People who like the Transformers movies (myself included) may not be the brightest bulbs, but Michael Bay says we at least deserve to have them in the projectors showing his film.

The moviemaker has been lobbying theater companies to turn up the brightness of their projector bulbs to make Transformers: Dark of the Moon look better in 3-D, since the stereoscopic presentation absorbs more light than traditional projection and can lead to a dimmer image. (The polarized glasses exacerbate the problem, adding another level of filtration to the process.)

Meanwhile, Paramount Pictures has taken the added step of shipping an extra-bright digital “print” of the film to about 2,000 theaters showing it in the RealD 3-D format. “We want the best presentation possible,” Bay told Variety. “We have created a special version with extra sharpening, color and contrast.” (The director was in Moscow for the premiere of the movie and unavailable for additional comment.)

The issue arises as 3-D — once heralded as a way to reinvigorate the moviegoing experience (not to mention combat piracy) — has, well, faded in popularity. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Kung Fu Panda and Green Lantern have had middling 3-D earnings domestically, though the process seems to be holding up well overseas (for now.) Still, moviegoers have grumbled about the added cost as well as the quality, since some movies merely reprocess a 2-D image into a 3-D one. Then there’s the brightness issue.

Why would a theater be reluctant to pump up the wattage? It’s because the bulbs can average around $3,200 or run as high as $5,700 and burn out after about 500 screenings, which adds up quickly at a multiplex. Keeping the bulbs dim may lengthen their lifespans slightly, though film critics routinely complain it’s not worth it if that lifespan is full of muddy, underlit movies.

Patrick Corcoran, spokesman for the National Association of Theater Owners, says dealing with new technology is a work in progress. “3D is a new and exciting technology and exhibitors are striving to adapt to the new challenges it presents,” he said. “Exhibitors I have spoken to are committed to giving every film — not just Transformers 3 — the best possible presentation.”

Of course, no one cops to bad projection. And it can be a hard thing to police, since moviegoers may not be aware of how a film should look if they’re seeing it for the first time, and only the most egregious underlighting might be obvious to the untrained eye. In keeping with the Transformers theme, Bay just wants to make sure more meets that eye.

And if not? Perhaps Optimus Prime can show up and flash his high beams?

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