Steven Soderbergh called attention to this issue a few months back, but the DGA’s website was in a state of disrepair and his opinion piece couldn’t be properly linked. Also, I don’t have cable, so I didn’t pick up on the issue first hand — that is, until I moved out of my apartment September 1st and, by relying on the kindness of others and couch surfing, began watching movies on cable in wonderful high definition. There’s been just one problem: the movies are crapped. Sorry, I mean cropped.
I thought when HDTV was invented we’d be done with the travesty of pan and scan (cropping the sides of widescreen content and debasing an original, rectangular composition in order to shove it into a more squarish display). Surely the movie consuming, HDTV-owning public is used to the black bars at the top of their TVs that have appeared on widescreen movies for years, and understand it’s supposed to look that way? Apparently not. HBO, AMC, and other HD cable channels have taken to instituting pan and scan again — it’s not as egregious to fit cinemascope content (2.35:1) into a widescreen HDTV (1.78:1) as it was back when we had 4:3 displays, but with the ubiquity of large TVs these days, there’s no need to amputate a film in order to get a slightly higher perceived image size. Even worse, HBO, AMC et. al no longer give you the warning, “the following has been formatted to fit your TV” — they just do it and leave you none the wiser until you notice a shot where a character on the periphery’s face is cut in half, or are generally overcome with an uneasy feeling of framic claustrophobia. Soderbergh goes more in-depth (with more cred) and calls out the channels individually in his opinion piece. Free your HDTV!