How do I know if the movie is presented in the correct aspect ratio? Let's assume the movie in question is 2.35:1 anamorphic. A correct presentation of such a film will be pretty obvious due to the very big bars. But in most cases a TV presentation is zoomed to 1.85:1 or P&S. If you don't notice any bad compositions or credits that are chopped-off, then look for anamorphic artifacts. The anamorphic lenses distort the image, e.g. round out-of-focus light sources like a street lamp in the background are stretched vertically (the whole out-of-focus background is stretched, but the effect can be spotted easily with light sources). Another, very obvious distortion is a horizontal blue line produced by light sources, here are two examples:
If you see such a blue horizontal line across the screen, then you're watching an anamorphic film. If the broadcast is in 1.33:1, it is definitely P&S. If you have small black bars, then it is zoomed in (don't forget that the bar size/visibility changes on 16:9 TV sets). If the movie is presented in 2.35:1, but there are no artifacts, then it is shot in Super35, also resulting in a grainier picture. Here is a Super35-film where you can see that the out-of-focus light sources are staying round without any distortion:
Identifying Super35-movies presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 is rather difficult though. It is recommended to look for differences in visual composition compared to unmatted 1.85:1-films:
Absence of artifacts and "good" composition identifies flat movies with correct presentation in 1.85:1. If the film is unmatted, then you have to look for obvious things like visible boom mikes and for bad visual composition (e.g. is there always too much free space above the actor's head?). The large top and bottom areas without interesting visual information are usually very revealing. The same applies for placement of credits in "bar-proof" positions at the top and bottom.
© 2001 Alex Klutzny
"Armageddon" © 1998 Touchstone Pictures
"The Negotiator" © 1998 Warner Bros.