Aspect ratios for fun and profit

Ok, when I watch a movie on DVD, given the choice I prefer to see it in 16:9 instead of 4:3. Now something else you have to know about me. I am a sucker for John Wayne movies, I love WWII movies, and if it has a submarine in it, I’m in.
So yesterday walking though the local Wally World I hit the trifecta John Wayne in Operation Pacific
John Wayne? check
WWII? check
Submarine? Check
Under five bucks? Check
So I bought it. On the way to the car, I spot this on the back label

:confused: This tells me nothing. The film was made in 1951 was widescreen (16:9) available then? If not 16:9 what would the aspect ratio be?
Furthermore, what are all the words used to describe the different aspect ratios when buying DVDs? What aspect ratios do these words translate to?

Sure it does. The original aspect ratio is the way the film was originally shown. And the IMDb shows the original aspect ratio for the film was 1.37:1, also known as 4:3, pan-and-scan, or standard format. The first widescreen film was The Robe, released in 1953.

The 4:3 (aka 1.33:1) ratio was common for films until the advent of CinemaScope (and later rival VistaVision) with 1953’s The Robe, and this was done specifically to compete with television, which was becoming a serious threat.

Odds are your movie is 4:3, so it’ll fit just fine on your TV. I think the DVD verbiage is just telling you that this isn’t a modified version for TV, but rather that it follows the TV-friendly standard that existed before filmmakers got nervous and decided to be different.

There were a few experimental atttempts at widescreen as early as the 1920’s, the first Hollywood Movie to use it was The Robe in 1953 (unless you count 1952’s This is Cinerama which used three regular projecors and three screens to produce a reaaaaaaaly widescreen.

Using your own link, Operation Pacific was filmed in the standard Academy Ratio of 1.37:1.

ER, what they said - my typing fingers are slow today :smiley:

Unless you know that the first widescreen movie was the Robe made two years after this movie was released, telling me it is in the same aspect ratio as the original release tells me nothing. If I am standing in the middle of Wally World I don’t have a net connection to check IMDB.
Second question pan-and-scan isn’t this how they made widescreen movies fit a 4:3 aspect ratio for TV rather than a name for the 4:3 aspect ratio? :confused:
Lastly, what names re being used on DVD boxes to denote 16:9 and 4:3. Widescreen and full screen are the ones that come to mind, what are the others? I seem to recall reading some DVD boxes that used some unfamiliar terms to describe aspect ratios.
BTW Bryan my TV is 16:9 unit, so 4:3 doesn’t look as good.

Here’s the story as I know it: When people started making movies, they settled on a more or less “standard” aspect ratio. This ratio was originally 1.37:1 and then changed to 1.66:1. This is slightly wider than a standard tekevion set which is 4:3 or 1.33:1. Until the 1950’s movies were shot and projected in this aspect ratio. (Aside from some random stuff in the 20’s. Everything happened in the 20’s, but most of it didn’t catch on… Death rays) At the same time that Hollywood was pioneering the moviemaking business, televisions were slowly making their way into American homes. The earliest television sets had basically round screens. I believe this was for technical reasons to do with the CRT technology. As time went on, the people who made televisions got better and better at controlling what they were doing. So much so that by the late 40’s (I think. The dates are approximate.) they could sell a television with a rectangular screen. The aspect ratio of that screen was 4:3.

“Oh noes!” said Hollywood. “People will watch television instead of movies because they’re the same shape!” And thus began the 1950’s, in which projection methods were changed to make way for wider and wider screens. Ben-Hur, for example, was originally projected at 2.8:1. Now most movies are shot and projected through anamorphic lenses (essentially a fish-eye lens so you can put a widescreen image onto standard 35mm film). The aspect ratio of this method can be essentially anything, but the standard size is 1.85:1. The 16:9 ratio (1.78:1) that your television has is actually a compromise between the 4:3 television ration and the 1.85:1 movie ratio.

As for your questions, pan-and-scan does refer to a technique of editing movies which were shot in widescreen (typically 1.85:1) to show them in “full screen” mode. That is, so your TV is always full. There are a lot of problems involved with filling a TV screen with image. Here’s a (somewhat) technical discussion of the problems and where they come from: link.

Widescreen means that the movie is formatted to show the full theatrical image. This probably involves narrow black bars even on your 16:9 screen. Full screen means that they’ve recut the movie to display on a 4:3 television set. As in the above link, there are a lot of problems.

The other information used to describe the aspect ratio (anamorphic is the most common one I see) are, for the most part, completely irrelevant. I don’t know of any reason why you would need to know that a movie was shot using anamorphic lenses or by masking off the camera. The masking process is called matte-ing.

If you want to watch old movies on the 16:9 unit, you’re just going to have to learn to love the black bars on either side, just like I love the black bars on the top and bottom of my el cheapo TV set. :slight_smile: If you’re looking at some DVD in Wal-Mart, the magic words are “presented in a format preserving the aspect ratio of its original theatrical exhibition” or something to that effect. Also, you need to know one date: 1953. If it’s before 1953, the image will be about the same as a standard TV set.

Finally, you should be careful with Kubrick. He was very concerned about having his movies seen the way he wanted you to see them, and not some other editor who was making the copies. So, for example, Full Metal Jacket was shot with a 4:3 ratio, but very carefully. So in the theatrical release you could cover (matte) the top and bottom of the frame and still get a pretty movie. The fullscreen version of this movie actually shows more than the theatrical version, but both were the director’s intended image.

Oh, and here’s a pretty cool link about aspect ratios with pictures and dates and some random cool facts. What’s awesome is the wider screens show a little box which represents your 4:3 television screen, so you can see how much you lose in the pan-and-scan version of Ben-Hur, for instance…

Link to aspect ratio page

Now there’s a quote to remember.

I’m just surprised somebody read the whole darned thing. Or anyway, as far as the middle…

Minor nitpick: “Pan & Scan” is when a picture has been “fiddled with” to fit a 4x3 ratio, not just any image that is 4x3.

So, a TV show shot in 4x3 isn’t “Pan & Scan”, because 4x3 is it’s native ratio.

A movie shot in 16:9 (and the many similar variations: 1.85:1/2.35:1/etc…) and then manipulated to fit into a 4x3 area is “Panned & Scanned”.