I was watching History Channel's 9/11 programming.

Part of this was the 2006 film United 93. I wanted to compare what cuts had been made to the theatrical version, so I dug out my Blu-ray and popped it in. Lots of reduction of swearing. Then I found something that was quite curious. It looked as if, in a few scenes, there was more picture in the top and bottom than on Blu-ray.

Here's a screenshot from the History broadcast

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Here is a photo of roughly the same frame from the Blu-ray

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Pardon my crappy camera skills but the whole image is there, black bars too.

I'm just curious why you can see United Airlines's in flight magazine "Hemispheres" on the TV broadcast but not on Blu-ray. The black bars cover it up. I was under the impression TV channels crop their images to get rid of the black bars by trimming off the sides, and top and bottom, and that Blu-ray was the whole film.

Is this not the case?

  • may be the aspect ratio are different
    – J M
    Sep 12, 2017 at 5:34

2 Answers 2


35mm film has always had an aspect ratio of approximately 4:3. When widescreen cinematography became popular in the 1950s, it was achieved in a number of different ways.

Films with a 1.85:1 aspect ratio are typically shot "flat," with no special lenses, and the top and bottom of the filmed image are simply cropped to produce the final widescreen image. The monitors used during filming usually had markers indicating where the 1.85:1 image would fall within the full 4:3 frame. When 4:3 was the standard television ratio, these films were often presented in full screen by "opening up" the image and showing the entire 4:3 filmed image. This is moot today as modern 16:9 televisions have an aspect ratio very close to 1.85:1.

Presumably because using the same process for 2.35:1 films would result in too much of the film's frame going unused, 2.35:1 films use a different approach. Actually, there are two common approaches for shooting a 2.35:1 image on 35mm film. The first is to use an anamporhic lens, which basically squeezes the image horizontally, so that on the film reel itself, everything looks tall and skinny. When the film is projected back using the corresponding projection lens to "unsqueeze" it, the result is a 2.35:1 picture. The squeezed 2.35:1 image takes up the entire 4:3 film frame, so unlike a flat 1.85:1 film, there is no extraneous picture information at the top and bottom of the screen. When such a film is played on television in "full screen," it must be done via "pan & scan," where the sides of the image are cropped (and obviously this is still true for modern 16:9 televisions, though the cropping is less severe than it was on 4:3 televisions), which is the process you were expecting to be used for United 93.

But according to the IMDb, United 93 was shot "Super 35", which is another way of getting a 2.35:1 image on 35mm film. In Super 35, the area of the film that is normally reserved for the analog sound track is instead used for part of the picture. The recorded image is still roughly 4:3, but it's larger than it normally is, so the 2.35:1 image can be extracted without as severe a loss of resolution. As with flat films, there is extraneous picture information above and below the intended image, which can be exposed when a film is transfered for television.

  • So... TL;DR: "The following film has been modified from its original version. It has been formatted to fit this screen, to run in the time allotted and edited for content" ?
    – Mazura
    Sep 12, 2017 at 22:49

According to IMDb, United 93 was released in 2.35:1 ratio. (but shot on 35mm which is typically 4:3 so framed for a wider screen and gives editor/director more choices on what to show later) Assuming you have a normal widescreen TV, the ratio of that is 16:9 or ~ 1.77 to 1 ratio. Blu-rays typically will display on your 16:9 TV Letter-boxed (the black trim bars on top and bottom) so you see the original image in a slightly smaller frame. If you were watching it in 16:9 mode (I can't tell from the Blu-ray picture if there is letter boxing ) they typically just cut some of the sides of the visible picture, but sometimes, they do a combination of panning (side-to side capture of the most relevant piece of the picture) and zooming. If they have a specific edit for Blu-ray full 16:9 screen, they may have zoomed cutting both bottom and sides. According to Amazon the Blu-ray is in the original 2.35:1 ratio, but that may just be a copy from the original film's specs.

The interesting thing here is that the History channel shot seems shows more detail on top and bottom as you mentioned but possibly more to the left of the screen - you can see the start of the wall on the left - but it might be a split second difference in capture time.

So here is what I think is going on:

United 93 was filmed in 35mm - which is essentially 4:3 format. It was edited for theatrical release as 2.35:1 (which cuts the top and bottom off to make it look wider). The broadcast version was released with a 16:9 ratio which re-introduced some of the top and bottom captured image. Your Blu-ray is showing in letter-boxed 2.35:1 so less top and bottom.

  • 1
    What a great answer. Let me check the box and see what aspect ratio they list. So the whole thought on my end about them cropping the films from the theater release is wrong?
    – J. Litke
    Sep 12, 2017 at 16:57
  • Depends on how the movie is shot - many movies are shot in 2.35:1 The Hateful Eight was shot on 65 mm or 2.76:1 so when it goes to 16:9 there are more limitations on how to edit and make it full screen. Shooting in 4:3 gives the most options to edit later, but using really wide lenses as Tarantino did offers a more artistic epic-looking movie. Sep 12, 2017 at 19:45
  • 1
    So,, I just looked at the Blu-ray. Yep, 2.35:1. I guess this was the intended "proper" ratio, but I think I may like the Cable version better.
    – J. Litke
    Sep 12, 2017 at 19:55
  • As a follow-up to this question (I was researching aspect ratios again), why don't the producers or director just show all picture information? Wouldn't that work?
    – J. Litke
    Dec 31, 2018 at 9:37

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