One of the subjects people love to bring up to me is how awful it is going out to movies these days.

Not that everyone doesn't appreciate the big picture, great stereo and comfortable seats provided by many of our local theaters, but there are some distinct disadvantages that seem to be sending more and more moviegoers to their friendly neighborhood video rental stores.Everyone has a horror story about theater-going designed to make you cringe as they defend renting movies over attending them in movie houses. And believe me, movie critics aren't immune to such experiences.

In fact, since I see nearly all the new movies in theaters, most with audiences, I am all too aware of the inherent problems.

Though people would never dream of doing so at an opera or symphony or play, it's amazing how many moviegoers carry on full conversations while the movie is in progress, loudly munch on popcorn, crunch ice, unwrap candy bars, allow babies to cry in the auditorium without any thought of taking them into the lobby until they settle down, pop open soda cans, allow their watches to beep, drop mini-bottles - and then get annoyed if you let them know they are disturbing you.

But those problems can at least be dismissed as isolated incidents of rudeness. Much more annoying are problems caused by the theaters themselves.

This came to mind when I went to see "Halloween 5" a week ago at the Century Theaters on 3300 South.

To digress a moment, and at the risk of sounding like I'm picking on the Century, I'm not sure I've ever attended a movie there without witnessing a technical problem.

Now I've seen breakdowns and mixed-up reels and burned-out lights and lots of other difficulties at virtually every other theater in town at one time or another. But I've also had good experiences at all of them.

But the Century is more consistent - there's a problem there every time I go.

Recent examples: At the radio-promoted screening of "Chances Are," the film went in and out of focus during at least half the presentation. At a private screening of "Vice Versa" the film went out of frame twice and both times I had to go in the lobby and get someone to fix it. When the reissue of "The Manchurian Candidate" played exclusively at the Century, the first 10 minutes of the film had a black hole in the middle of the print.

So it was with trepidation Friday the 13th - an omen to be sure - that I decided to attend the 2 p.m. matinee of "Halloween 5" at the Century.

My worst fears began to be realized when I arrived at the theaters at 1:45 and saw that "Halloween 5" was not on either of the marquees (the five Century auditoriums are shared by two buildings across the street from each other). Had I made a mistake? No, the ad in the paper reassured me a 2 p.m. "Halloween 5" showing was scheduled.

So I went up to the theater's locked doors, knocked and asked the young woman who responded if they were showing the film I needed to see. "It's over there," she said, pointing to the theater across the street.

That theater was also locked up, however. After knocking, a young woman there assured me the theater would open in a few minutes.

Needless to say the 2 p.m. matinee was delayed, but when the film finally started there seemed to be no problems - until about halfway through. The picture went out of frame and stayed that way.

Worse, however, was what happened at the film's conclusion. It was the last scene, the identity of a mysterious stranger was about to be revealed in the Haddonfield jail - suddenly the screen went blank and the house lights came up.

An audience member left the auditorium to tell the employees in the lobby and soon someone was in the projection booth attending to the problem. After a full 15 minutes the film came back on, played for about 30 seconds and shut down again. Another 10 minutes and it finally came on once more - showing the end credits.

What happened?

I don't know what happened at the end of the movie, but I did manage to find out what happened in the theater.

Catherine Withers, the 18-year-old temporary manager of the theater (the previous 10-year manager recently quit), said a pin in the projection platter broke, jamming the projector. And once the reels of film are unwound onto a platter it can't be rewound until the movie runs all the way through. So there was no way to go back and run what was missed, unless the audience wanted to sit through the entire film a second time.

No thanks.

But Withers' explanation of the problems inherent to running a theater sound all too familiar. There are no projectionists at the Century. The manager and her assistant managers start the films, then attend to other duties.

"We don't have anybody watching the film," she explained. "And all the equipment is old, so these things happen sometimes."

Since no one is in the projection booth the only way employees know when a problem occurs is when paying customers come out and complain.

Sometimes the manager or assistant managers, who have received minimal training in repairing projectors, struggle to fix the breakdowns, but sometimes a repairman must be called in.

As for the other problems that day, Withers said the reason the theaters were late opening had to do with a communication problem; the California home office didn't tell them there would be matinees that Friday, a day off for students in Salt Lake schools. So when she saw the ad in the paper, Withers hurriedly gathered employees together at the last minute.

And why didn't the marquee show "Halloween 5"? Neglect on the part of one of Withers' assistants who should have changed it the night before.

But the lack of projectionists is the most serious problem here - and not just at the Century.

Once I was watching a film at the Mann 6 Plaza on 5400 South when a film broke down. I went out and told the candy girl, but they had to wait until the one employee who could operate the projection booth returned to the theater. He had gone to lunch! Fifteen minutes later he returned and got it going again.

Then there was the run of "Lawrence of Arabia" at Cineplex Odeon's Regency Theater earlier this year. A 70mm lens apparently went bad and for most of the film's run part of the picture was out of focus.

You hear a lot these days about how movie theaters want to lure audiences away from watching videos at home with new seats, "hot" sound systems and big screens. And it's true that the new Cineplex Odeon theaters are very comfortable, and the sound system at Cinemark's Movies 7 is impeccable and most theaters these days take pains to clean up the auditoriums between shows so your feet don't stick to the floor.

But the quality of the motion picture presentation itself still needs to be a top priority. No amount of creature comforts or real butter will bring moviegoers back if they think they aren't going to experience the movie at its best.