Die Widescreen-Infoseite

b) 1.85 : 1 - This format has a fairly large picture if it's TV presentation features the theatrical matte:

Unlike anamorphic films, the bars hide visual information. But that's how it is intended by the director and the director of photography! If you show such a film without matting ("open matte"), picture composition is lost:

This example shows how the picture loses visual power: the focus of this scene, Arnold S., is less recognisable due to the bigger surrounding, the picture looks like being too large, it's simply looking worse. Due to the fact that the film is composed for an aspect ratio of 1.85 : 1 it's possible that the bars cover microphones, cables and other technical things which won't appear on the theatre's silver screen. But if the TV station removes the matte for a fullscreen presentation those technical things are visible. So a boom mike visible at the top of a film frame is no fault of the sound guy, but a result of the film's presentation in a wrong aspect ratio! The open-matted picture even can destroy the entire illusion, it can reveal the film as artificial and thus distracts from the movie. In the following example the full-frame transfer reveals this character's very unusual showering practice:

But you don't see more all the time. If the movie has certain special effects a "pan & scan" process is required for those special effect scenes because it's cheaper and less work to make the effects for the theatrical format only. An example:


And you have films in 1.85 : 1 which are NOT matted ("hard matte") - in this case there is no picture hidden under the black bars, only a widescreen picture is shot during filming. The film negative contains a 1.85 : 1-picture; there is no covered picture information. You have to zoom in the picture, cutting off visual information at the left and right, for a fullscreen presentation. One film shot hard matted is "Aliens". But hard matted films are rare.

What if I have a 16 : 9 TV set? First: 16 : 9 does not equal ANY theatrical format! Flat movies can be shown nearly complete, if the material is enhanced for 16 : 9 (= 1.78 : 1, the difference is marginal). TV sets with a zoom function can make a matted widescreen presentation of flat fullframe presentations. But you still will have small black bars with widescreen presentation of 2.35 : 1 films, simply due to their larger format (zoom function for standard material or 16 : 9-enhanced material required):

Well, that was not too difficult, I hope. If you'd like to know more, check out another important format, Super35. I hope you have realised why the black bars are important and that you have learned to appreciate them. Now you should be able to enjoy your favourite movies even more! On the pre-condition that TV stations and video labels play along, of course. I recommend a high-quality medium like LaserDisc or DVD. Usually a widescreen presentation is provided on these formats, but there are more and more widescreen VHS videos, too (beware, only those tapes clearly labeled "widescreen" or "letterbox" will be in the proper aspect ratio).
The presentation of films on TV or video in a wrong aspect ratio is pure ignorance against the filmmakers and mutilation of art - who would trim a Monet or Picasso just because the frame has a different size?




© 1998, 2000 Alex Klutzny
Special thanks to Rich Norman

"Total Recall" © 1990 Carolco Pictures
"Sliding Doors" © 1998 Mirage Enterprises/Intermedia Film Equities Ltd.