Jake Conrad

Jake Conrad
Blog dedicated to my writing and whatever else I want: movies, games, books, electronics, music, ... anything Jake. The interior of my mind is a mixture of grindhouse, steampunk, Lovecraft, and 80's pop. Be very afraid.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

This Film Has Been Modified By Hitler To Fit Your TV

If you hate the "black bars" on the top and bottom of your TV screen when you watch DVDs at home you have to read this article.

Many people get upset each time they watch a "widescreen" movie because:
1) they think that the image has been smashed into a rectangle.
2) they think that the image has been cropped or cut to form a rectangle.
3) they feel ripped off when there are black bars on the top and bottom of the movie they are watching because they aren't using all of their HDTV's real estate.

If you feel this way, my goal is to help you understand why movies, especially movies on DVD are shown in a letterbox or widescreen format, and help you feel good about watching movies like this, in spite of your above grievances. This article will not go into deep geeky detail on this subject, as their are other websites set up for this purpose. I'm writing this the same way I have explained countless times to family and friends who don't understand widescreen and who are always on the lookout for pan-in-scan copies of their favorite movies.

It comes down to this. When you go to the movie theater and watch a movie, what shape is the movie screen? It is a rectangle. When you watch a movie on a regular TV it is more of a square shape. There are only 2 options for playing a rectangular movie on a square TV. You can either shrink the rectangle so it fits on the right and left side of the screen leaving black space above and below the picture (widescreen/letterbox), or you can zoom in on a square-shaped portion of the rectangular screen and focus on most important part of the movie, allowing the rest to be cut out (pan-in-scan).

Neither option is perfect. With widescreen, you get to see the movie the way you would have seen it in the theater, but if you have a small TV (19"), it may be difficult to see everything without sitting right in front of it. With pan-in-scan you are definitely not seeing the movie the way it was shown in the theater, and may be missing part of screen that would add depth and scale to the shot. For example, in one of my Mom's favorite movies, The Sound of Music, you can see the difference from the widescreen theatrical screenshots, and the "This Film Has Been Modified To Fit Your TV" version. I know it is still the same show, but wouldn't you rather see the whole movie? Why let some TV guy with a square cardboard cut-out decide what parts of the movie he thinks looks better for you?

Most people own a TV that is at least 27" or bigger anymore. On a TV this size you can see the movie just fine. If you have a way to block the light in the room it looks even better, like you got an upper bowl seat at the theater. If you get an HDTV, chances are it will be a widescreen tv, and it minimizes the black bars even more.

Most important is that you buy into the fact that if you watch a movie in pan-in-scan, you are missing part of the movie. You may say, "Who cares if I can't see the 25th soldier in the line of soldiers?" I say if you are going to watch a film, watch it the way it was filmed. In new movies like the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, where much of the movie is created by computer, you can't tell me that the filmmakers are happy with a pan-in-scan version of their show that cuts out the epic battles and computer generated landscapes and characters.

If you want to see more examples of what I'm talking about, go to this website:

Click on the links and check them out and tell me you can't see a difference.

By the way, this ongoing battle between people who like widescreen movies and those that don't is officially at an end, as the cutting edge technology of bluray only releases widescreen copies of the movie. It stands to reason that if you want to see a copy of a movie thousands of times sharper than a vhs copy, you may want to see the whole movie. Still, I offer this humble explanation so that people can enjoy the movies they buy and rent a little more without grumbling about the "stupid black bars".

1 comment:

  1. thanks Jake, I appreciate your explanation of wide screen versus my TV. That is why we have a theatre room. And it is kind of like the sound thing. If you want to watch something and just hear what is going on, then watch a TV, but if you want to FEEL the movie or show, come on down to our theatre room with Bose speakers. It doesn't get any better than that (unless you have popcorn, M&Ms, drinks and your honey by your side!