Shooting movies in "Full Screen" versus "Widescreen"

Watching some older movies recently (“The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” “The Ox-Bow Incident,” “His Girl Friday”) it occurred to me that the aspect ratio that most nearly equals what we currenlty think of as “full-frame” is really an excellent format to shoot movies in. It allows for really tight compositions: really tight close-ups, the possibility of using every bit of the screen. Plus, it just seems like a natural format to shoot movies in: if you look at movies like paintings, many paintings are made in more or less the “full-frame” ratio – slightly flattened squares. Widescreen has its purposes – BIG movies like “Lawrence of Arabia” or “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” can make great use of that format. But I don’t think it’s a natural shape for most movies – too elongated, too much screen to fill.

Anyone agree/disagree?

(And for the record, I’ll always watch a DVD in widescreen if that’s what the movie was shot in – better to see what the director shot than to see a pan ‘n’ scan.)

Oh, lord. The last discussion we got into on this topic was a bloodbath.

However the director shot it is ok with me.

On a quick search, it seems like most of the discussions about widescreen vs. fullframe so far have been people debating whether the “black bars” on the TV are good or bad. I’m not talking about that – I’ll see the movie as the director intended, however it was shot. I do think, however, that the “widescreen” format is not an inherently superior format to originally shoot the movie in. Directors should have more options about what ratio film to use for their movies, just like artists can use different size canvasses. (ie, Would the Mona Lisa be as great if it were three times as wide and Leonardo had to fill the sides with extraneous detail?)

If this really has been discussed, sorry – just point me to the right thread.

There aren’t many IMAX theaters, and despite DVDs becoming so huge, theaters are still the primary market of movies. Theaters lend themselves to widescreen format.

Also, I disagree about the composition aspect. “Two shots” in film are much better on widescreen; to me they seem cramped in 4:3. Plus pretty much all establishing shots, as well as any outdoor scenery shots work much better in widescreen. I’ll grant you that 4:3 probably works better for single shots, but other than that, I don’t see much benefit.

Then again, I think 16:9 is probably the ideal compromise, so that works out pretty nicely.

IMO, widescreen is somewhat analogous to the way in whicc we naturally [del]see[/del] perceive the world; wider than it is tall. Even (or perhaps especially) indoors; I’m looking at the computer screen, but I am peripherally aware of the door 45 degrees to my right and the window 30 degrees to my left, but without checking, I couldn’t tell you what the ceiling looks like and the floor, while it’s important that it is there, is not something I spend a lot of time studying either.

Using specific examples like this is just silly; it’s a portrait, so it’s in portrait format - would The Last Supper (by the same artist) have been so great if it had been crammed into a portrait format?

I agree with this completely. Driving a car, looking at the horizon, being in a boat, walking down the street; pretty much everything of interest is to the left and right. Stuff above and below your line of sight is generally much less meaningful and/or interesting.

That’s not to say that I wish to take up an entrenched position in this particular battle, in fact I hate that there are multiple formats and I think any single, universal format would be better than the mixture we currently have. I have a widescreen TV, which is great for watching widescreen DVDs and the occasional movie broadcast in letterbox format, but for most TV content (which is 4:3 fullscreen), I have four choices:
-Black bars at the sides
-Stretch to fit, making everyone look like Clive James
-Crop to fit, losing subtitles and feet and hair of most actors
-Crop to fit, preserving subtitles and feet, but losing eyes, foreheads and hair.

I don’t consider any of these options as particularly outstanding.

Well the 4:3 format was switched when TV adopted it. To compete Films had to do all sorts of nifty tricks to differentiate tehm from the upstart medium. One of those was the wide screen (Cinerama I believe was one of the first)

4:3 is ideal for close up intimate shots but lousy for most other shots.

Some directors waste the wide screen because some are just workman like and only put in a rudimentary amount of screen composition. Others know exactly how to utilize the full space.

Also it should be mentioned that “widescreen” is actually a bunch of different ratios. There’s 2.35:1, 1.85:1, 16x9, etc. Plus there’s nothing that says a director can’t include different ratios in the same film; for example there’s a 4x3 bit in Kill Bill 2 IIRC.

The FCC formally adopted the 4:3 ratio for television in 1941, long before the widescreen explosion in the mid-1950s.

I can’t cite a year for it, but the advent of CinemaScope and its imitators came as a reaction to TV. In order to give people something they couldn’t get at home watching reruns on TV, the studios hoped the gimmick of widescreen would draw people to the theater. The 3D fad was another such gimmick.

Panavision and other widescreen formats followed the CinemaScope craze and filmmakers began to find creative ways to fill screens. All of this put the puzzle back in TV’s hands with how to deal with the widescreen on TV.

Cat chasing its tail.

All I know is that seeing early CinemaScope things on TV in pan-and-scan really gets boring. I much prefer letterbox.

Umm, TV didn’t become a popular (that is, a threat) until the 1950s.


I just want to throw it out their that I find it fairly pretentious to shoot things that are made for TV in letterbox format - music videos, “special” episodes of shows like ER. I know a lot of people have wide-screen TVs now, but it’s still annoying. It’s a cheap shortcut for making material seem bigger and more “cinematic” and thus more relevant somehow.

This drives me absolutely batshit.

I was watching a Giants game when they were playing in Miami against the Marlins. The Marlins have a brand-new widescreen video screen in their ballpark… and everything was stretched! What kind of idiot sets something up like that?!

They do it simply because it is no better or worse than all of the other unpleasant options available for displaying 4:3 on a 16:9 set.

Altering the picture is most definitely worse than not altering the picture.

Especially when we’re talking about a baseball scoreboard, where they could easily fill the letterboxing with other material- the lineup for each team, for example.

I’m going to have to agree. I’ve been in situations where television pictures were stretched to fit a widescreen format - every time far more noticeable and annoying than black bars at the sides of the screen, which most people filter out after bit anyway. I never understood why people set their televisions up in such a nasty, awful way.