Scott Hardie | October 14, 2003
So I head into Best Buy to purchase "The Matrix Reloaded." Right inside the front door is a table set up with all kinds of Matrix merchandise free with purchase, and beside it is a big four-sided display with hundreds of copies of the movie. All of them are packaged with a special bonus disc, as promoted by the computer printouts taped to the display. While the other customers swarm over them, I check the packages and notice that they're all full-screen editions. In order to find a widescreen edition, I have to actually go into the DVD section of the store and take it off the shelf. While it is the same price, there's no bonus disc attached, and no free merchandise. Forgive me if I don't believe those studies that show that, according to sales volume, customers prefer full-screen DVDs to widescreen DVDs.

Anna Gregoline | October 15, 2003
What I don't get is why they even make full-screen editions anymore - are they cheaper to make? And why would they be, since they would presumably have to be formated?

Jeff Flom | October 15, 2003
At the store where I work they buy full screen almost exclusively. I don't think I've ever had anyone ask for a widescreen copy of anything and everyone I talk to hates letterbox.I attempt to bring people into the light whenever possible, though.I mean really people you're supposed to be watching the movie not fixating on why your whole screen isn't taken up.

Anna Gregoline | October 15, 2003
I used to be bothered by letterbox when it first came out. It's an adjustment. I think it's an illusion - people think they're MISSING parts of the movie, when really it's the opposite. Now I see so many movies on letterbox that I don't mind any more, and I cringe when I see the "formatted to fit your screen" message. I am somewhat of a purist, and I hate to think the original was tampered with, so letterbox for me all the way. I guess the public hasn't adjusted yet. (And, like Scott implied, they'll eat what is fed to them).

Scott Hardie | October 15, 2003
Well, let's draw a distinction between letterbox and widescreen here. I could be wrong, but my understanding is that they're two different things: "Widescreen" is a generic term meaning the original aspect ratio of the film from its theatrical release (desirable), while letterboxed means that a little bit was cut off from the top and the bottom, to make it even more rectangular than it already is (not desirable). I saw a letterboxed "Dr. Zhivago," and the subtitles were mostly cut off at the bottom of the screen. This is for people who really like their movies wide and narrow, but it's just as annoying as "full-screen" and even more silly.

I've read Roger Ebert's semi-regular columns on cinematic trends for a decade now, and it's been a long and mostly losing battle to convince people to switch to widescreen. The biggest controversy came when "Pulp Fiction" was released to home video, and both versions were made available (Quentin Tarantino himself did the pan-and-scan on the full-screen version), but Blockbuster flat-out refused to carry the widescreen release, saying their customers preferred full-screen. How would customers know any better if they're not offered a choice? It's like my experience in Best Buy yesterday. It's hard not to believe that the industry is stacking the deck in favor of full-screen, which Anna said doesn't seem to make economic sense. Anyway, Ebert suggests that Blockbuster display a sign that illustrates the difference between full-screen and widescreen, so that people finally get it. Best Buy used to display such a sign when DVDs first got popular and you could really only find them in widescreen (ah the good old days, when it seemed like we might finally win that long battle), but times have obviously changed.

Anna Gregoline | October 15, 2003
Oops, I was using the terms interchangeably, thanks for pointing out the difference, Scott. I didn't realize there was one. There must be a reason why they're pushing the full screen, but I can't imagine why.

Scott Hardie | October 15, 2003
There is probably another reason, but I see two possibilities:

1) The studio gets complaints from customers who don't understand widescreen. There are plenty of customers who don't like full-screen, but they don't complain about it because they understand the difference. So, the studios are pushing full-screen more and more, and hyping these studies that show customers prefer it, so that a year from now they can justify switching to full-screen only. They know both versions will make money, but they want to avoid complaints. If this is true, I'd like to think they'd get a whole new world of complaints if they did away with widescreen altogether.

2) The studio execs simply prefer full-screen, and push the format that they like. It's possible. Stanley Kubrick liked full-screen and insisted his films be released that way.

Matthew Preston | October 16, 2003
The Best Buy I went to had the film out on the front table. About 90% were widescreen and they all had the bonus disc. One of our trips to the store was a unique one, and judging from the conversation here, it might just be mine.
Ignorance is bliss I guess. To understand why widescreen is better, you need to realize the format in which movies are shot. It's in rectangle form, tv's are in square form. The picture needs to be adjusted to see the whole film they way you saw it in the theater. Ah well. I am glad to see here that the consensus is that widescreen is better. Bravo people.

Kris Weberg | October 18, 2003
When I worked at Blockbuster, our store manager was almost obsessive about pushing Widescreen format -- he even made, with an Xacto and some cardboard, a "demo" of screen proportions like the sort Roger Ebert has suggested. It worked pretty well, too -- something like 90% of our preorders were for Widescreen format. Most of our customers were sold pretty quickly on the benefits; the only objections that really stood out were people with relatively tiny TVs, for whom Widescreen picture was honestly smaller and harder to see than Pan & Scan. I can only imagine that he's gnashing his teeth in frustration at Blockbuster's current policies.

Amir H. Sufyani | October 20, 2003
I hate fullscreen. I have to. As a film student, I can only imagine the pain a director and director of cinematography must go through seeing their carefully composed shots mangled and crammed into 4:3. It's just wrong.

Scott Hardie | October 20, 2003
A few people are ignoring this discussion... I wonder if they honestly don't have anything to say, or if they prefer full-screen and don't want to admit it here. ;-)

Scott Hardie | November 2, 2003
Sweet! Roger Ebert replied. (They did edit my letter for readability, adding such things as a split infinitive in the last sentence. But I'm happy anyway.)

Erik Bates | November 2, 2003
[hidden by request]

Scott Hardie | November 24, 2003
There was a rebuttal to my letter in Ebert's latest column. The first time I forget to read his biweekly column in years and it's got an item about me!

Anyway, Daniel from Cedar Rapids writes: Scott Hardie's experience at Best Buy, when he could not find the wide-screen version of "Matrix Reloaded," was not typical. Best Buy always carries wide-screen DVDs and displays them properly. The bonus disc was available on both the wide-screen and full-screen editions. Most likely what happened is he went later in the day and the wide-screen bonus discs were all sold out. This is a fairly frequent occurrence as wide-screen DVDs just sell faster. According to the latest sales charts, this is now the case for pretty much all movies, even stuff like "Anger Management." Ebert agrees with him and goes on to apologize to Best Buy.

I'm not going to write back for several reasons, but I will mention two things here: First, I went to the store at noon. (I remember because the lady behind me in the Eternal Best Buy Checkout Line told me she was worried she wouldn't make it back to work before her lunch break ended.) There was no empty shelf in the display, so the widescreen copies weren't sold out, unless there was originally a separate display of widescreen copies that did sell out by noon and was taken away by the busy staff. Second, I'm not going to do the research to back it up (I take Daniel's word for it on those sales charts), but I swear that at least once a year, I come across a news item saying that customers prefer full-screen and that retailers are slowly phasing out widescreen. It comes from basic AP news items. The most recent was this past spring.

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