Be warned, this is a pretty dry article about my feelings on the way that certain Blu-ray and DVD releases have dealt with aspect ratios. If you’re intrigued, read on, if you bore easily… A review might be for you…
Back in January 2006, the Region 1 release of Andrew Niccol’s, Lord Of War hit the shelves with a strange and slightly disturbing feature. The original 2.35:1 aspect ratio had been changed to 1.78:1, with a claim that the film was originally shot in that ratio and later cropped for theatres. They went on to say that this was the start of a new trend in movie making, with filming in the 1.78:1 television format and the cropping the image for the cinema to both restore the image later and to present films in a more palatable format for the Home Cinema audience.
My view is well-known and goes something like this: – Back in the days of Video, when widescreen was becoming more readily used, I maxed out my collection. I, then went over to Laserdisc in 1998, mainly because of its almost exclusive use of widescreen and that’s before I knew about the vast improvement of Audio/Visual quality offered by the format.
In little over a year, DVD arrived and by late 1999, I have my first player and my plans to continue upgrading went on, with the release of more obscure widescreen features, such as Capricorn One and Waterloo. My point is that cinephiles like myself have striven for the accurate reproduction of films for decades and now, at a time when we live in what may well be the Home Cinema heyday, we’re beginning to compromise that standard with some of the decades biggest releases.
The first instance of this problem growing was in the Blu-ray release of The Dark Knight which was presented in two formats, changing throughout the film. This was to accommodate the scenes which had been shot in Imax’s 1.44:1 ratio, but this was interspersed with the theatrical frame shape of 2:35:1, but even they was presented on the disc in an inaccurate but again, more palatable 1.78:1. The idea is to preserve the shots with all the high-definition detail captured with the 70mm Imax format, and hat’s off to them for the effort, but this is NOT an option, this is shoe-horned into the film, whether you like it or not.
The DVD version, more properly plays the film out in 2:35:1 and then offers these sequences as a special feature but shows them in the correct format, 1;44:1. This in my view, makes the DVD the best version of the film in terms of content. There is a benefit though to showing the Imax scenes like this there’s no doubt, as the image filling the screen, even if the original format is still cropped, does lend weight to the significant definition of the shots, but shouldn’t Blu-ray be offering choice?
Then came the 2010 releases of the 3D epic, Avatar. James Cameron shot this in a native ratio of 1.78:1 for Imax presentations, then cropped the image for conventional theatrical releases to 2:35:1. This is because this is the largest screen size available in theatres, besides Imax of course and this was the best and most enveloping format for the grand 3D performances.
The Blu-Ray/DVD opted for 1.78:1, which is the full image, there’s no doubting that, but it does still annoy me as this is not the format that I was saw in the cinema and as a bit of a perfectionist, I’m not so sure that any 2D presentation of the film was every shown in 1:78:1. This means that at home, we’re effectively watching a 2D pretension of the 3D Imax print.
Again, I must admit, that as 1:78:1 is the largest home cinema screen format, that this is in keeping with the spirit of the ratio selection by Cameron and his crew, always opting for the biggest, brightest and most effective formats for each type of presentation, but I want to see it as it would have been presented theatrically and this is starting to look like a step back towards Pan and Scan, the crude format used to reformat widescreen to 4:3 televisions of days gone by.
Later in 2010, Christopher Nolan’s smash hit, Inception hit the cinemas and again, like his 2008 masterpiece, The Dark Knight, several scenes were shot in Imax. So you can imagine my trepidation as the Blu-ray was released in the December, but to my relief, it was all formatted in 2:35:1. The film looked stunning, both at the digital cinema’s presentation and my own projector without the restored Imax footage so this is surely the way to go.
But then there was that blip a few months ago, where I believe though must admit, I haven’t seen this first hand, the Ryan Reynolds starrer, Buried was released on Blu-ray in 1.78:1 rather than the theatrical 2:35:1. This is more in keeping though with Lord Of War’s logic but it’s unclear. I suspect that it may well be a case that the decision was taken to enhance the home viewing as this, by my understanding takes place entirely, or almost entirely within the confines of a coffin, so increasing the screen size may have been thought of as fairer and easier to view for the home audience. Still, I don’t approve and it has put me off at little as this is the most obvious case for a move backwards towards Pan and Scan that I have seen so far.
And last but not least, we have Tron: Legacy, which has come out this week. Tron: Legacy was one of the tent pole 3D releases of last year and for all its faults and that fact that the 3D was a little light, yet effective, this was a feast of audio/visual action.
So, as you can no doubt imagine, that when I went to order this it became clear that this, like The Dark Knight, had its Imax shots presented in 1.78:1, whilst the rest of the film was 2:35:1. Now, from my understanding, the Blu-ray 3D issue has tall the 3D sequences on the grid as 1:78:1, whilst the 2D are 2:35:1, but the 2D release has it interspersed throughout. Now if the 3D issue’s choice was the same as the 2D then it would make more sense and be more palatable, as this would be in keeping with the spirit of the film’s original presentation, which was supposed to mirror the Wizard Of Oz’s reveal, as the it transformed from sepia to Technicolor, 2D to 3D in the case of Tron: Legacy.
So, if they are trying to say that to get the best out of the 3D sequences that the bigger image is better, which is fair comment, then going down the route that Avatar did with a complete 1.78:1 presentation my be better, as long as this is the native resolution. Tron: Legacy 3D’s choice to present The Grid sequences in 1:78:1 is fair based on that, but the 2D, which I have yet to see, seems to have missed the point, presuming that we want to see the Imax framing, which I would suspect that few others do either.
Overall, Pan and Scan was a practical tool to present Cinema-Scope films on a 1:33:1 television screen and did nothing for the truth of the film, nor its presentation. We have got past all this bastardisation of films, past colorisation, though the conversion of 2D films to 3D, such as the impending The Lion King and Beauty And The Beast to name two, is setting that argument back a bit, and it seems that we may be on the precipice of pleasing the masses, who have gotten used to black lines now, at the expense of the film buffs, Home Cinema fans and those who believe in the truth of films.
All’s I ask is that films are presented as they were at the cinema and if there are options such as Imax scenes, or a belief that the film may be better served on the small screen by changing the format, like Buried presumably, then Blu-ray should be big enough to house all these options. If Close Encounters Of The Third Kind can be released on one disc with all three versions via branching, then surly this would allow films such as The Dark Knight and Tron: Legacy to do the same with the Imax material.