What exactly is the purpose of widescreen?

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by VinhT, Mar 19, 2002.

  1. VinhT

    VinhT Second Unit

    Joined:
    Feb 14, 2002
    Messages:
    357
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    I'm all for original aspect ratio and watching movies as they were intended, but what brought about the widescreen format in the first place?

    There are certain films like Maximum Risk and the Toy Story series that offer both full-frame and widescreen versions, where the widescreen versions are essentially non-moving pan-and-scans. In general, since the same content within a widescreen frame can also be fully encompassed within a regular 4:3 frame (with just an expanded vertical view), why do filmmakers choose to use a somehwat restrictive widescreen format?

    Two silly reasons I've conjured up:

    -Since widescreen is about 50% the height of 4:3, that translates to nearly double the recording capacity of a reel of film. (Hey, could've been important way back when)

    -Perhaps looking up and down is more fatiguing to the eyes, so limiting the height of the viewing frame makes watching movies at the theater a more pleasant experience.

    Anyways, can anyone enlighten me as to what's so great about the widescreen format that it's also the standard for HDTV?
     
  2. Marc Rochkind

    Marc Rochkind Second Unit

    Joined:
    Aug 26, 2000
    Messages:
    381
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    A really good set of questions!

    There are two entirely separate issues:

    1. Whether widescreen is better than standard from the point of view of the filmmaker. It is not... some filmmakers prefer one or the other. For example, Kubrick shot Eyes Wide Shot in standard format because he preferred it.

    2. Whether in a home theater one ought to see and hear the film the way its creators intended it to be shown. Anyone can do whatever they want, of course, but most of the folks who frequent this forum want to watch the film the way it was intended. In a few cases, the director really did shoot (in effect) both standard and widescreen versions (the ones you cite may be examples), so it is not clear which is original, but in most cases it is clear what the OAR (original aspect ratio) is.

    One can watch an OAR film on a 4:3 or 16:9 TV. Since films come in lots of aspect ratios (1.33:1, 1.66:1, 1.85:1, and 2.35:1 are the most common, but there are others), no single TV works perfectly for everything, so each person has to pick the compromises he or she wants to live with.

    In my opinion, showing a 1.33:1 or 1.66:1 on a 16:9 TV sacrifices less than showing a 1.85:1 or 2.35:1 on a 4:3 TV, so I chose 16:9, but somebody else might come to the opposite conclusion. No problem, since both kinds of TVs are made.
     
  3. Dustin B

    Dustin B Producer

    Joined:
    Mar 10, 2001
    Messages:
    3,126
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Films where orignally 4:3. But in the 40's and 50's TV with it's 4:3 screen was becoming very popular and people weren't going to the movies any more. The studio's answer was widescreen. I believe it was 1.85:1 initially. It was different than what could be seen on your TV and got people back into the theatres in the 50's. Then the studios decided this was a good trick to get people back in the theater and started doing some films in 2.35:1. And on a few films even went as far as 3:1. (my time frames may be off a little)

    Then when the VCR came, we had a problem, these widescreen movies didn't fit on TVs. Hence our wonderful Pan&Scan situation now.

    The really annoying part though is the solution is in the DVD format. You can encode an OAR disc with flags that allow the DVD player to convert an OAR movie to P&S on the fly. That's why there are the two 4:3 settings on a DVD player (letterbox and P&S). If these flags were present selecting P&S would get you P&S while selecting letterboxed on the DVD player's setup menu would get you OAR. All from the same disc.
     
  4. Jeff Kleist

    Jeff Kleist Executive Producer

    Joined:
    Dec 4, 1999
    Messages:
    11,267
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Someone correct me if I'm wrong

    The whole P&S thing came about originall because the FCC had some law about "vertical blanking". Now I have no idea what exactly this entailed, but it meant that your signal had to fit the standard screen. Don't forget that TVs were also about 9" at the time, and watching a scope film would almost require a magnifying glass, especially with the resolution of the time. SOOO to make a long story short, they either transferred the film and left in the anamorphic squeeze (squish-o-vision) or they P&Sd it

    From what I understand, in Europe and abroad they had no such rule, which is why in many foreign countries it's OAR all the way, and in the US, we're all P&S, all the time.
     
  5. Allan Jayne

    Allan Jayne Cinematographer

    Joined:
    Nov 1, 1998
    Messages:
    2,404
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    I never heard of mandatory filling of the screen for technical reasons.
    But back then, people were quick to complain if the screen wasn't filled, and they would call the repairman.
    If there was a problem with vertical blanking or whatever, they could have put something decorative in what are now the top and bottom black bars. If they had done that from day one of letterboxing, I think that we would never have had this long argument about OAR vs P&S that has persisted to this day.
    Video hints:
    http://members.aol.com/ajaynejr/video.htm
     
  6. SteveK

    SteveK Supporting Actor

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2000
    Messages:
    518
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    One of the questions I asked here a LONG time ago was why the process of Pan&Scan got started. One of the responses indicated that early FCC regulations REQUIRED that the screen be filled with image. I don't remember the exact details, but it had something to do with ensuring that the broadcasters didn't "cheat" the viewing public. It apparently was implemented for valid technical reasons. Unfortunately, the P&S process was then carried over into VHS and even more regrettably, is now being carried over into DVD. So we may be dealing with the fallout of an early FCC regulation that had technically valid reasons at the time but presumably no longer apply. Unfortunately, now a filled screen is what everybody is used to and too many people complain about the black bars.

    Steve K.
     
  7. LawrenceZ

    LawrenceZ Stunt Coordinator

    Joined:
    Oct 16, 2000
    Messages:
    78
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    I don't know if this is right but I heard this explanation a long time ago, I don't know about it though, sounds a little contrived to me:

    A rectanglular SHAPE is more pleasing to watch than a square because as humans our eyes see a wide image. That is our peripheral vision is better horizontally then it is vertically. Filmmakers, and this is the part that sounds contrived to me, wanted to make movies that more closely approximated what we see.

    It sort of makes sense to me, I know I prefer watching a widescreen image to a 4:3 image, even if the 4:3 image isn't P&S, I just prefer it wide.
     
  8. AllanN

    AllanN Supporting Actor

    Joined:
    Mar 15, 2002
    Messages:
    950
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
  9. Denward

    Denward Supporting Actor

    Joined:
    Feb 26, 2001
    Messages:
    552
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
     
  10. VinhT

    VinhT Second Unit

    Joined:
    Feb 14, 2002
    Messages:
    357
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Thanks everyone, I was mainly interested in learning the history behind widescreen, and the pleasing/golden rectangle concept confirmed my second suspicion. To be clear, I wasn't trying to start anything regarding widescreen vs. pan-and-scan, since it seemed some individuals interpreted my post as such. As for www.widescreen.org, the site advocates viewing movies in their original aspect ratio on TV, but does not explain why a widescreen aspect ratio is chosen by film makers (although the different ratios with respect to lens and studios are explained in detail).
     
  11. JasonKrol

    JasonKrol Supporting Actor

    Joined:
    Aug 19, 2001
    Messages:
    505
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    the very excellent article on The Digital Bits explains the concept of widescreen best and why it came about.

    Basically, the movie theaters were threatened by the introduction of tv. Back then, movies in the theater were shot in 1.33:1 or 4x3 (like the standard TV set, which is why the tv was invented in 4x3 aspect ratio). And seeing the tv as a threat, the theaters needed a new reason for people to keep coming and not just stay at home to watch tv. So they invented this almost 3d-esque feel to the theater, calling it "Scope" and it was the wider aspect ratio that made the viewer feel like they were almost surrounded by the movie.

    I may have paraphrased that way too much and missed a few important points, but I think thats pretty much it in a nutshell. For more information, do check out "Widescreen for Dummies" over at The Digital Bits (digitalbits.com)

    (and Im not suggesting that your a dummy, that article is just a very excellent resource!)

    (duh, i didnt realize that someone already posted this same information earlier in this post. I apologize for the redundancy. :b)

     
  12. JasonKrol

    JasonKrol Supporting Actor

    Joined:
    Aug 19, 2001
    Messages:
    505
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    also, directors nowadays prefer widescreen because it allows them much more artistic freedom to achieve dramatic scope and depth to certain scenes, etc.

    widescreen.org gives great examples of scenes that give you 1 feeling in P&S, but a big "Ohhhhhh!!" when you see the widescreen version - like, you never actually knew that another character was in that scene before you saw the widescreen version. That could make a huge difference.

    also, as mentioned earlier: most Digital Animation movies these days (Toy Story, Bugs Life) are created in widescreen, and then recreated in full-screen for release to homes. Obviously its easier for them to do this since its animation, they can just edit each scene. (also explained in the Digital Bits article.)

    Hope I answered some of your questions.
     
  13. Ryan L B

    Ryan L B Supporting Actor

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2002
    Messages:
    870
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    one question, if I choose the pan and scan option on the dvd player, will I loose the black bars or will I get to see more of the picture since it would pan to the sides for certin movies.
     
  14. Jeff Kleist

    Jeff Kleist Executive Producer

    Joined:
    Dec 4, 1999
    Messages:
    11,267
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    on 99.9% of DVDs it would do nothing over choosing 4:3 letterbox. It's a feature that's in there but has never really been used because 2.35:1 films still have black bars, and supposedly coding it takes up almost as much space, trouble, and time as just putting a P&S version on the flipside
     

Share This Page