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Most North American movies -- I'm guessing at least 90% -- have been shot
in this manner since the early 1980s. Primarily to capitalize on the
growing video market. It's also known "Soft Matting"

Check out this link called "How Film is Transferred to Video":
http://www.cs.tut.fi/~leopold/Ld/FilmToVideo/

I would have trouble listing 10 films, made in the last 20 years, that
truly maximise the wide-screen format. In other words, those that are "Hard
Matted" (see above link for definition). Oddly, it's films by Brian De
Palma and Michael Cimino that stick out for me, and not too many people
care about them. Earlier someone highlighted Gattaca as a film they've been
resisting screening on video. Trust me. I've seen the pan-and-scan version.
I would never have guessed it was shot 2.35:1 until it was mentioned here
on the list. For one thing, pan-and-scan technology has made great advances
since the days of old.

The fact is, most filmmakers nowadays intend their films for the full-frame
video release. But it's far more marketable to hardcore film fans to
release "Widescreen" versions and make statements like "as the filmmaker
originally intended." How else are they going to get people to buy a second
copy of the same film?

In the future I would recommend doing some research.

www.amazon.com has a great "technical information" page for all video
releases which almost always includes the aspect ratio of the film. Or you
can try the "technical specs" page on the IMDB. If the film is 1.66 or even
1.85 (such as Taxi Driver or Schindler's List) chances are you won't notice
a major difference between pan-and-scan or widescreen -- you're more likely
to see less with widescreen because it's a "soft matt." But, if the aspect
ratio is 2.35, you are more likely to want a "letterbox" version.

Sometimes the soft matting helps to hide technical flaws such as boom mikes
and dolly tracks. A favorite example of soft matted enthusiasts is the bike
chain sequence in Pee Wee's Big Adventure. But these exceptions are very
few.

darryl

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