The other day I decided to re-watch "Die Hard 3" for the umpteenth time, but I still only have my original copy on VHS that I bought years ago (it's really hard to find the full cut on a decent package DVD, the search continues)...and it got me thinking again about the horror that was Pan & Scan.
For some reason back in the day some moron thought - hey, let's pander to idiots who don't understand that a widescreen film will leave black bars on their square televisions, so let's horribly molest the original image by chopping off vast quantities of the edges and zoom in so the image quality is grainy.
No wonder the "amazing picture" sales line of DVD was so easy to pimp, of course they looked loads better, because VHS tapes were being fucked over essentially, by having inferior copies of films transferred onto them which made them grainy and make the cinematography look like it was done by a drunk monkey.
Now, zooming in from a 1.85:1 image isn't intensely atrocious - well, some of the time anyway - but zooming in from 2.35:1 (which I assume is what "Die Hard 3" was, but haven't bothered checking) is just insanity. A myriad of scenes go by with additional camera pans that never existed before. Towards the end when our protagonists are strapped to a bomb, they literally have a conversation between the backs of their necks for a really long time, it's beyond retardation of the highest order...and maddening to me now.
I didn't notice such things as much, or at all even, when I was a kid or in my early teens...I'd often see films for the first time on video - so the images were zoomed in on already, but now when I re-watch one of my videotapes it just pains me to see the molestation that Pan & Scan caused - who on earth thought it was a good idea?!
Hey, instead of pandering to idiots - just fucking tell them what's up, and that with Pan & Scan they actually ARE losing parts of the image, which is what they thought they were losing with widescreen films on square televisions...you know, it's that kind of pandering that will doom mankind back to the oceans.
And this brings me on to what I call 'nu-pan-and-scan'. With the standard aspect ratio now being 16x9/1.85:1, the old standard of 4:3 poses a problem. While I don't mind stretching the full 4:3 image to fill a 16x9 display (you easily get used to it), I do mind a 4:3 film being butchered to now appear in 16x9 when it was never filmed in such an aspect ratio. I can't think of an example of the top of my head right now, admittedly, but I have seen it happen...not to the high-regarded classics like "The Maltese Falcon" (and rightly so), but to 'lesser' films/genres it has - and it's just further retardation. Either put up with black bars on the edges of your screen, or just widen the image out, it's really not bad - and you're not losing any image, importantly.
This does ultimately bring me on to the general public not understanding aspect ratios, it really isn't a hard thing to understand, at least the main thrust of it anyway. I remember at uni on many occasions coming down to find my house-mates watching a 4:3 broadcast on 16x9 zoom mode and baulked at how they didn't notice the difference whatsoever prior to me correcting their mistake.
But I must force myself to end this rant here...and discuss one of the very positive sides of VHS culture that was very important in my teenage years, something which is sadly no longer the case - at least nowhere near as much as in my day. But that will follow in another post.