Monday, December 12, 2005

The Widescreen debate.

For the last five years, since dvd became a mainstream product, there's been a fight between widescreen and full frame ratios. Basically it goes like this:

Film buffs want to see films the way they were originally shown, even if you have to fit a rectangle into a square picture frame.

Casual buyers don't care and think picture is being wasted by those 'black bars' on the screen.

And round and round we go.

Two things have helped bring widescreen to the masses. The first being all those commercials now shown in letterbox. Nothing breeds acceptance like the technique being forced on you twenty times a day. The other is of course all those wonderful 16x9 TVs everyone wants nowadays. I've got one so I'm already spoiled. Thanks to this, people have gotten used to movies in widescreen whether it fills a 16x9 screen or leaves black bars on a 1.33 screen.

But then there's television.

The studios want us all to buy 16x9 screens. In high definition, no less. So they began shooting most shows for a 16x9 frame a few years ago. Some shows like 'ER' give normal screens the black bars. Others like 'Everybody Loves Raymond' (when it was on) chop off the left and right sides of the screen if you're not watching it in high definition, which leaves the viewer a bit disoriented. There's always some action happening off screen.

Fortunately most television shows on dvd have been shown in widescreen. 'Desperate Housewives' was a struggle but we've been renting the show in widescreen and we're happier for it.

Which brings me to animation.

Unless you're a comic book geek, you probably have no idea that Bruce Timm has been creating the greatest superhero animated series for over 12 years now. It started with the monumental 'Batman: the Animated Series' in 1992 and went seamlessly into 'Superman', 'Batman Beyond' and now 'Justice League'. Over the course of over three hundred episodes so far, Timm and his staff have created a universe that's faithful to the comics, consistent to itself and always innovative. And now he's doing it in widescreen.

Cartoon Network was iffy about Timm's decision to shoot in widescreen so they comprimised. On Saturday nights, 'Justice League' aired in 16x9. On Sundays, 1.33. Confusing but it kept everyone quiet.

Now it's coming out on dvd. And the Warners Kids department doesn't like widescreen. They assume that kids don't have the capacity to understand they're seeing more of the screen, not less. And kids don't make nearly enough money to buy a 16x9 television set. The solution? Chop up' Justice League' and throw it out there.

The adult fans are pretty angry about this. Whether Warners wants to admit this or not (and they don't) this is a show that skews to an older demographic. The same way 'South Park' or 'Aqua Teen Hunger Force' appeals to an older crowd. Adult animation is finally accepted, but superheroes are still seen as a kid's property. That's the problem.

The World's Finest is starting a campaign to release 'Justice League' in widescreen. And they've explained it better than I ever could. With the all the hard work the crew puts in on this show, it would be a crime to throw 30% of it away. Bruce Timm himself wants to see the dvds the way he intended them. So do I. So go over to the campaign and see how you can help. And remember, even if you don't care about 'Justice League', right now studios are making similar decisions about a show you love.

UPDATE: Warners has decided to release future seasons in widescreen!


Anonymous said...

I can't believe I wasted my time reading this entire post.

WHO CARES about whether or not a geeky superhero cartoon is widescreen or not?!?!?!?!?

I can't believe that I'm even taking the time to re....

dan x.

Jon Clarke said...

You saw the picture buddy.

ec said...

All I know is that after I move I am getting a 50 INCH plasma (which will of course be widescreen) - so I will once again have the biggest TV of anyone I know. . .which is of course the natural order of things. Have not seen you in ages jon, btw - the old W is working my fingers to the bone!

cromely said...

In the past 2 to 3 years, the same thing has happened with the notebook computer market. When 17" dispalys bcame realisitc, many vendors opted to go wides screen, presumabley because of easier construction and engineering. Plus, it kept the foot print of the machine small. As time went on wdide screen displaced traditional 4x3 displays in the mid and smaller sizes as weel, with the introduciton of the 15.4" wides and the 14" wides. Great for multitasking, spreadsheets, and of course movies.

Now most any retailer will offer wide screen notebooks only. They have displaced most traditional forma factors.

We are just now starting to see the same thing happen in the corportate market. Thus far, the wide screens have been seen as a largely consumer product, but more corporate users are picking them up now, as well.