Students can give the new ‘Splinter Cell’ a test run today

Fans of the “Splinter Cell” franchise will have the opportunity to check out the latest installment in the series Friday at the Ohio Union.

A launch event for “Splinter Cell: Conviction” will be held in the Ohio Union’s Round Meeting Room Friday from 6 p.m. until 9 p.m.

The event will feature a playable version of “Splinter Cell: Conviction” in single player and multiplayer modes, as well as a gaming tournament, raffle, trivia, food and prizes.

“We’re having [the event] on campus to get students more interested and be able to come out and have fun,” said Jeana Howald, campus representative for Ubisoft at Ohio State and a fifth-year in strategic communications.

“We’re really excited,” she said. “This is our first official event at Ohio State.”

“Splinter Cell: Conviction,” the fifth game in the “Splinter Cell” series, was released in North America on April 13. The game was developed and published by Ubisoft and is available on Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows and iPhone.

“There’s a lot of tactics and there’s a lot of strategy in the game,” Howald said. “It’s a lot more for the player to decide how to go about certain combats … it’s pretty exciting.”

Friday’s event is sponsored by Game Creation Club in partnership with Ubisoft at Ohio State.

Game Creation Club is a student organization designed to “facilitate the interest, research and development of video games and the game industry,” according to the group’s Web site.

“We see the event as a great way to provide fun, entertainment, excitement and the college favorites: contests and giveaways,” said Jim Pickett, adviser for Game Creation Club and a fourth-year in art and technology, in an e-mail.

Meanwhile, Ubisoft at Ohio State is also planning a launch event for “Ghost Recon: Future Soldier” this fall, though the game will appear at Friday’s event.

“There’s a beta on the disc for ‘Splinter Cell: Conviction’ that allows you to play — for the first time it’s been available — the new ‘Ghost Recon: Future Solider,’” Howald said.

Other partners for the launch event include Rogue Media Gaming, GameStop and Columbus Ohio Retro Gaming Society.

[This story ran online for The Lantern on April 16, 2010. Click here.]

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‘Late Night Movies’ selects comic book theme

Cinema’s most popular superheroes are returning to the big screen at Gateway Film Center.

The “Late Night Movies” series at Gateway Film Center will be screening comic book and superhero films every Friday and Saturday in April. Admission is $5 and all screenings begin at midnight.

“It’s a great tradition with a lot of the movie houses we admire,” said Melissa Starker, sales and marketing manager for Gateway Film Center. “A lot of great theaters have a history with late-night shows, and it just happens to work out that late-night business here is really good.”

Films screened in the series are part of a monthly theme based on what new releases are scheduled.

“It gives us a chance to try to think up some fun things and movies that people would really like to see again,” Starker said.

Past themes include Tim Burton films for the release of his remake of “Alice in Wonderland,” and “Nightmares on High Street” featuring horror films to promote the release of “Nightmare on Elm Street.”

Once a theme is chosen, Gateway Film Center staff pick the films that will be screened.

“We just kind of start from [a theme] and brainstorm what we think people would really like to see again,” Starker said.

Comic book and superhero films were chosen for April to promote the upcoming comic-based films “Kick-Ass” and “Iron Man 2.” “Kick-Ass” hits theaters April 16 and “Iron Man 2” will be released May 7.

Films screening in April include “The Dark Knight,” “Sin City,” “Spider-Man” and “Hellboy.”

With “Iron Man 2” scheduled for release in May, Gateway Film Center attempted to screen “Iron Man” as part of the series, but was unable to secure the rights.

“Usually with movies if they’ve got a sequel coming out or a remake coming out, the original is kind of hard to get your hands on,” Starker said.

Gateway Film Center also attempts to project prints of the films, but that is not always possible. Some films don’t have a quality print available. Others have been released on the high-definition Blu-ray format.

“Evil Dead,” which was screened as part of the “Nightmares on High Street” month, featured a new 35-millimeter print. However, Gateway Film Center resorted to a Blu-ray projection of “The Dark Knight.”

“A lot of times, if you’re looking at a movie that’s more than ten years old, you can show it on 35 [millimeter], but that 35-millimeter print is going to be in pretty rough shape,” Starker said. “We show stuff on Blu-ray, so that can look better.”

Success of “Late Night Movies” has prompted Gateway Film Center to continue the series into the upcoming months. Several possible themes in the works include a Quentin Tarantino month, a Coen brothers month and a mind games month to promote “Inception,” which hits theaters July 16.

The popularity of late-night shows is attributed to dynamic Columbus night life, Starker said.

“The weekend late-nights are among our strongest,” she said. “I think people in this town aren’t afraid of going out late at night.”

[This story ran in The Lantern on April 13, 2010. Click here.]

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‘Lost’ fans find common ground and common theater at Gateway

One of television’s most popular programs is getting silver-screen treatment.

Gateway Film Center is airing new episodes of “Lost” live on one of its big screens every Tuesday. Doors open at 8 p.m. and admission is free.

“We usually have [‘Lost’] in a theater that’s at least 100 seats,” said Melissa Starker, sales and marketing manager for Gateway Film Center.

Starker said screenings are regularly near capacity, and the season premiere was screened in a full 300-seat theater, complete with a bar and themed treats.

“We actually had a bar in the theater and a concession stand,” she said. “We also made ‘Lost’ cupcakes with sharks and planes crashing into them and things like that.”

“Lost” was chosen by Gateway Film Center over other shows because of its appeal to audiences.

Lost “just has a really, really strong connection with its audience,” Starker said. “It’s the kind of thing that feels like an event with every episode. And also with ‘Lost’ in particular, it’s just so beautifully shot … so it just makes sense to see it on the big screen.”

Last Tuesday’s episode drew 9.45 million viewers, putting “Lost” No. 3 in its time slot behind “American Idol” and “NCIS: Los Angeles.” The season premiere, however, garnered 12.1 million viewers, according to The Nielsen Company.

Fans of “Lost” are drawn to its various qualities, ranging from its character work to the show’s distinctive plot twists.

“I like ‘Lost’ because of its mature character development and the continuity of the story,” said Brian Kennedy, a graduate student in computer science. “A lot of shows are so episodic that there’s almost no meaning to watching a new episode.”

For Andrew Lin, a first-year in art, “Lost” is appealing because it is not predictable.

“It ends in a cliffhanger every episode so that just keeps it going,” he said. “And plus there’s all these crazy conspiracy things. That’s always fun.”

Many fans feel the Gateway Film Center offers a unique viewing environment and an ideal opportunity.

“It’s in a theater and it’s free,” Lin said.

For Kennedy, last Tuesday’s episode was his first “Lost” experience at Gateway Film Center.

“It’s the first time I’ve ever done it,” he said. “It sounds kick-ass.”

Beginning this week, Gateway Film Center will also be airing new episodes of “Glee” on its screens.

Doors will open at 8 p.m. Tuesdays, and the episodes will air at 9 p.m. However, this week’s episode airs at 9:30 p.m. Admission is free.

“It’s another one of those shows like ‘Lost’ where you mention it to people and they get so excited,” Starker said.

“Lost,” meanwhile, is currently in its sixth and final season. New episodes air at 9 p.m. Tuesdays on ABC, and the series finale is set for May 23.

[This story ran in The Lantern on April 13, 2010. Click here.]

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Columbus, campus react to ‘Tonight Show’ shake-up

As the late-night wars continue to shake out, Columbus viewers are taking sides.

On Jan. 15, NBC offered Conan O’Brien, then host of “The Tonight Show,” an ultimatum: move the show back 30 minutes to accommodate “The Jay Leno Show” at 11:35 p.m. or hit the road. O’Brien refused and was fired, airing his last episode on Jan. 22, putting Leno back at the helm of “The Tonight Show.”

Dan Bradley, vice president and general manager of WCMH, Columbus’ NBC affiliate, said the culprit for the move was falling ratings and revenue.

“Millions of dollars were being lost by the poor decision that was made somewhere to end Leno’s contract as early as it did, promote Conan as early as it did, and the absolutely crazy idea of putting Leno in at 10 p.m.,” he said. “I can’t give you a dollar figure, but our revenue numbers for the fourth quarter last year were down significantly. Some of that was economy driven. A lot of it was ratings driven.”

Bradley said O’Brien’s failure with “The Tonight Show” was a misunderstanding of his new audience.

“I think Conan’s mistake was that he brought all of the same writers and all of the same producers that produced his program at 12:30 a.m. in New York City,” Bradley said. “He just moved them all out to California and he basically tried to recreate what he did at 12:30 a.m. at 11:30 p.m. and that’s a significantly different audience.”

Despite failing to win over the 11:35 p.m. viewers, O’Brien’s fans have been making noise, staging rallies and bolstering support on the Internet. The “I’m with COCO” Facebook page, created by California-based graphic designer Mike Mitchell, has more than 980,000 members.

Loyalty among O’Brien’s fan base can be attributed to the intimacy of television, according to J. Max Robins, vice president and executive director of Industry Programs at the Paley Center for Media in New York.

“People don’t generally say, ‘I watch ‘The Tonight Show’ or ‘I watch ‘The Late Show.’ They say ‘I watch Letterman’ or ‘I watch Leno,’ or ‘I watch Conan,’” Robins said. “It’s almost like they develop an attachment to these people and you go to bed with these people.”

Nathan Varrone, a second-year English and theater major, and comedian in the 8th Floor Improv Comedy Group, has a strong affection for O’Brien.

“I have been a die-hard fan of Conan O’Brien since I was in the sixth grade,” Varrone said in an e-mail. “He was my first comedic influence and I honestly can say that I don’t know if I would be pursuing a career in the field of comedy if it weren’t for him.”

Varrone said O’Brien is respected among comedians because of his career path.

“Comedically, Conan is well respected because he started out as a writer,” he said. “He’s so respected by many younger comedians because he kept on being him.”

Though Leno continues to garner solid ratings, the show is struggling to win over younger viewers. Leno’s return to “The Tonight Show” on March 1 drew 1.6 million viewers ages 18-49, down 58 percent from O’Brien’s first episode of “The Tonight Show,” according to The Hollywood Reporter.

“I don’t like [Leno] as much as Conan because he uses a lot of stale jokes,” said John Na, a third-year art student.

Adam Reighley, a third-year hospitality management student, feels differently.

“I like [Leno’s] monologue at the beginning. I think that it’s witty and it’s not as out there as Conan,” Reighley said.

Though O’Brien’s settlement with NBC forbids him from hosting another television program until Sept. 1, fans are buzzing over O’Brien’s 30 city summer tour, titled “The Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour,” as well as talk that O’Brien is being recruited by Fox for a late-night program.

“Ideally, he’d be back on ‘The Tonight Show’ because it was his dream job,” Na said. “I guess Fox wants to pick him up.”

With Leno regaining the No. 1 spot for “The Tonight Show” in late-night ratings, NBC now faces the prospect of rebuilding its programming in the prized prime-time block. For the week ending March 14, only one NBC program, “The Office,” cracked the top 20 in prime-time ratings, according to Nielsen Co. data.

NBC “still has to come up with some consistent, stronger programming for the most important time period here, the 10 p.m. hour,” Bradley said. “That’s a much bigger problem for NBC.”

[This story ran in The Lantern on March 31, 2010 but was not posted on the Web site.]

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Columbus video stores seeing success

Columbus video stores are weathering closures and boosting earnings, despite shifts in technology and consumer preferences.

Blockbuster Inc. will close 960 stores by the end of 2010, according to a September document filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Movie Gallery Inc., owners of Hollywood Video, will file for bankruptcy and close 1,000 stores, according to a Jan. 28 article in The Wall Street Journal.

Despite widespread closures, Columbus video rental stores are prospering.

“Out of our district, we’ve been No. 1 in productivity,” said Shawn Bugler, assistant store director for Hollywood Video at 6939 E. Broad St. “But 2 to 3 years ago we were in worse shape, when we had to cut man hours, store hours, and even close stores. Now there [are] far less stores being closed.”

Justin Williams, store manager for Family Video at 5540 N. High St., says the company continues to expand.

“We continue to open new stores,” said Williams. “But clearly [the rental business] is getting more competitive and that’s going to hurt.”

Offering unlimited DVD rentals starting at $8.99 a month, Netflix Inc., based in Los Gatos, Calif., has become the world’s largest rental subscription service. In 2009, Netflix expanded its customer base to 12.3 million, up 31 percent from 2008, and improved revenue 22 percent to $1.67 billion, according to a press release.

Steve Swasey, vice president of corporate communications for Netflix, said the company attracts customers with convenience and selection.

“It’s much more convenient to rent movies over the Internet and have them delivered wherever you want,” said Swasey. “We have over 100,000 titles and no late fees.”

Redbox, a Coinstar Inc. subsidiary based in Oakbrook Terrace, Ill., is a kiosk service that offers $1 rentals from over 22,000 locations worldwide.

In 2009, Redbox saw third-quarter revenue rise to $198.1 million, up 90 percent from the previous year, according to a Nov. 5 article in The Los Angeles Times. There are 50 Redbox locations within 9 miles of campus.

“Redbox has created an incredibly efficient business model,” said Redbox spokesman Chris Goodrich. “We’re able to pass savings on to the customer where other business models can’t because there’s more cost involved.”

To keep pace with the competition, Hollywood Video is focusing on value and customer service.

“Our entire collection is down to $1,” said Bugler. “But the actual in-store service has to improve to keep [people] coming back.”

Family Video attributes its success to the company’s business model.

“By purchasing our property, we limit the expenses,” said Williams. “We purchase movies outright through wholesale distributors and rent them out at $3 per night. By the end of the first month, we make money on the disc.”

In an effort to boost revenue, Blockbuster plans to roll out 10,000 kiosk locations by the end of this year, as well as developing the “Total Access” by-mail rental program, according to the company’s Web site. A spokesperson for the Blockbuster location at 2550 N. High St. declined to comment.

Despite solid numbers, local stores acknowledge that existing stores must adapt to survive.

“I believe that brick-and-mortar stores will definitely have a place in the future,” said Williams. “But I think that to survive in the distant future, they would have to have some kind of digital delivery, because in reality, DVD and Blu-ray has a limited lifespan.”

[This story ran online for The Lantern on Feb. 19, 2010. Click here.]

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Avatar rejuvenates Columbus box offices

“Avatar” continues to rewrite record books and Columbus-area cinemas are reaping the benefits.

Due to inflated ticket prices and the additional costs of 3-D and IMAX tickets, “Avatar” is bringing big business to movie theaters. According to BoxOfficeMojo.com, James Cameron’s sci-fi smash has grossed over $1.6 billion as of Jan. 18, second only to Cameron’s 1998 hit “Titanic” on the all-time worldwide chart.

“About 75 percent of its gross has been strictly from 3-D theaters,” said Drake Whitacre, manager at Movie Tavern 12 Mill Run in Hilliard.

Most cinemas add an additional charge to the price of a ticket for 3-D, usually to cover the cost of the 3-D glasses. At Movie Tavern and Starplex Cinemas, the fee is $2. Despite the fee and a weak economy, Joe Strausser, manager of Rave Motion Pictures 18 at Polaris, said sales are still strong.

“The 3-D tends to sell more tickets than the 2-D version,” Strausser said.

The winter months tend to be barren for the box office as December is usually set aside by studios for award-season fare while big-budget blockbusters are typically relegated to the summer months. Though “Avatar” continues to rewrite box office records, it’s proven to be a critic’s darling as well, earning an 82 percent on RottenTomatoes.com as well as taking home the crown for Best Drama at Sunday’s Golden Globes.

“Usually around Christmas time [the studios] try to put good movies out,” said manager Jeri Hull of Starplex Cinemas on Westpointe Plaza Drive. “This winter is no different.”

“Avatar” has bolstered winter sales and led the charge in making last month the highest-grossing December ever at the box office, garnering nearly $1.1 billion in revenue, streaking past the December 2007 record of $993 million.

“A lot of people have been coming to see [‘Avatar’] and they’ve come back to see something else,” Strausser said. “This winter is going pretty well.”

To keep up with “Avatar” demand, Movie Tavern is dumping “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel” off one of its screens, a film that Box Office Mojo says has earned $354 million to date.

“We will have ‘Avatar’ back on two full screens,” Whitacre said. “Adding two more shows in the morning time and one in the evening will definitely help it out.”

Even a month after its release, “Avatar” sales are going strong, displaying a replay value that could give the film a chance to topple the reign of “Titanic” as king of the box office. As it stands, “Avatar” has grossed $505 million in North America through 32 days of release, $263 million ahead of where “Titanic” was at the same point, according to BoxOfficeMojo.com.

The difference for “Avatar” is that “Titanic” sat at the No. 1 spot in North America for an unprecedented 15 weeks. “Avatar” has only been there for five.

Jeff Bock, box-office analyst for Exhibitor Relations Co., said “Titanic” will be downed by the end of January.

“James Cameron will surely sink his own ship with ‘Avatar,’” Bock said in an e-mail. “Cameron is not only the king of the world, but the emperor of the third dimension … a title he won’t relinquish any time soon.”

[This story ran online for The Lantern on Jan. 22, 2010. Click here.]

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