No, They’re Not “Black Bars!”

I am so fed up with the slack-jawed, uneducated, beer-belching video buying masses who think “FULL FRAME” is the best video format because it gets rid of “them black bars.”And the film industry isn’t helping any, either. Believe me, they know better, but are petrified that weening Joe Six-Pack from his cropped Pan-N-Scan movies will brutalize their bottomline. If they’d just stop releasing DVDs in two formats and get rid of PNS (Pan-n-scan) altogether, the public would come around in no time. You notice that you can’t buy the James Bond films on Betamax anymore? Where’s outcry? Exactly. Just release what’s right and the public will buy it. Sure, they’ll bitch for a little while because they think you’ve “cut off the top n’ bottom of my moovie,” but finally they’ll buy the correct aspect widescreen versions, lest they be without the latest trailer-window-rattling explosion-packed blockbuster in their video collection. Stop confusing the dumbed-down populace by giving them a choice of aspect ratios — they’re not smart enough to figure out which one is accurate and future-proofed.

And this accuracy isn’t just my opinion, it’s a matter of what the director intended. The whole debate is often summed up with the question of Original Aspect Ratio (OAR), which is the proportion of width to height which the director intended when framing shots, shooting them and then editing them together. When films are modified via any method to conform to the shape of a standard 4:3 television, you are always changing the intent of the material. Always. There are several methods of doing this which I won’t try to explain here but they all involve changing the film, and the predominant method of change is by simply chopping off 30-50% of the image and zooming in on the middle of the frame.

Take a look at the image on the left and imagine this sort of blasphemy being applied to other things we hold dear. You wouldn’t mask off the sides of the Sistine Chapel ceiling or rip the ends off of your $20 bill, now would you? Then why should it be okay to obliterate a widescreen film?

Try as I might, I just can’t understand why anyone would voluntarily choose to watch only the middle 55% of a movie just to fill up their TV. That’s like buying a 12-inch Sub and throwing away all but the middle 6 inches because the ends won’t fit in your hand!

Maybe, as I mentioned above, it’s just because they’re uneducated as to what’s going on with the whole conversion to video (even more reason that we shouldn’t give them the choice in the first place). Not only are the widescreen releases faithful to the director’s composition, but are the version which will be best viewed on tomorrow’s TVs. And you know, these are going to be the same people who are raising a stink when they buy that new widescreen TV and those full frame DVDs are all stretched out or have black bars on the left & right. And this goes not just for PNS but also for open matte titles.

And to those who are bothered by the “black bars” generated on 4:3 TVs from the letterboxing process, let me ask this: What the hell are you doing looking at the black bars?! You do understand that the movie is that bright area with moving pictures going on between the black bars, right?

Seriously, do you go to a theater and stare at the floor and complain that the picture isn’t projected down there? The reason you don’t notice “black bars” in a theater is becuase the screen’s width is variable depending on the aspect ratio of the film being shown. Your TV just doesn’t have that ability. I say, if you’re staring at the blackness, you must not be watching the movie. Just try watching the movie and believe me, you will (or should be) be absorbed and forget there’s anything above & below it. If you’re not, then try buying a good movie.

And finally, if you just can’t wrap your head around the idea that widescreen releases of films are not only the more accurate way to see a movie in your home, and you just can’t stop staring at the black bars, at least do a little sound financial planning: Buy a DVD player with the zoom function and buy widescreen discs to watch on your 4:3 TV. That way you can blissfully watch the middle half of movies now, and you won’t have to re-purchase those movies to watch them correctly on your future widescreen set.

Then the film companies can stop producing multiple versions of films, thus reducing the production costs and eventually the price of DVDs, and with the money you save you can buy more beer and new tires for your house.

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