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ROBIN HOOD -- Cropping Full-Frame Films for the Widescreen Future


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#1 of 139 OFFLINE   Jambalaya Gumbo

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Posted December 08 2006 - 04:46 AM

Ultimate Disney.com has posted a review of the new release of Disney's 1973 (74?) Robin Hood animated feature ("Robin Hood: Most Wanted Edition") and they convincingly make the case that the previous full frame version has been cropped top and bottom to allow for a new wide-screen 16x9 anamorphic version.

Fans of classic films from the birth of American cinema up to the rise of widescreen aspect ratios have long worried about the impact of wide-screen TVs in the home, and how the campaign for letterbox might morph one day into a campaign for window box.

So here is Robin Hood, released on DVD in widescreen anamorphic, except the top and bottom of the frame has been compromised to force a square peg into a rectangular hole.

For those who don't know, the Disney company routinely cropped their classic 4:3 films for wide-screen release throughout the 70's and 80's, including the 50th anniversary of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel chastised the Disney company for this on their 1980's review TV show, and Disney listened. Starting with the re-release of Fantasia in 1990, Disney subsequently released their classic films in the theater in their true aspect ratios, a tradition that continued with the 90's re-releases of 101 Dalmations, Pinocchio, and the 1993 re-release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

So are we right back where we started? I know Robin Hood was shot 4:3 and was cropped for theatrical release, so people buying the DVD are in effect receiving the same film audiences did in 1973 (or 1974 I don't remember which). But as UltimateDisney proves, they are receiving a cropped version of the true image. This has to present a dilmena to OAR advocates...which is the true OAR of Robin Hood...that which was shot, or that which was originally exhibited. I lean to the former, and have to protest the decision to crop Robin hood for wide screen TV's. That which we feared happening (the letterbox movement morphing into a windowbox movement) has just happened.

Here is the link, see the screenshot comparisons for yourself:

http://www.ultimated...mostwanted.html

#2 of 139 OFFLINE   Chuck Pennington

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Posted December 08 2006 - 05:16 AM

ROBIN HOOD was composed to be matted, so I don't see the problem. So many films are shot "soft matte" and are cropped for theaters and widescreen video presentations. Now, SOMETIMES they aren't properly matted and balanced, and that I have a problem with. However, I'm thrilled ROBIN HOOD is finally available in anamorphic widescreen AS IT SHOULD BE. Yes, extraneous info is missing from the top and bottom, but what is gained is a close approximation of the theatrical framing, a sharper image, and a film that fills our widescreen televisions as it should.

#3 of 139 OFFLINE   Chuck Pennington

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Posted December 08 2006 - 05:21 AM

Just to clarify, I don't agree with cropping 4:3 films that were framed for and projected theatrically in that ratio, such as GONE WITH THE WIND or THE WIZARD OF OZ. However, I think cropping soft matte films to their intended ratio is perfectly fine, and we should be happy Disney wet to the trouble of making a new anamorphic widescreen transfer rather than recycle the same old video master they have been tweaking for over a decade. Look at what they did with THE FOX AND THE HOUND last month. It looks like all they did is some processing on the old video master. Sad...

#4 of 139 OFFLINE   Jambalaya Gumbo

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Posted December 08 2006 - 05:25 AM

This is not "soft matte". This is 4:3 chopped for wide-screen. Your analogy ends there.

Could proponents of MAR argue that films composed for both 4:3 as well as theatrical widescreen, and therefore, people advocating for the letterbox version -- they should also be silent, because the additional visual information is - in your words - "extraneous"? Who decides what is extraneous and what isn't?

And why should "filling the picture" of a widescreen TV and therefore removing visual information of a 4:3 film be less of a sin than "filling the top and bottom" of a 4:3 TV and compromising films shot in wide aspect ratios? Disney themselves corrected their error in the late 80's and early 90's after Siskel and Ebert called them onto the carpet. Maybe they need to be called onto the carpet again. No widescreen cropping of 4:3 films. Period.

"I don't agree with cropping 4:3 films that were framed for and projected theatrically in that ratio, such as GONE WITH THE WIND or THE WIZARD OF OZ."

How about films framed for both? Who decides?

I posit to you, with BOTH aspects in mind, which is BEST? The version that gives you ALL the information (like the 4:3 version), or the version that chops off the top and bottom?

#5 of 139 OFFLINE   Patrick McCart

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Posted December 08 2006 - 05:41 AM

There's a difference between 4x3 films made before the widescreen era and films shot with the possibility of 4x3 framing after it. I really doubt Disney would produce a major feature film in 1973 that isn't intended for at least 1.66:1 theatrical matting. Maybe someone could actually confirm the intended specs? Just because there's more image in a 4x3 version for this film doesn't mean it's incorrectly matted.

#6 of 139 OFFLINE   Jambalaya Gumbo

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Posted December 08 2006 - 05:56 AM

I really doubt Disney would produce a major feature film in 1973 that isn't intended for at least 1.66:1 theatrical matting.

Patrick -- since the production of the animated episodes of the Disneyland TV series in the mid-50s (the great "Mars and Beyond" and others), the battle between 4:3 and other aspect ratios was in full sway. In 1955 Walt produced films in both aspect ratios (see Lady and the Tramp), and in 1959 recognized his Sleeeping Beauty was a widescreen experience but relied on 4:3 to sell it to TV audiences. Starting with 101 Dalmatians, animated features at Disney - all the way up to The Fox and the Hound - were produced and shot for 4:3 (for TV) while exhibited theatrically in Academy Flat.

The sturm und drang over the lack of a widescreen release of The Fox and the Hound is telling. The DVD gives you all of the visual information. We can complain about the video quality of that title, but we don't receive a cropped version.

Yes, Robin Hood was shot knowing that at least a 1.66:1 theatrical exhibition was necessary. But it was also shot knowing a 4:3 exhibition would happen, on TV.

So the big queestion to your sizable informed brain is this...what is better? All the SDTV frame, filling 4:3 screens, or all the HDTV frame, filling the HDTV screens but chopping off the top and bottom of the frame?

Easy question. Easy answer.

#7 of 139 OFFLINE   ChristopherDAC

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Posted December 08 2006 - 06:20 AM

I think you are in the minority here. I have raised this question before, with respect to the two video editions of the Japanese animated film Project A-Ko, one of which presents a full-frame transfer of the 35mm sequential-exposure film, while the other is matted to 1.66:1, the Japanese (and French) exhibition ratio. The consensus tends to be that these are not Academy Ratio films "cropped down", but equivalent to widescreen live-action films which have been "protected for TV" (soft matte) ; in other words, the theatrical exhibition ratio is definitive, as it usually is except for (1) TV or direct-to-video programmes given a limited theatrical release for promotional purposes, and (2) the extremely rare case of a film which was mishandled in distribution.

It might interest you to know that you will never see "the whole image", even if you open the mattes to Academy Ratio, because the cels the animators use are in a different ratio yet, and the whole cel is never in the aperture when shooting the sequential-exposure negative. As a matter of fact, I have occasionally observed, among the animation videos in my collection which were released theatrically but are presented full-frame, incomplete backgrounds or other elements above or below where I expect the matte line to have rested.

#8 of 139 OFFLINE   Bo_Darville

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Posted December 08 2006 - 06:21 AM

question: prior to 1955, were most cinema screens 4:3?

otherwise, doesn't make sense that they would make color movies with tv in mind which only broadcast in b&w back then and few people owned, but that's just me.

#9 of 139 OFFLINE   Jambalaya Gumbo

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Posted December 08 2006 - 06:28 AM

Yeah its just you, since Walt Disney is famous for shooting his 1954-55 TV shows like Davy Crockett and others in color even though he was airing in black and whie medium. He knew (from experience with film) that B&W TV wouldn't last.

#10 of 139 OFFLINE   Zack Gibbs

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Posted December 08 2006 - 06:38 AM

Robert, your arguments just don't hold water. At best it's simply a matter of aesthetic preference, and you can't argue that. More likely though, is that although protected for 4:3 ratio, the film was composed for theaters first and foremost.
"Because he's the hero that Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now... and so we'll hunt him... because he can take it... because he's not a hero... he's a silent guardian, a watchful protector... a DARK KNIGHT."

#11 of 139 OFFLINE   Jambalaya Gumbo

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Posted December 08 2006 - 06:44 AM

And you sound like people at my local blockbuster complaining about the black bars.

I will repeat myself since you selectively ignored the question.

I posit to you, with BOTH aspects in mind, which is BEST? The version that gives you ALL the information (like the 4:3 version), or the version that was cropped for modern screens?

#12 of 139 OFFLINE   ChristopherDAC

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Posted December 08 2006 - 06:46 AM

Let's be clear : there is a presumption in favour of the theatrical exhibition ratio. If you want to show that the feature "should" be seen in some other composition, the burden of proof lies on you.

Just because the animators drew in something you can't see in the widescreen version doesn't mean you're being cheated out of the proper presentation, since they also drew in things you can't see in the open-matte version.

Incidentally, while colour television and widescreen films are contemporaries, it was more than 10 years after the approval of NTSC colour that all three networks were broadcasting regularly in colour, whereas theatres across the country converted to widescreen within about a year's time. NBC, however, which aired Disney's TV programmes, was broadcasting in colour even before it was approved — as a subsidiary of RCA, a major backer of the compatible-colour system (and television in general), NBC handled experimental transmissions for the second NTSC for several years, mostly in the New York area.

#13 of 139 OFFLINE   Zack Gibbs

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Posted December 08 2006 - 06:50 AM

We heard the question Robert. And I submit that you're the one that's sounding like a blockbuster drone. For the most part those who argue for OAR don't do it because they want to see "all the picture," they do so to preserve the artistic integrity of film. The best and intended composition is what's important, not how much picture per square inch you get for your dollar.
"Because he's the hero that Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now... and so we'll hunt him... because he can take it... because he's not a hero... he's a silent guardian, a watchful protector... a DARK KNIGHT."

#14 of 139 OFFLINE   Rolando

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Posted December 08 2006 - 06:51 AM

Jambalaya, I won't ignore your question. Instead I will ask you another question.

What is best? To see all that was drawn and can be seen in an open matte version OR to see what was intended by the creator/director?

It's not about seeing more, it's about seeing what was INTENDED.

Now that is not to say it was not intended to see 4:3. I don't know the answer to that. Maybe widescreen should be a no-no on this one, the experts will chime in soon enough.

However my point is that MORE is not always better and definitely NOT always BEST.
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#15 of 139 OFFLINE   Jambalaya Gumbo

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Posted December 08 2006 - 06:56 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by ChristopherDAC
I think you are in the minority here. I have raised this question before, with respect to the two video editions of the Japanese animated film Project A-Ko, one of which presents a full-frame transfer of the 35mm sequential-exposure film, while the other is matted to 1.66:1, the Japanese (and French) exhibition ratio. The consensus tends to be that these are not Academy Ratio films "cropped down", but equivalent to widescreen live-action films which have been "protected for TV" (soft matte) ; in other words, the theatrical exhibition ratio is definitive, as it usually is except for (1) TV or direct-to-video programmes given a limited theatrical release for promotional purposes, and (2) the extremely rare case of a film which was mishandled in distribution.

It might interest you to know that you will never see "the whole image", even if you open the mattes to Academy Ratio, because the cels the animators use are in a different ratio yet, and the whole cel is never in the aperture when shooting the sequential-exposure negative. As a matter of fact, I have occasionally observed, among the animation videos in my collection which were released theatrically but are presented full-frame, incomplete backgrounds or other elements above or below where I expect the matte line to have rested.

a) Good to know I am in the minority as regards to artist's rights, and the cropping of films to suit whatever aspect ratio is prevailing at the moment. Siskel and Ebert were wrong to fault Disney for cropping Snow White. The theatrcial ratio is definitive. In fact, Robert Harris was wrong to restore sequences to Spartacus and Lawrence of Arabia. Original release is everything, after all. Not creative intent.

b) Everytme I see an animated film, stupid poor ignorant boob that I am, I always expect to see the full whole image of the cel set-ups and animation layouts. No cropping at all. I am so stupid. Thank you for pointing out such blatantly obvious information that only someone so stupid as I would have failed to realize.

#16 of 139 OFFLINE   Colin Jacobson

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Posted December 08 2006 - 07:05 AM

Robert, you clearly aren't interested in a discussion of the issues or considering other viewpoints. Was the entire point of this thread to tell us what we're supposed to like?
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#17 of 139 OFFLINE   ChristopherDAC

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Posted December 08 2006 - 07:12 AM

If you're trying to insinuate that I set out to insult you, I'm afraid you're mistaken. You can ask anyone on here : I don't engage in personalities. I'm just trying to point out some fairly reasonable points.

1. Who said anything about "artists' rights"? Unless you're one of the artists yourself, you're going to have to provide strong evidence that they are being put-upon. Most of us will expect that the artists drew their art for the movie, with the intention that it be shown in the theatre at the wide aspect ratio, so that the parts of the composition in the Academy frame but not the wide frame are more in the nature of "overage" than parts of the artists' intended composition.

2. The idea of seeing "the whole image" is a chimaera, because "the whole image" didn't make it into the Academy frame itself. In fact, there's a reasonable expectation that the bits which are in the Academy frame and not the wide frame are as extraneous to the composition as those which were excluded from the Academy frame, and were only included for convenience.

#18 of 139 OFFLINE   Jambalaya Gumbo

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Posted December 08 2006 - 07:18 AM

Was the entire point of this thread to tell us what we're supposed to like?

Was the HTF founded on acceptance of cropping footage to fit a home theater aspect ratio? That's what Disney has done. I can't believe people I respect like you and others are kowtowing to it...unless you just like playing devil's advocate for a good argument. I like sparrng, too, but your written work, Colin, is too exhaustive and informed to suggest to me you support cropping 4:3 animated films for widescreen aspect ratios.

#19 of 139 OFFLINE   Jambalaya Gumbo

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Posted December 08 2006 - 07:27 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by ChristopherDAC
If you're trying to insinuate that I set out to insult you, I'm afraid you're mistaken. You can ask anyone on here : I don't engage in personalities. I'm just trying to point out some fairly reasonable points.

1. Who said anything about "artists' rights"? Unless you're one of the artists yourself, you're going to have to provide strong evidence that they are being put-upon. Most of us will expect that the artists drew their art for the movie, with the intention that it be shown in the theatre at the wide aspect ratio, so that the parts of the composition in the Academy frame but not the wide frame are more in the nature of "overage" than parts of the artists' intended composition.

2. The idea of seeing "the whole image" is a chimaera, because "the whole image" didn't make it into the Academy frame itself. In fact, there's a reasonable expectation that the bits which are in the Academy frame and not the wide frame are as extraneous to the composition as those which were excluded from the Academy frame, and were only included for convenience.

1) I'm not Orson Welles, but I don't have to provide strong evidence as to why colorizing Citizen Kane would be a bad thing. Just because you are ignorant of the production processes of Disney animated features post-1959 doesn't mean everyone else should accept cropping of their films as "original intent" when (gasp) several "intents" were in play.

2) The "whole image" is the "whole originally photographed image", and you can trot out as many anime examples as you like, they don't excuse Disney cropping the 4:3 Robin Hood for wide-screen TVs anymore than they excuse cropping the Technirama 70 Sleeping Beauty (or do you need to refresh yourself with Robert Harris' condemnation of the framing of Sleeping Beauty on DVD? Please do so, stat. then come back and entertain me with by trying to justify the MAR of Robin Hood.)

#20 of 139 OFFLINE   ChristopherDAC

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Posted December 08 2006 - 07:27 AM

Quote:
cropping 4:3 animated films for widescreen aspect ratios

And if you can provide some kind of evidence that these are "4:3 animated films", rather than 1.66 or 1.85 soft-matte animated films, we'll be interested. Until then, I think most of us prefer to reserve our indignation for cases in which a film has verifiably been altered from its proper presentation.

As the owner of copies of more than 200 individual theatrical, video, and television animations, ranging from ninety-second music videos to the French feature film La Planete Sauvage, and an eternally curious person who genuinely enjoys library research, I think you may have misidentified me as an "ignorant" individual. I admit that Disney animation has not been an emphasis for me, but the statement that
Quote:
The "whole image" is the "whole originally photographed image"
is as generally erroneous with respect to animated films as in the case of live-action motion pictures shot flat since 1955, if you mean by "The whole image" the image which was specifically intended by the director that his audience see. In a few rare instances it is true, but each of those needs to be substantiated. There is a world of difference between that and colorizing Kane, which was not seen in the theatres so much as toned or tinted. Imagine that theatrical matting is like showing a movie with colour filters : if, during its original engagement, a film were uniformly projected with such filters, I can't imagine an outcry over adding the correct colours to a video version just because the negative is black-and-white.


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