Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Size Does Matter!

Years ago I owned a laser disc player. Even though it was a bit ahead of its time, laser discs were a great way to watch movies. One cool feature was that you could get many laser discs in widescreen format. It was fun to see the reaction of others as they came over to watch a widescreen movie.

At first it really freaks them out because for some reason our brains think we have a square television so everything that gets displayed on it must also be square. Those little dark spaces on the top and bottom of the screen would drive people downright crazy. Of course, one minute into the movie you adjust and they don’t bother you anymore.

Movies used to be cropped into what they now refer to as full screen versions so that they could be seen on regular televisions. In fact, doing this to a movie will cost more money.

What really bothers me about watching a movie in a full screen version is that you’re not really watching the movie how it was meant to be seen. Directors shoot scenes based on a huge number of variables, and some of these variables is where things will be placed in the scene.

Some scenes have a lot of impact when they are seen in their original widescreen format, but lose the message altogether when downsized.

Occasionally when watching a full screen movie I would notice weird blurring as the camera panned from one actor to the other as they were talking in a scene. At first I didn’t really understand why it bothered me until I started watching widescreen movies. That blurry pan was not the camera; it was a computer during the cropping session trying to pan between the two actors that were originally placed on both sides of a widescreen!

Another place the full screen falls short is on movies that have sweeping landscapes such as in westerns or other movies that have nicely shot outdoor scenes. Many directors get good use of the widescreen format in these types of scenes and it almost always lends itself to a breathtaking view. Then along comes a full screen botch job and the rolling landscape looks like just another shot with a video camera.

As I see people buy full screen DVD’s I wonder if they realize what they are buying, or if they even know the difference? Super markets I have noticed are notorious for only having the full screen versions of movies when they first come out. I’m almost certain that many people at the check stands just grab the movie without giving the screen size any thought at all.

Luckily, many DVD’s are now coming out with the widescreen and full screen versions on the same disc. I’ve also noticed that a lot of audio/video stores mainly carry widescreen versions of most movies. I can only guess that people who visit these types of stores do not want full screen versions.

Why then do they keep making these versions of their movies? Perhaps they still need to make them so that they can be shown on television, and they are just stuffing this version down unsuspecting customers throats to justify, or defer, the additional cost.

I think the day will come when you don’t see another full screen version of a DVD come out. It’s just going to take customers a bit to get used to asking, no demanding, that they only buy the widescreen versions.

What spurred on this article today? In Best Buy today they had “Charlie’s Angels Full Throttle”, which had just come out. They had an unrated version and the theatrical version. The unrated version was only in widescreen, and the theatrical version was only in full screen.

I’m not sure what Neanderthal did their ordering, but he needs to be slapped. Best Buy is offering to sell you both DVD’s for $25. This is odd because who wants to buy a full screen and a widescreen? Normally you prefer one to the other.

Many companies provide the two versions in the same DVD case as a special edition. Seems like the movie company is getting a bit greedy and trying to sell you the same movie twice. The sad part is, many people will buy both of them! To be honest, if they had a widescreen version of the theatrical version I would have been one of those sad people.

Oh well, what’s the point of this article? It’s to educate you on the different screen formats, and to tell you what you’re missing. And maybe the fates will be kind and allow the idiot who did the ordering for Best Buy to get a clue next time. Was that too harsh? Maybe, but these days I find I get annoyed more easily.

Don’t get me started about the people at fast food restaurants who put napkins in the holders backwards so you can’t get to the little flap to pull out a napkin. I mean you have a 50/50 shot at getting it right!

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