For an avid film viewer and collector, there is only one way to watch a film: as close to its original form as possible. Of course, to get the best film viewing experience, watch them in the theater on the big screen. There is nothing quite like it: the giant screen, the surround sound, the dark to help the suspension of disbelief. There’s the enjoyment of watching the film with others, listening to the crowd laughing, screaming or gasping right along with you.
Trying to replicate that experience at home when renting or buying DVDs is a different matter. Most of us start by splurging on big-screen TVs, surround-sound systems or even state-of-the-art home theaters to try to achieve this feeling. This brings up the question about the choice of DVDs themselves.
I’m not talking about what movies to watch, as we all have different tastes where that is concerned. What I’m talking about is the format, the choice of widescreen or full-screen.
My brother only buys full-screen. He likes to see as a picture as big as possible on his big-screen TV. The black bars at the top and bottom of the screen annoy him and take away from his viewing experience. After all, that’s not what it looks like in the movie theaters.
While I can certainly understand that point of view, I beg to differ. Full-screen DVDs do not give you the same viewing experience that you would get in the theaters. In fact, full-screen DVDs typically edit the film to fit the home TV screen, usually cutting off some of the image both to the right and left of the screen.
For me, widescreen is the only option. I believe in preserving the director’s vision of the film I would buy. After all, it’s impossible to get the desolate feel of Lawrence alone in that long stretch of desert in “Lawrence of Arabia” if the desert is edited to fit my screen. It’s downright unfeasible to see the epic sweep and scope of the snow-capped mountains as the small band of travelers follows their quest in “Lord of the Rings” if half of those mountains are cut out. Full-screen just doesn’t convey the same visual message.
Don’t get me started on the horrors of panning-and-scanning where only portions of a scene are shown at any given time and only those deemed important enough are shown, while the rest of the scene is just thrown away. Although this is primarily done to re-size movies that are broadcast on TV, it’s appalling to think that someone views a masterpiece like “Casablanca” and determines what part of the bar or which group of people are the most important to focus on. This cuts out as much as half of the picture. Unfortunately, some companies do use this technique to format full-screen DVDs as well.
Don’t believe me? Check out www.widescreen.org for examples of the differences in several films between the original pictures as they would appear in widescreen format versus what pan-and-scan does to these same images.
The discomfort that big-screen TV owners might experience from the black bars in widescreen DVDs is considerably less. The bigger the screen, the less noticeable those bars are going to be. There’s also new technology being put into a new line of widescreen televisions that are being released these days which will eliminate the black bars from the viewing experience altogether.
Most DVD releases will have a widescreen version available for purchase, which are the ones that include the best extras. But it is really the sales where the battle for widescreen can be seen to be rapidly winning the day. Some companies are only releasing their DVDs in widescreen format, Disney among them, and when widescreen DVDs are not available, the public has created a stink on several occasions that has forced companies to create a widescreen DVD format for sale at the last minute.
In 2004, Slate magazine reported that Blockbuster announced they prefer to shelve only widescreen DVDs for rent in response to customer demand.
The ultimate argument in favor of widescreen is that it protects the vision of the directors who created these films. If directors are the modern-day artists and film is their medium, we shouldn’t be editing their work and chopping up their films to fit our “viewing pleasure” at home. Mona Lisa’s smile wouldn’t be as effective if we couldn’t see her arms folded in front of her. Or maybe it would, but it certainly would not be the same masterpiece.
This is why I insist on only buying widescreen. The art lover in me can have it no other way. After all, if I’m a fan of a film, I want to see it in its original context, in its original vision, as close to that theater experience as possible.