Friday, October 14, 2005

iRant: Widescreen vs. Pan and Scan (Fullscreen)

This post was going to be an eyeCandy segment about the Interpreter (2005, 4/5, taut political thriller revolving around a UN interpreter and the assassination of an African dictator - Nicole Kidman, Sean Penn, both of whom are great here). However, when I watched the special features, I noticed that director Sydney Pollack had a five minute segment dedicated to his thoughts on widescreen vs. pan and scan. It was quite powerful and I was glad to hear someone speak out about this (beyond me ranting in my local video store :-) ).

First, let me explain for those of you who don't know, that pan and scan is the method used to format a movie filmed in widescreen so that it will play fullscreen on a regular television (which has a different aspect ration than widescreen). It involves some tech guy (basically) going through the movie, cutting off the edges of the widescreen and thereby focusing the camera where he thinks the action is. As the great Mr. Pollack explains, he has no issues with movies filmed in fullscreen. However, when he films in widescreen, he is telling the story through a different lens (literally). Each scene is carefully framed to contain a broader range of images (since it extends further out to the sides), and this is an integral part of achieving the director's vision of the movie. For someone else, someone who is typically, as I said, just some tech guy (i.e. not the director, not the cinematographer, not the editor), to come along and reinterpret this vision by reframing each and every scene so that it fits the fullscreen ratio (and thereby contains only a bit over half of the original image) is obscene. For them to then put the director's name back on the film, repackage it, and send it out for viewing is just wrong - it's no longer the director's vision, it's his vision interpreter through someone else.

I always look for widescreen versions of movies. Just watch for the panning and scanning in a fullscreen movie and you'll see why - a conversation framed between two still figures sitting on either side of the widescreen becomes a jolting back and forth of the camera in the pan and scan version. I want to see these movies how the director wanted me to see them - I want to see the whole picture (again, literally). Not only does it pay respect to the efforts of those directors filming in widescreen, as far as I'm concerned it is a much richer experience. Hopefully the increasingly common widescreen televisions will make this a thing of the past. And if you don't want the picture that small - buy a bigger TV ;-) .
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10/14/2005 08:44:00 p.m.  


Blogger Nate said...


I have been going on about pan and scan/widescreen in relation to movies for probably the last 20 years.
People around me normally look puzzled.
I am routinely setting up people's new widescreen TVs, DVD players and cable/sat boxes to the right settings :(

...and the reverse is now annoying me...

Most TV programs in the UK are now made in 16:9. If they are showing archive (4:3) footage they tend to zoom in on the middle section of the 4:3 image!
WTF! Just put some sort of border at the sides and keep the original format!

The most recent example of this was a documentary about dance that showed a lot of early African American dancers doing tap and jive etc...
... except you could not see their head or their feet!!!
Doesn't anyone watch this stuff prior to broadcast!

October 15, 2005 12:30 p.m.  
Anonymous Ness said...

In the new series "My Name Is Earl" there was an easter egg for the high-def viewers. Only those with the larger widescreen displays were able to see it.

The lowly common man still stealing cable needs to see it on the Internet. :)

It was pretty higly dugg, and I'd expect it to be covered on diggnation.

October 15, 2005 5:20 p.m.  
Blogger Nate said...

I heard that.
It sounds like the sort of thing that I would do.
It was covered in last week's diggnation :)

October 17, 2005 5:20 a.m.  
Blogger Jeff MacArthur said...

Spread the word, my friends - make sure your video stores order in widescreen additions, help those who are ignorant of the glories of widescreen viewing, and convince people to think of those black bars as just the border on their temporarily widescreen TV sets ;-) .

November 05, 2005 12:09 p.m.  

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