Thursday 7 May 2009

The Negotiator, a decade-in-the-coming, and a rant about Pan & Scan...

I've seriously had this on tape since the middle of 1999, and I've never gotten around to it. On the very same day I also got the Kurt Russell movie Soldier - which I watched that very day - but for some reason I left The Neogitator for another time, no doubt I had plenty of ... well, no wait, it was the summer holidays of 1999 so it was too early for mock GCSE exams later that year, and a good 9 months-ish until I'd actually have to do my GCSEs.

I don't know, something summer holiday-ish must have come up and I never got around to it - and then, no doubt, other movies came along and got watched instead, and indeed some movies came along and got taped but never watched ... of those, some have been watched years later for the first time, and some have still not been watched all these years later.

There's so many movies out there.

So anyway - I've been meaning to watch The Negotiator for a very long time - and a few days ago, I finally did.

What did I make of it? Well, it's nothing special, but it's not shite. It kept me watching, I enjoyed all the 'negotiator procedure' stuff (they could have perhaps done with a little more of it), I got a little lost in the embezlement plot towards the end though, and Sam Jackson and Kevin Spacey played their parts well. Slap in a wodge of action and you've got a good, solid thriller. It's worth a watch, put simply.

One thing though, my copy is - considering this was from way back in 1999 - in that god-awful thing known as Pan & Scan, which many of my old recordings are in. Sometimes it's not so bad, but other times it's REALLY bad (one example that comes to mind is Short Circuit - both my recording of it, and a recent airing on Channel 5 were horribly butchered by Pan & Scan ... it's quite possibly the worst example of Pan & Scan at work, if you can call it working) ... but The Negotiator never really suffered too much from Pan & Scan, although it was evident at certain times.

It's funny, I think back to 'the day' (as in "back in the..."), and Pan & Scan originally didn't occur to me at all. It's hardly surprising as the vast majority of movies I saw when I was a kid and in my younger years were in Pan & Scan, and that was the only way I'd ever seen them. It's only been thanks to DVD that I've been able to see movies in their proper aspect ratio (a much better way to view things - and my Short Circuit DVD preserves the 2.35:1 ratio, lovely) ... mind you, I do object to the use of widescreen on DVDs being some sort of selling tool when they could (and did) sell movies in widescreen on video (my 1992 Directors Cut of Blade Runner, for example, is in widescreen on video).

The use of Pan & Scan was one of the reasons why the image quality of video was always a bit rough - of course it was going to be rough, if you zoom in on an image it will degrade, and that's what Pan & Scan did. But widescreen movies or Sky TV recordings on video don't look too bad, they're not DVD quality, but they're not bad by any means...I guess it all comes down to those pesky "corporations, being all ... corporationy".

So, getting back on track, I never had a problem with Pan & Scan until I was educated by getting to see movies in widescreen on TV, or on videos, or in the cinema and then mainly on DVD. Indeed, there's a great little featurette on the Die Hard 2-disc DVD that explains Pan & Scan, and as a result why it's so shit. It is odd, however, that I never really made the link - you see a movie in the cinema and it's in widescreen, then you see it on the telly and it's in 4:3 - but then again, you're not thinking about the ratio, you're just thinking about the movie itself.

It's only been a relatively recent (but years long now) development in my movie-viewing and wider film education that showed me the light all those years ago ... much like with Kevin Smith, who recently reminisced about how he was educated by a friend in the ways of Pan & Scan versus true, original widescreen.


Mind you, I do find myself making these educational DVDs and using a whole host of public domain information films which were originally shot in 4:3, and having to crop them to 1.85:1 ... but it's easy to retain the necessary visual information, and it'd just look shoddy to be constantly cutting sharply between 4:3 and 1.85:1 (either way) ... and it'd be daft in this day-and-age of widescreen-as-the-standard to produce a series of films in 4:3, when 16x9/1.85:1 is the industry standard.

However, many of these 4:3 films in question were shot with a lot of space in the top and bottom of the frame, so it works out in the end - and, if I'm not mistaken, thanks to Sony Vegas' method of cropping, you're not actually zooming in on the image - I essentially edit in 4:3 letterbox widescreen (so with a 4:3 image, which is un-zoomed, you cut off the top and bottom - re-aligning to your heart's desire - and then once you're all done you can then take that 4:3 letterbox image and render out a true 16x9 file, by simply telling Vegas to do so - it just slices off the black bars).

In terms of my own short filmmaking though (such as "Signing Off"), I'm sticking with 2.35:1 - a very simple trick that makes an ordinary DV short look far more 'film-like', then colour it and you're sorted - the difference between what you started out with and what you end up with, is remarkable.


So yeah ... somewhere in all that was a bit about The Negotiator, ha!

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