graduating on us."
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 16, 1998.