Tuesday, December 27, 2011


Wild at Heart (1990) - Cropped 1.33:1 SDTV Aspect Ratio
Wild at Heart (1990) - Cropped 1.78:1 HDTV Aspect Ratio
Wild at Heart (1990) - Original 2.35:1 Theatrical Aspect Ratio
Last year we recommended you avoid using Netflix Instant Watching to view the David Lynch films Dune (1984) and Wild at Heart (1990) once we discovered they were presenting the movies in a different aspect ratio than their original theatrical presentations. We recently found a useful educational video below produced by cable station Turner Classic Movies (TCM). The video features several distinguished filmmakers explaining the importance of getting the technical detail of letterboxing right in our home video presentations. After reading our article and viewing the many examples we collected, you will better understand why every film should be seen as their directors originally intended.

We hoped the antiquated "Pan & Scan" process would go the way of the dodo after the development of widescreen displays, which made it far easier to preserve a movies' original aspect ratio without losing much or any space on your TV screen. But we are sad to see TV and video producers still implementing the process far too often, frequently cropping films now for the slightly wider 1.78:1 high definition widescreen displays, even when the original films were presented at ratios of 2.35:1 or wider. When watching the movies of a painterly director, such as David Lynch, then the entire artistic composition can be ruined for you without you ever knowing it.
Dune (1984) - Cropped 1.33:1 SDTV Aspect Ratio
Dune (1984) - Cropped 1.78:1 HDTV Aspect Ratio
Dune (1984) - Original 2.35:1 Theatrical Aspect Ratio
Admittedly, things were even worse when film images were cropped for older and boxier 1.33:1 standard definition TV sets, which often cut off nearly 40% of the image from many classic films. But just because the cropping problem used to be worse before does not mean it is not still a serious problem today. Most TV stations practice some form of image manipulation when broadcasting movies, and continue chopping off large sections of the frame to fill out TV screen space without the small black bars associated with letterboxing. One reason we wrote this article is the hope that when the public becomes more aware of and better educated about this insidious practice, fewer internet outlets and TV broadcasters will indulge in this form of cinematic butchery.
The Elephant Man (1980) Letterboxed (Subtle Black Matting Along the Top and Bottom of the Screen). Letterboxing Helps Maintain the Original 2.35:1 Theatrical Dimensions When Presented on Widescreen (1.78:1) HDTV Displays
Generally speaking, any movie or TV series David Lynch made at an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 or 1.85:1 was probably soft matted, which means the film was framed for an ideal 1.85:1 theatrical presentation but with sufficient extra film negative area above and below the relevant area to later accommodate a strong 1.33:1 SDTV video transfer, too. Some filmmakers like Stanley Kubrick even preferred the box-like, open video transfer of his film The Shining (1980). So in other words, even if those particular films or TV shows are altered slightly to fill the new 1.78:1 HDTV screen, the image will likely still maintain the director's original intention for the film. David Lynch's Twin Peaks TV series is particularly beautiful when viewed using your HDTV's zoom function, magnifying the relevant image area.
The Twin Peaks TV Series was Filmed to Look Great in Movie Theaters, Too
If you come across a David Lynch movie on TV or video, then feel free to consult the list below to ensure you are getting the original aspect ratio and not cheated from seeing relevant parts of the image:
  1. Eraserhead (1977) - 1.85:1
  2. The Elephant Man (1980) - 2.35:1
  3. Dune (1984) - 2.35:1
  4. Blue Velvet (1986) - 2.35:1
  5. Wild at Heart (1990) - 2.35:1
  6. Twin Peaks: TV Series (1990-91) - 1.33:1
  7. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992) - 1.85:1
  8. On the Air: TV Series (1992) - 1.33:1
  9. Hotel Room: TV Series (1993) - 1.33:1
  10. Lost Highway (1997) - 2.35:1
  11. The Straight Story (1999) - 2.35:1
  12. Mulholland Dr. (2001) - 1.85:1
  13. Inland Empire (2006) - 1.78:1 [First Lynch feature shot digitally]

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