Cinema Monolith

Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.

Celluloid Mayhem at the Target Movie Kiosk

Target - Peoria, AZ crop

I thought I’d start off this semi-monthly column—detailing the many film-related mishaps and absurdities we’ve dealt with over our lifetimes—with a comical-but-depressing encounter I had at a Target store several years ago, when I was standing near a display of recently-released DVD titles and noticed two women in conversation next to me, apparently having some difficulty with the new 35th Anniversary edition of the original Planet of the Apes, a very cool two-disc set I’d already purchased a week or so earlier.

One of the two was holding a Planet of the Apes case in each hand: the widescreen version in the left, and the full-screen edition in the right. After studying the front and back of each box for a moment, then consulting with her friend, she turned to me and asked, “Excuse me, can you help me with these?”

I knew exactly where this was headed, and told her I’d be glad to help. She asked, “What’s the difference between full-screen and widescreen?” Having touted the virtues of the widescreen ‘letterbox’ format over the pan-and-scan full-screen abomination for years, I was more than ready to make a sale; I started with widescreen first, explaining how most movies shot after 1953 were filmed in one of many widescreen processes, resulting in a movie that was now twice as wide as it was high, and that when DVDs kept this aspect ratio intact, you saw everything that was seen on theater screens when the film was first released, including everything in frame that the director intended for you to see. The DVD widescreen image was sharper, and more panoramic, and visually offered more to a viewer than its full-screen counterpart did.

Full-screen, on the other hand, was what first happened to early VHS and Beta releases, and was a practice that continued to this day; someone takes the widescreen picture and lops off chunks from the left and right side of the frame, allowing the now square-ish picture to fit more comfortably within your standard TV screen. What this did, however, was remove actual filmed portions of the movie, many times eliminating important—and even necessary—elements of a scene or story, and basically changing the director’s vision of the film. Also, once those sides of the frame were removed, the resulting image had to be enlarged to fit the television monitor, which meant the picture was zoomed-in on, and thus more grainy and less sharp than the original widescreen image.

I concluded with some actual examples I’d seen of pan-and-scanned and letterboxed videos: credits being cut off and only portions of actors visible in full-screen movies, and the advantage of widescreen when watching the precision compositions Spielberg used in his camera frame, or how a film I’d recently watched, the original version of The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, had made complete use of the panoramic space by filling the entirety of nearly every shot with important or artistic imagery, which would’ve been lost if the film had been hacked down to full-screen size. In a nutshell, I said, there’s just no comparison: widescreen was the way to go.

“Which one has the black bars?” she asked suddenly.

“Well, widescreen,” I replied.

She immediately put the widescreen version of Planet of the Apes back on the shelf, dropped the full-screen version into her shopping cart, and without a thank you or a handshake or even a flip of the bird, turned with her friend and walked away, presumably to the check-out stands, and not to the store manager to complain about the preponderance of these damn full-screen movies on their store shelves.

And what did I do then, besides wonder how much of my discourse she’d actually paid attention to? I promptly took all the full-frame Planet of the Apes cases and hid them behind other DVDs at the bottom of the display.

If not with common sense and logic, then maybe with a little foul play and deception.

Damn you, you full screen Planet of the Apes!

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Movies Reviewed: 222

From the Monolith: 123

Movies by Decade

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