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It would be easy to support the integrity of the "widescreen" version of
any film. In DIE HARD there's a key scene in which the cop, Lincoln, enters
the building for the first time. He has no idea terrorists are in the
building. Only in the widescreen version do you notice that a terrorist is
waiting right around the corner he's about to turn, ready to blow him away.
Yes, tension lost in pan-and-scan. There's another scene I recall in THE
AMERICAN PRESIDENT, with Michael Douglas and Annette Bening, when they have
their first conversation in the Oval Office. In the original "widescreen"
version they are seen at extreme opposite ends of the frame, with the
emblem of the U.S. between them -- obviously illustrating the vast gulf of
their separation because of the responsibilities of government (if ones
dares a reading). Subliminal message gone in pan-and-scan. But these
examples only show-up a handful of times in a 2-hour movie -- not enough to
have a noticable impact on a first-time viewer.

Yes, John Carpenter and others like to shoot in 2.35:1 ratio. But they
rarely bother to take full advantage of the frame. More often than not (as
with the above mentioned films) scenes are framed with throw-away content.
Look at a standard conversation scene. It never breaks the 180-degree rule:
the person on the left is always shot over-the-shoulder from the right,
with them framed slightly to the left. Vice-versa for the person on the
right. Other action is either kept to the right, left or centre. Almost
never is there more than one action in a scene. Very TV. That's why De
Palma continually runs into trouble. He loves using split-screen and split-
focus, which only works in widescreen. The recent pan-and-scan release of
SNAKE EYES had to resort to "letterbox" for one sequence because the
problem was so obvious.

Earlier someone had mentioned that Galaxy Quest went to the trouble of
going from something like 1.33:1 for the first 15 minutes, then switches to
2.35:1 for the rest. Intrigued, I went to a $3 matinee at a local
theatre... I have no idea why they bothered. Again, the filmmakers
continued the late 20th century tradition of shooting for TV. Keeping the
action to one area of the screen, and building in throw-away areas of the
frame.

I highlighted films like LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, THE WILD BUNCH and 2001 not so
much because they were "better" films (that's way too subjective) but
because these films -- scene-after-scene, shot-after-shot -- always try to
use the whole frame for dramatic effect. Sometimes its filled with
information. Sometimes its filled with nothing. 2001 uses a lot of nothing.
But these films were made for theatres.

Today's filmmakers don't have that luxury. They have to consider the TV,
satellite and video market (though that may change again if wide-screen TVs
take off). Look at the films of Robert Altman, for example. The 70s
NASHVILLE and M*A*S*H are impossible to watch in pan-and-scan because too
much action is lost. But the 90s THE PLAYER, SHORT CUTS and PRET-A-PORTER
look fine on TV. That's because he, like many filmmakers of his era,
consciously changed his visual style to better suit the TV frame. You can
blame the video revolution of the early 80s for that.

Someone else asked why EYES WIDE SHUT was projected in widescreen in
theatres. I'm not sure. Leo can better address that question. It may be
that modern projectors can only show prints in certain aspect ratios. But I
do know that the original camera negative is 1.37:1, and that's what
Kubrick concentrated on in his framings. Personally, I thought the video
version has much better than the theatrical I saw. The print looked awful
and muddy, but the video was much crisper and bright. The colours were more
vibrant.

As for the pacing argument, most filmmakers (if they care) monitor the pan-
and-scan transfer. I once interviewed Canadian cinematographer Paul Sarossy
about this topic (widescreen on TV) and he talked about THE ADJUSTER, which
he shot for Atom Egoyan. At the last minute, before shooting, Egoyan
discovered he could get his hands on an anamorphic lens (not very popular
here in Canada) and he was thrilled about the prospect of shooting 2.35:1.
But when it came time for the video release, Egoyan was equally gleeful
about the pan-and-scan process. According to Sarossy, Egoyan felt like he
was getting a second chance in the editing room. He could recompose scenes
and even create visual jokes. He loved it... then again, I've never heard
Egoyan say anything negative.

dw

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