Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Legacy of the Panned

Went to see Moscow, Belgium today with The Boy, who I think can probably claim to be the only 13-year-old male in America to see it. (Not many turning out to see movies about 43-year-old women juggling raising their children with their alienated husband and a truck driver competing for her affections. In Dutch. Or so I'm guessing.)

So I owe you two. Consider the following in the meantime however.

Because showing feature films (since about 1950) on a 4:3 TV would leave bands of the TV black along the top and bottom (and a very small resultant picture in many cases), the whole technology of "pan-and-scan" was developed, where a 16:9 (or other) film was reframed as 4:3, roughly along the center but panning to the right and left "as needed" to convey certain film elements. (I swear Blake Edwards used to deliberately frame dialogs with the two characters at the extreme ends of the frame deliberately to mess with that.)

So this butchery was allowed to continue, and few even commented on it until the '80s. As a result, pan-and-scan is still the dominant way films are shown on TV.

But wait, the widescreen TV is pretty standard these days! Does that mean they're showing the films as originally shot and framed? In a few cases, yes.

In most cases, however, the pan-and-scan version is being shown and then blown up to fill the edges of the widescreen TV.

So, you're seeing a butchered version of a film, where everyone looks short 'n' fat to boot. And while you can override this in some cases, I've seen a few situations where the cable overrides the TV controls, locks in the stretch, and seems to refuse to allow the picture to at least be put in the 4:3 frame for which it was designed.

Reminds me of the fact that lines in text files are still largely delimited by carriage-return followed by a line feed, from the time when they were printed out on teletypes, and the print head was on a carriage that had to be moved all the way to the left, and then the paper scrolled, in order to keep the line of text on the page and not overlapping.

Technology's funny, isn't it? Butchered movies with short fatties--not so much.


  1. In most cases, however, the pan-and-scan version is being shown and then blown up to fill the edges of the widescreen TV.

    Between this and the blasting music/quiet dialogue, you'd almost think there's a conspiracy afoot to ruin the home movie experience.

    And I can't figure out why they're still making "full screen" versions of dvds. Sometimes you can't find the widescreen version.

  2. Oh, gosh...I thought it was just me having a hard time hearing dialogue! What is up with that?

  3. Knox: They still make them (fullscreen versions) because some people prefer them. I trust those people will soon be consigned to the dustbin of history alongside of Ted Turner and his fans of colorization.

    Darcy: The audio issue is different and, no, it's not just you. When we watch movies on TV we often spend our time ping-ponging the volume. (Down during action scenes, up during dialogue.) I think it's because they mix it as close as they can to simulate movie experience.

    They don't seem to consider that a lot of us watch movies while the children are asleep in the other room and we have a much lower tolerance for big dynamic shifts.

  4. Thanks, blake. My kid says I'm deaf. :)) This makes me feel much better.

  5. Darcy, I thought it was just me, too, until Blake posted about it a while ago. If you turn it up to hear the dialogue, prepare to get blasted by music or sound effects.


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