Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Whole Picture

In the Summer 2009 issue of DGA Quarterly, Steven Soderbergh addresses the sad state of 2.35:1 films on 16x9 TVs. As more and more people adopt HDTVs and more and more films receive HD transfers, I'm continually disheartened to see them broadcast in the wrong aspect ratio on so-called premium channels. While some channels do it right, others do it terribly wrong, using the wimpy excuse that people will complain. (Oh no! It's not like anyone's complaining NOW.)

It's worth noting that some channels (although no premiums that I know of) also give 4x3 material the same treatment. What does what gain when they remaster the complete "Seinfeld" in HD, only to crop the top and bottom of the image?

On his handy report card, Soderbergh touches on HBO's hypocrisy by pointing out that the channel's marketing targets the adventurous viewer, yet a different shape in which to view films would just be too much for them. But that doesn't quite capture the despicable level of double-standards that exists on the network.

Back before HDTVs had been widely adopted, HBO insisted on showing original programs like "The Sopranos" in widescreen on their SD channels. I have no problem with this decision on its own merits. Sure, the shows' makers knew that most of their viewers would be watching it on a 4:3 TV screen, but they picked a ratio and stuck with it. What gets me is HBO's apparent belief that their own original programming is worthy of special treatment—if the viewers don't like it, tough—yet real films that were made for actual cinema screens get chopped because viewers would complain if they were shown correctly. What the fuck?

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