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Originally published at Crap and Garbage in Violent Opposition.  Adapted and edited for inclusion here.

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I like to watch DVDs in widescreen. I can't imagine preferring to watch them in pan-and-scan. In fact, I can't really imagine why any DVD company would release a pan-and-scan version of a wide-screen film. Well, that's not true, I can imagine that money plays a big role in these decisions.

Apparently there are vast numbers of people who won't buy anything other than pan-and-scan, and the DVD companies want to cater to these folks. (I think the reasoning pn-and-scan viewers use is something like, "Why, half my TV isn't being used with these wide-screen things, and that cheats me out of the value of my TV.")

I can certainly understand catering, especially for a company that wants to make money. Wouldn't it be cheaper though to release just wide-screen versions? It must be easier during the DVD preparation stage.  I mean, you just point the film at the encoder and you're done. With pan-and-scan, you have to have someone there watching who can adjust the image, to make sure the important stuff is centered on the screen.  That means you have to pay someone to make value judgments.  That usually isn't cheap.

I just wonder what the creators say about their films being released in pan-and-scan. Some directors, like Steven Spielberg and James Cameron, are very hands-on when pan-and-scan versions of their films are made. I guess they want to make sure the pan-and-scan version is the best film it can be. But why? Wouldn't the full wide-screen be the best the film can be? Isn't that the image they decided on when they finished the film and readied it for the theatre?

I guess there are two possible answers (that I can think of). 1. It doesn't really matter (the wide-screen edges don't have anything important), and 2. it makes no difference (the visuals are irrelevant either way--it's the talking in the movie that's important).

"Pan-and-scan? Sure, why not. I don't really care what the image looks like, honestly. I leave that to my DP. How much extra money will I get?"

"Pan-and-scan? Hey, go ahead. And you can change the ending if you want to, too. I heard some people complained about that. Do I get extra money if you do?"

"Pan-and-scan? Well, I don't know what that means, but if I get extra money, go ahead."

So...why don't the studios release the films in theatres in both formats?   Why are they catering to both markets on home video--doesn't the pan-and-scan audience deserve the same cottoning they get at the video store?   Attendance at movies is down all over the country--perhaps, just perhaps it's because the vast majority of people prefer pan-and-scan, and since they're not getting it, they're just going to wait until the film is especially chopped to be served on home video?

Studios, you're missing a golden opportunity.   In fact, producers of other forms of entertainment might want to look into this.

Can you imagine the hue-and-cry if books were released in catered formats? Of course, there are two versions of most books:  hardback and paperback.  And, like a pan-and-scan DVD in relation to a film, the paperback appears months after the hardback.  After it has been determined that the film/book warrants a further issue.  So maybe movies are just taking their cues from books.   Perhaps the studios are also saying, hey, just like paperbacks, it's not the content that's being changed, just the format.  

Well, it's true that changing the size of the book and the typeface and so forth doesn't alter the thoughts inside.  But how can anyone say that about movies?  Unless, of course, the imaginary quotes above are true. 

And maybe very few people read books these days, so perhaps contents alteration happens all the time and I, as usual, am just unaware of it.  

Compact disks are another area where several versions hit the market--the "uncensored" and the "censored."  So perhaps movies are just following everyone else.   Instead of presenting--

--let me digress for a just a moment and say that I consider referring to many films, recordings and books as "art" is ludicrous, but that's the term we have ("art" not "ludicrous"), and that is what they are--

--presenting art as the artist conceived it, it is instead being tailored to fit the needs and desires of the consumer.  To me, this seems to dilute the very nature of art; rather than being a means of communicating an expression, it' being used as a comfort and a reinforcement of what the consumer already knows.   It's no longer communication of any kind.

It's a commodity.

March 21, 2005

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