By James DeRuvo (doddleNEWS)
Although broadcasters spend billions on programming, you’d think that they would pay extra attention to how that programming is shown on the our home TV screens. But one filmmaker says that movie channels and other TV broadcasters are ruining the movies they show due to outdated thinking about aspect ratio on televisions.
With seconds of watching Star Wars The Force Awakens streaming on Starz, I turned it off because they weren’t showing the entire movie. They had 2 hours and 15 minutes of the movie, but they were not showing the whole thing.
Taking to his Youtube channel to vent his frustration, filmmaker Patrick Willems (who refers to himself as the Terrence Malick of YouTube) thinks that HBO, Starz and others are still broadcasting films with the old zoom to fit technique known as “pan and scan.” Forget about the fact that broadcasters are still using 1080i or even 720p in a 4K world. Willems says the great sin is still using that popular technique of zooming in to fit that was popular back in the days when TVs were 4:3, and not the widescreen 16:9 design of today.
Back before the advent of widescreen TVs, broadcasters would simply zoom in the wide screen cinematic image of the original film to fill the entire screen. The problem was that when a movie was rented or sold as a home video, studios would place black bars on the top and bottom, which was known as “letterboxing.” That at least gives filmmakers an image that was closer to their 2.35:1 aspect ratio a film was originally shown in, but that also could be seen on older 4:3 TV screens.
Once widescreen HDTVs became the standard, it seemed that those dark times were behind us.
Over time, film fans became acclimated to letter boxing and even preferred it over traditional video and DVD versions using pan and scan. Letter boxing gave the viewer an experience that much closer to what was seen in the theater.
Pan and scan, by contrast, would take the experienced movie goer out of the film as it became obvious that something was missing. I remember watching Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade on TV back in the day, and there was a scene where villain Water Donovan (Julian Glover) declared that “Germany has declared war on the Jones boys.” If you hadn’t seen the film in theaters, you would have missed Gestapo General Vogel smiling and laughing with glee and not even known it.
Tons of people are watching these damaged, incomplete versions without knowing it, and film fans like me simply don’t watch them, because we know what’s been done to it.
So it’s clear that pan and scan makes the viewer miss elements of a scene that the filmmaker meant to be seen in widescreen. So why is HBO, Hulu, Starz and other broadcasters still broadcast using pan and scan? That’s the question that Willem wants the answer to. Willem isn’t sure if broadcasters are licensing the so-called “airline versions” of films that are shown on smaller screens, or if they’re making the change on their own. Or maybe the studios are just giving them the airline versions because they are already edited for time.
I don’t know who exactly is making these decisions, it’s bad and it needs to stop.
But one thing is certain, pan and scan on broadcast television is unnecessary in a widescreen world, and it’s ruining the movie experience for both filmmaker and film fan. To that end, Willems is waging a crusade to get broadcasters to stop the practice. He wants fans to tweet broadcasters like HBO, Stars, and Hulu and tell them to stop it. Until then, fans have little options other than to rent the full versions of their favorite films and stream them as the director intended, in widescreen.