Sinemascope: Why Certain Aspect Ratios Need To Die

Looks familiar, don’t it? Well, TIME TO DIE!!!

In layman’s terms, a film’s “aspect ratio” refers to how wide and/or tall the film appears. The aspect ratio that measures 2.35:1 or 2.40:1 is colloquially known as the Cinemascope aspect ratio — a way of framing the film so that the screen appears wider (remember, appears). This technique was pioneered in 1953 by Twentieth Century-Fox with biblical epic The Robe and medieval fantasy Prince Valiant, as a method of getting moviegoers away from their TV sets to experience something that could only be seen on the silver screen. The problem with this luscious backstory is twofold:

1. 35mm film, on which Cinemascope originated (later 70mm), has a native aspect ratio of 1.33:1 (i.e.: old TVs), and even though the Cinemascope ratio has grown slightly since The Robe, by cropping the film to such a degree that it does, you lose not only valuable space, but also resolution. This principle still applies in the digital age, where cameras shoot a native ratio of 1.78:1 — the same size as a widescreen TV, which brings us to…

2. The Cinemascope Aspect Ratio (hereon referred to as CAR) looks awful on a widescreen TV — two black bars on the top and bottom of the image says to the viewer that you don’t care about the home viewing experience, and that if they wanted to see your movie, they should have done so in the theater. Speaking of…

3. The CAR looks even worse on an IMAX screen. Digital IMAX theaters show at an AR of 1.90:1, close to 1.78:1, and if you cram a CAR film on that screen, it doesn’t make use of the format one bit, particularly if the film is in 2D only — rather, it looks like a mere blowup of the standard version.

On top of this, all but one of the theaters in my area widen their screen to fit the CAR; the rest of them shrink it, proving the CAR’s obsolescence. What I should like to see happen in the land of smoke and mirrors is, to drive my point home, more blockbuster and mainstream studio films shot in anything other than the CAR. Sure, there have been a few — Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Marvel’s The Avengers and upcoming films Jurassic World and Ant-Man, but this is simply not enough. Other aspect ratios should not be reserved for comedies (romantic or otherwise), dramas and Oscar bait. Cinemascope was designed to pull audiences away from their televisions, and I fear that keeping it around is only going to push them back.

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