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John Carpenter's BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA 'zoomboxed' on DVD?


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#1 of 23 BrianDBoyle

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Posted April 23 2002 - 05:30 AM

I was reading a review of BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA on DVD in the most recent issue of Video Watchdog, and I stumbled across a disturbing reference. The article refers to BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA on DVD as being "zoomboxed, exactly like its LaserDisc release."

Well, I had never heard the term "zoomboxed" before, so I hit Google and dug up this old Mondo Digital.com STARMAN reference:

"After two botched widescreen laser releases (one from Pioneer Special Editions), John Carpenter's heartfelt science fiction favorite has been fully letterboxed and looks even better than it did in theaters. As Video Watchdog noted, the two laser editions were "zoomboxed" (all of the edges of the widescreen image were zoomed in and cropped off to make the image larger, a practice repeated on Big Trouble in Little China)."

Posted Image My highly prized copy of BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA on DVD might be zoomed in and cropped? Grrr! Posted Image

I trust Video Watchdog to deliver the straight scoop, so I have to believe that the article is true and, now that I've had some time to think on it -- once thought lost somewhere in the dim mists of time -- I seem to remember reading the Video Watchdog review of the BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA LaserDisc.

I don't remember how long ago, or the issue number, but the reviewer had a very specific scene in mind. He referred to the scene in which Jack Burton is crawling on hands and knees across a plank athwart a chasm. The reviewer said that in the theater, you had a real sense of danger because you could see the consequences for Jack were he to slip...a long fall, followed by deceleration trauma, resulting in death.

The reviewer said in the "zoomboxed" LaserDisc version -- and it is starting to seem as if the studio used the LaserDisc transfer for the DVD -- you cannot see around or beneath Jack, so there is no sense of Jack being in danger.

Anyway, I could not stand the thought that my BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA DVD might not be OAR, so I hit the Video Watchdog Web site. The only reference I could find to BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA is on the THE VIDEO WATCHDOG INDEX Titles A - D page, in which they list out the articles by back issue:

title of film -- issue number:page number
BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA -- 20:63, 82:46

Not much help there.

Next, I found another reference to "zoomboxing" from the DVD Savant on dvdtalk.com:

"Obviously proud of their fine work on this set, Fox here has the maturity to do real comparisons with previous video masters, where we can plainly see beyond the color improvement to notice that some older letterboxed transfers (especially Bus Stop) had indeed been 'zoomboxed.' This was a term Savant first read in Video Watchdog, which blew the whistle on laserdisc transfers where the image was surreptitiously blown up a bit to enlarge actors' faces, and then matted back down to conform to the expected letterbox."

Well, I kept digging, and I found an article by the DVD Savant on dvdtalk.com that specifically mentions "zoomboxing," and its implications. Here is the link:

Transfer Trouble: Formats and Video Fudging

and an excerpt from the article:

"In '93 or '94, Tim Lucas of Video Watchdog reported a much more sinister practice which he called Zoomboxing. In telecine, wider shots are blown up to make the human figures in them larger. To retain the 'letterboxed' look, the enlarged shots were than overmatted back down to the narrow ratio of the rest of the film. Watchdog showed examples from many films proving this was being done (Starman and Jurassic Park being noted titles). The letterboxing fan, who simply wanted to see all of the image, was cynically given a widescreen movie whose letterboxing was a complete hoax."

I'm going to keep after this until I get to the bottom of it. Please stay tuned, or please help me out...
I've seen things you people wouldn't believe.
Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion.
I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate.
All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.
Time to die.

#2 of 23 BrianDBoyle

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Posted April 23 2002 - 09:33 AM

I apologize for bumping my own thread -- which I will do just this once -- but I want to make sure that everyone has at least one chance to read my original post.

Thank you. :b
I've seen things you people wouldn't believe.
Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion.
I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate.
All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.
Time to die.

#3 of 23 David Prior

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Posted April 23 2002 - 10:58 AM

As producer of the DVD and supervisor of the completely new, Hi-Def transfer of Big Trouble in Little China, I can assure you that there was absolutley, positively no "zoomboxing." I can't speak to other people's memories of what they may or may not have seen theatrically (as if theatrical aspect ratios are always correct), but I can tell you that the aspect ratio of the transfer was based on the original framing charts. I will confirm this with the colorist who did the work, but he and I are both zealots when it comes to OAR.

#4 of 23 BrianDBoyle

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Posted April 23 2002 - 11:10 AM

Thank you for your response, Mr. Prior. I cannot tell you how happy I am to make your "virtual" acquaintance. Please allow me to state, for the record, that I am a huge fan of both John Carpenter and of BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA. Posted Image

I sincerely appreciate the fact that you took the time to respond to my post. Thank you for your kind consideration.

May I trouble you to ask you if you have any additional thoughts or comments on this subject, on the LaserDisc release or on Video Watchdog’s review of the DVD (which you may or may not have read)?

Thanks, again. Posted Image
I've seen things you people wouldn't believe.
Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion.
I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate.
All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.
Time to die.

#5 of 23 Heinz W

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Posted April 23 2002 - 11:21 AM

Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but if a DVD has an anamorphic transfer isn't it impossible for it to have been a rehashed laser transfer?

Big Trouble has an exquisite transfer IMO, with excellent fine detail (the ornate costumes featured near the end, for example).

Great movie, great DVD, and great job David! One of my favorites.

#6 of 23 BrianDBoyle

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Posted April 23 2002 - 11:38 AM

Well, Heinz W, my apologies if I made a fool of myself in a public forum.

Like I said earlier, I trusted the review that I read in Video Watchdog to be both accurate and truthful. They are, after all, video zealots just like you and everyone else here...except me, apparently. Posted Image
I've seen things you people wouldn't believe.
Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion.
I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate.
All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.
Time to die.

#7 of 23 Heinz W

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Posted April 23 2002 - 12:19 PM

Brian, welcome to the HTF! You did NOT make a fool of yourself. You were just seeking answers and if it's any consolation to you I've never heard the term "zoomboxing". Even the oldest members here don't know everything. Posted Image

My question about the anamorphic/laser rehash was legitimate: I don't know for sure and was hoping for a response from the more learned members, that's all.

No need for the rolleyes, I wasn't being smart. Posted Image

#8 of 23 rutger_s

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Posted April 23 2002 - 12:43 PM

You can take a letterbox transfer from a laserdisc release and enhance it for 16:9.

Heck, Columbia Tri-Star Home Entertainment used a letterbox widescreen transfer for Once Upon A Time In China and upconverted it to 16:9 with very poor results.

#9 of 23 BrianDBoyle

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Posted April 23 2002 - 01:18 PM

Ah, I see. Posted Image

I understand, Heinz W. It seems that the perils of pure text communication reveal themselves anew. Posted Image

Thanks for the "Welcome!" As it so happens, I like it here! Posted Image
I've seen things you people wouldn't believe.
Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion.
I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate.
All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.
Time to die.

#10 of 23 DarrenA

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Posted April 23 2002 - 01:45 PM

Brian,

Don't sweat it, after all your post garnered one of the best statments I have ever read by a DVD producer...

"I will confirm this with the colorist who did the work, but he and I are both zealots when it comes to OAR."

Thank you David Prior, this comment just made a lot of people's day!!Posted Image
Darren Alcorn
The Academy Home Theater, Atlanta Home Theater Group

#11 of 23 David Lambert

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Posted April 23 2002 - 02:23 PM

Brian: Welcome to HTF! I hope you enjoy your time here as much as I do.

David Prior: Thanks as always for kicking in with the final word. I was alarmed reading Brian's post, because I hadn't yet picked this title up yet but was planning to very soon. I was very relieved to read your post.

Oh, and *I* had never heard of "zoomboxing", either!
DAVE/Memphis, TN

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#12 of 23 BrianDBoyle

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Posted April 23 2002 - 02:33 PM

Thanks, all! Posted Image

Quote:
Oh, and *I* had never heard of "zoomboxing", either!


Nor had I. Obviously, I tried to determine the bona fides of the story, but without much success. Thanks to David Prior for giving us the inside story.

I'm debating with myself as to whether or not I should email Video Watchdog to ask them to correct their review...
I've seen things you people wouldn't believe.
Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion.
I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate.
All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.
Time to die.

#13 of 23 DeanWalsh

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Posted April 23 2002 - 05:03 PM

Quote:
You can take a letterbox transfer from a laserdisc release and enhance it for 16:9.

Yes you can, but at a resolution loss. BTILC has way too much detail to be a fake 16:9.

#14 of 23 Mark Cappelletty

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Posted April 23 2002 - 07:12 PM

The most egregious example of "zoomboxing" as detailed in Video Watchdog came from the laserdiscs of Jurassic Park -- which have been corrected for the DVD -- which clearly showed just how the frame was manipulated to appear letterboxed but still pulled the subjects closer to the screen.

#15 of 23 Thomas Agermose

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Posted April 23 2002 - 10:35 PM

Quote:
"After two botched widescreen laser releases (one from Pioneer Special Editions), John Carpenter's heartfelt science fiction favorite has been fully letterboxed and looks even better than it did in theaters. As Video Watchdog noted, the two laser editions were "zoomboxed" (all of the edges of the widescreen image were zoomed in and cropped off to make the image larger, a practice repeated on Big Trouble in Little China)."

Does this quote actually say that BTILC has been zoomboxed for DVD? I don't think so. I believe that it is the old Laserdisc of BTILC they refer to. I remember when the BTILC Laserdisc came out on laserdisc in letterbox, that a review mentioned that it had been P/S'ed and then masked to appear letterboxed. It just didn't use the term zoomboxed.

BTW: I think the DVD is absolutely fabulous, and got rid of my P/S tape the minute I got it.

#16 of 23 Philip Hamm

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Posted April 23 2002 - 11:52 PM

I wonder if my LD of Jurrasic Park contains "zoomboxing". I'd love to A/B some scenes with the DVD to see the effect.
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#17 of 23 Sam Hatch

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Posted April 23 2002 - 11:56 PM

I'd take some of Tim Lucas' statements with a grain of salt. I've always wondered about his claims of BTILC being 'zoomboxed', and was surprised to see the new DVD framed simlilarly to the old LD. So I can see how he would jump to the conclusion that the DVD is also zoomboxed, but what if his original assumption of the LD was wrong? I've always questioned it, since the LD seemed to have some pretty wide scenes with the actors appearing small within the frame. Tim stated that in the theatrical print, the actors were dwarfed by the scenery even more.

I can't remember if he backed that up in any way, shape or form -- and it's been admittedly a very long time since I've seen BTILC in the theater, but what's out on DVD looks pretty accurate to me. As Philip just mentioned, I'm going to go back and A/B the LD and the DVD. I did back when the DVD was released, but that was to inspect the so-called 'digital shifting' involved. But I do remember thinking that the DVD's framing looked similar to the old LD that I had been led to believe was 'zoomboxed'.

I also remember Tim going on a huge tirade against the 'True Lies' LD, apparently having no clue as to what Super35 is and how it's transferred to video. I know that Cameron preferred the 1.33:1 version for TV resolution issues, but Lucas went one step beyond and swore that the 2.35:1 theatrical ratio destroyed the film by ruining all of the compositions of the 1.33:1 home video version!
"Negative. I am a meat popsicle."

#18 of 23 David Prior

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Posted April 24 2002 - 08:53 AM

One more way you can be sure there was no zooming of the image is the old dreaded "mis-time" issue. (For those who don't recall, this is an artificat of highspeed printing, particularly visible on anamorphic prints, which appears as a discolored horizontal bar on edits when the printing lights change drastically). We spent an obscene amount of time and money digitally removing the most offensive mis-times, but some still remain. If the picture had been zoomed in, you wouldn't see most of these (they only occur on the top or bottom of the frame).

I respect Tim Lucas and his work a great deal, but everything, particularly memories of how a film appeared in theaters 15 years ago, is subjective.

#19 of 23 BrianDBoyle

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Posted April 24 2002 - 09:36 AM

Thanks again, Mr. Prior. Posted Image

Thomas Agermose: I can understand how you would come to believe that I thought the quote you mentioned in your post was the important one, as I spent so much time afterwards discussing 'zoomboxing', but this is the quote that set me off originally:
Quote:
The article refers to BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA on DVD as being "zoomboxed, exactly like its LaserDisc release."
An easy mistake to make, I'm sure. Posted Image And, as it turns out, a completely foundless fear, to boot...
I've seen things you people wouldn't believe.
Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion.
I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate.
All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.
Time to die.

#20 of 23 Heinz W

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Posted April 24 2002 - 11:12 AM

So if a film is zoomboxed the framing is compromised? The camera is zoomed in thus reducing the intended composition somewhat? In other words, the outer edges of the frame is cut off?

Quote:
Thanks for the "Welcome!" As it so happens, I like it here! Posted Image

No hard feelings at all Brian! This is, IMHO, the finest internet forum I've ever had the priviledge to belong to, and I think you'll agree after you hang out for awhile! You'll find that flaming is minimal here, and not tolerated at all. Members don't attack other members here, and that elevates HTF far above the others as far as I'm concerned!


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