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There is a question about the Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy and the aspect ratios it was released in: Why the very different release formats for Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy?

The crux of the question is an overlay of the 2.35:1 frame with the 4:3 frame. Normally (I think) for most films, if you were to overlay the two, you'd see something like this:

-----------* * * * * * * * * * * * *-----------
|2.35:1    * 4:3                   *          |
|(filmed)  * (cropped)             *          |
|          *                       *          |
|          *                       *          |
|          *                       *          |
|          *                       *          |
|          *                       *          |
|          *                       *          |
-----------* * * * * * * * * * * * *-----------

If I understand the typical process, the movie is filmed at 2.35:1 and later cropped for 4:3 and 16:9 TVs.

However, the 'evidence' in the aforementioned question shows the overlapping aspect ratios as such:

         * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
         *   4:3 (cropped)           *
-----------------------------------------------
|2.35:1  *                           *        |
|(cropped?)                          *        |
|        *                           *        |
|        *                           *        |
|        *                           *        |
|        *                           *        |
|        *                           *        |
|        *                           *        |
-----------------------------------------------
         *                           *
         * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Based on the above, it would seem that the film would have had to be shot with a frame both wider than 4:3, and taller than 2.35:1. If true, the question I have is:

Are some films shot at an aspect ratio larger than any one of the released aspect ratios?

In other words, are some films shot so that all of the various releases will be cropped in their own unique way, rather than just taking the widest release and chopping off the sides?

Alt theory/question: One theory is that IMDB is incorrect and the film wasn't actually shot at 2.35:1 and was instead shot at 16:9, and they ended up cropping both for wide screen and 4:3. If true, is that a common practice? If so, why? It feels odd that anyone interested in the widest screen formats would also be OK with the original frame being cropped.

  • 1
    Slightly related... many films are "cropped in"... trimming some chunk off of the frame in all directions but not changing the aspect ratio... this is often done to crop out stuff like lights, booms, etc... and often it's simply because the frame is bigger than the "safe zone"... but I don't think this is what you're asking about. – Catija Jan 20 '16 at 19:46
  • Might have been shot on standard [non-anamorphic, if that's a word… you can tell I'm not a camerman] 35mm, which would give a frame size sufficient to crop all 3 ratios out of - 2.35:1 16:9 & 4:3. It was made at a time when many people still had 4:3 TVs, so might have been a consideration right from the start. [I've no evidence to back this up, it's just speculation, so cannot be an answer] – Tetsujin Jan 20 '16 at 20:39
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    Yes, some are. TV sometimes is too, hence the HD release of Friends in 16:9 despite being originally broadcast in 4:3. – BCdotWEB Jan 21 '16 at 9:45
  • @BCdotWEB but was that merely wide screen cropped to 4:3, or did they use entirely different vertical croppings and actually film at a much larger frame than both 4:3 and 16:9 combined? – DA. Jan 21 '16 at 14:39
  • ah! Just saw the diagram linked to in that answer. Yes! That does appear it was filmed in a much larger frame and cropped separately for each release. Is there a standard for that particular frame size? (That's make a great answer, BTW!) – DA. Jan 21 '16 at 14:41
0

Maybe I'm misunderstanding your question but wouldn't this actually be a case of using open matte?

Using your formatting style it would look like this:

*********************************************
*  4:3 (for home release)                   *
*                                           *
*                                           *
*                                           *
*-------------------------------------------*
* 2.35:1 (theatrical)                       *
*                                           *
*                                           *
*                                           *
*                                           *
*-------------------------------------------*
*                                           *
*                                           *
*                                           *
*                                           *
*                                           *
*********************************************
| improve this answer | |
  • Yes! I think so! It's not quite the same as the example (note that in the example film, they both lost width, but gained height in the 4:3 version) but seems to be along the same lines and is perhaps just a variation. Interesting that Kubrik used this technique. Do we know what the intent of using it is? I'd guess it's so film makers can focus on the full academy ratio when filming, but not have to worry about cropping for the 4:3 version (back when that was a common ratio for home released). – DA. Feb 4 '16 at 0:14
  • Open matte is generally used for 1.85:1 films but not 2.39:1. – Carl Fink Feb 26 at 19:57
2

So, I think there is an important clarification that needs to be made about aspect ratios and movies.

First, home exhibition and the 4:3 aspect ratio never influenced movie production and exhibition. These technologies arrived long after the current (and past) standards had been established. And with that, a bit of history:

Background:

Film production aspect ratios have varied somewhat over time. One of the earliest of these was known as the Academy ratio, named after the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and established as the standard in 1932. Prior to this, silent films had been filmed at a 4:3 aspect ratio, long before that ratio was in use in modern technologies. The reason for the change when audio was added is that the soundtrack occupied space on the film where the picture used to go, and having a taller picture proved to be disorienting and technically-challenging.

A number of aspect ratios were used for widescreen format going into the 1950s-60s. The obvious issue with these formats is that all, to a greater or lesser extent, wasted a good chunk of the actual film, leaving a significant amount of unused space between frames with 4 perforations per frame.

Thus, at about the same time as the Academy was standardizing the original widescreen format, anamorphic technology started to come into use. This compresses the image horizontally such that more of the film can be used. Then, on the projection side, special lenses are used to re-stretch the image back to it's original width. The most widely-known of these, Cinemascope and Panavision both came into play in the 1950s and are still in use today. The standard exhibition aspect ratio for an anamorphic film is 2.39:1.

Film vs. Home Formats:

Back when most TVs were of the 4:3 variety, a movie filmed in anamorphic 2.39:1 aspect ratio would lose nearly half of the picture if cropped to this ratio; hence letterboxing was also widely used to avoid this loss.

Even today, with a 16:9 display, the standard cinema exhibition aspect ratios "flat" (1.85:1) and "scope" (2.39:1) are wider than the 16:9 ratio and will result in letterboxing. It is now common to have settings on your TV, however, to control the zoom/crop level, with the media itself presenting the original theatrical version of the material.

Additionally, many theaters don't have screens that are perfectly 1.85:1 or 2.39:1, but instead fall somewhere in the middle. For these theaters, cropping is a reality - it is quite common to crop the top and bottom of a 1.85 feature, or the sides for a 2.39 feature so that it will fit the full-height or full-width of the cinema's screen. Because of this, safe zone areas have been established and standardized such that cropping can be done safely to a reasonable extent.

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    This is an interesting historical recapitulation, but you might want to try and include a more direct conclusion of what this ultimately means with regards to answering the question asked. – Napoleon Wilson Feb 25 at 15:57
  • @NapoleonWilson - if you can pick out a specific question in there, I'd be interested to know what it is. I'm merely attempting to provide some clarity to a post which indicates some misconceptions about how aspect ratios and cropping works. – theMayer Feb 25 at 16:00
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    This talks about aspect ratios in general, but doesn't answer the question asked in that I was wondering if there are movies filmed using a frame that is larger than all the cropped aspect ratios that would come from it (it appears so, and though not a movie, the Friends example linked in the comments seems to be a good example). Letterboxing isn't' really germane to this question. – DA. Feb 25 at 16:02
  • Well, the simple answer is, "yes," but your question was (and still is) confusing. Would you mind clarifying what a good answer would look like? It is, in fact, quite common for movies filmed with IMAX systems to use the native IMAX ratio, which is taller than standard cinema formats, and would be cropped accordingly. – theMayer Feb 25 at 16:04
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This is common for films shot using the "Super 35" process. James Cameron is one director noted for using this process for most of his films. The 4:3 laserdisc release of The Abyss even included a note regarding its director-approved aspect ratio, which was altered from the original 2.39:1 theatrical version.

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