Infuriating

It’s only just hit me that Warner Home Video’s Barry Lyndon Bluray (out 5.31) has been masked at 1.85 to 1….storm the barricades! The aspect ratio of Stanley Kubrick‘s 1975 classic was supposed to suggest the aspect ratio of stately 18th Century landscape paintings, which are on the boxy side and a lot closer to 1.66 than 1.85. Which is why the DVD was presented in 1.66.

And yet WHV execs have decided to whack a chunk of information off the tops and bottoms of the Bluray? Why? Criterion presents the occasional older film in 1.66 with black windowbox bars on the side. And I know I’m right on this one — the shape of Barry Lyndon is supposed to look like an 18th Century painting and not a friggin’ 16 x 9 plasma screen…Jesus! This is really awful.

A guy named Tyler Williamson (who seems to know what he’s talking about and with whom I agree in any case) wrote the following on mubi.com about a year ago:

“The Barry Lyndon DVD is 1.59 in a 1.33 shell (yes, 1.59 — a very unusual aspect ratio, but its likely that this is the ratio the film was matted to in-camera [though it was probably composed for 1.66] due to the film being shot on old Mitchell cameras; so, the whole 1.37 film negative wasn’t exposed for this film), thus the DVD is 4:3 letterboxed — it has black bars burned onto the tops and bottom of a 4:3 frame, with the image of the actual movie in the center. So, when you watch the DVD on a 16√ó9 HDTV, you get black bars on all sides. The image is not very wide, so it might even appear on some older TVs to be a full frame transfer, due to overscan.

“What I’d really love is a Bluray remaster with Barry Lyndon‘s 1.59 or 1.66 image (the difference in more or less negligible, so I don’t really care) in the center of a 1.78 frame — which is how Blurays handle films with aspect ratios less wide than 1.78. All the 1.66 and 1.37 films on Blu-ray are done this way: Chungking Express, The Third Man, etc.”

  • kingofnails

    CHUNGKING EXPRESS is in 1.37 or 1.66? Really?

  • littlebigman

    There is not one Kubrick film that could not be credibly argued is his finest one. I may buy a ticket to paris if only to see the exhibit.

  • http://www.railoftomorrow.com Scott Nye

    The really crazy thing about it is that Lolita – which comes out on Blu-Ray the same day – is noted on the back of the Kubrick box set packaging, and confirmed by DVD Beaver in their review, as being 1.66:1. Additionally, A Clockwork Orange is 1.66:1, so they obviously have no problem presenting films in their intended aspect ratio.

    It seems to me that the Kubrick estate is getting a little lazy, or Warner is searching for any justification to present the films in whatever way is convenient for them. In the early 2000s, this meant full-framing The Shining, Full Metal Jacket, and Eyes Wide Shut, but now that widescreen television is the “standard,” they’ve matted all of them to 1.85:1, each time making claims to Kubrick’s intentions.

    I was able to roll with it for so long, but this business with Barry Lyndon is insane. Forever regarded as the ugly stepchild of the Kubrick films, both by WB and by supposed Kubrick fans, they seem determined to never give it its proper due.

  • Dan Geiser

    How does something like that hit you? Are you just sitting there and suddenly a wave of nausea rushes over you and you run to the your shelf to make sure your eyes didn’t deceive you?

  • littlebigman

    We really are a bunch of geeks.

    Can I take a poll as to how many of us had sex over the weekend? I mean, of course, with another human being?

  • Heinz, the Baron Krauss von Espy

    Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but weren’t most of Kubrick’s films shot at 1.66, but exhibited in the U.S. at 1.85? And really, Jeff, why do you care? You’ve constantly reminded us over the years that you consider this film one of Kubrick’s lesser works and regard those who disagree with a fair amount of disdain. And, now that I think of it, have any of the review sites actually confirmed that this is how the Blu-Ray is formatted, or is it just a misprint on the packaging? Have you actually watched the Blu-Ray? And, if you have, you’re just noticing (or remembering) that it’s 16X9 1.85 LTBX instead of 16X9 1.66 side-matted? Lots of unanswered questions, here. You disappoint me, Jeff. I’ve come to expect a higher degree of intellectual rigor from my entertainment/gossip/Oscar prediction/political advocacy websites.

  • Heinz, the Baron Krauss von Espy

    Just read the review for LOLITA over at DVD Beaver. Warner Bros. releases a single-layer Blu-Ray for a 150 minute movie? You’re right, Jeff. Warner Home Video is run by a bunch of dicks.

  • mutinyco

    You know… it could very well just be a misprint. I just got the UK Blu-ray of The Shining, and on the back it says 16:9 1.85:1 — and though I haven’t watched it yet, and won’t for another week, I assume it’s really just the same 16:9 that the US version is.

    So yeah, until it’s seen, I’d assume it’s a misprint.

  • http://www.railoftomorrow.com Scott Nye

    littlebigman – Well, that’s one in the win column for me, anyway.

    Heinz – True, Kubrick had an incredible talent for composing his shots for all sorts of aspects ratios, but in the end there is still one that the director prefers. And Barry Lyndon is one of the easiest to parse out, because, as Jeff noted, Kubrick was basing his compositions on paintings of the era.

    http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/16197/Barry-Lyndon/theatrical-aspect-ratio.html

    “A Clockwork Orange and Barry Lyndon were shot and released in most theaters in the matted 1.66 : 1 widescreen ratio.”

    http://kubrickfilms.warnerbros.com/faq/general_faq.html

    As for how the Blu-Ray presents the film, there are extensive comparisons between the aspect ratios of the DVD and the Blu-Ray over at Criterion Forum:

    http://criterionforum.org/forum/viewtopic.php?p=339539

  • raygo

    I know very little about aspect ratios. In general, it hasn’t diminished my viewing pleasure or caused any sleepless nights.

  • LexG

    When DVD first came along, it was MIND BLOWING to be able to finally see all these great movies in their original ratio… For “scope” and Panavision movies it was a revelation, for a lot of Super 35 movies it was a chance to see many great films framed properly and cinematically instead of that godawful “too much head- and leg-room opening up” 1.33 transfers, which I always thought looked every bit as bad as a pan-and-scan that lopped off half the screen…

    But, almost from the jump, I realized the biggest thrill was seeing 2.35 in its proper dimensions, seeing old Carpenter and Eastwood movies in that PLEASING rectangular shape. I’d go out of my way to buy 2.35:1 movies I liked on DVD, whereas 1.85? 1.78? 1.33? Not to say there isn’t a “difference,” but seeing “Goldfinger” with some tiny black bars at top and bottom isn’t a whole new world of picture from the 1.33 you’ve seen on ABC and TBS all your life. Put bluntly, 1.85:1 or anything squarer is such a boring aspect ratio to begin with, it’s so close to a square anyway, seeing Godfather or Jurassic Park or French Connection in the correct OAR has never been as exciting as seeing 2001 or Halloween or Ben-Hur or whatever.

    And when you get down to nitpicking 1.66 vs 1.85??? That difference is so imperceptible anyway. I hate to sound like Joe Dumb-ass, but 1.85 is so lame in and of itself, you really might as well go 1.33 since at least I don’t have to squint as much looking at my 32-inch.

    I honestly don’t know why anyone now or ever would want to shoot AAAAAAAAANYTHING in something that wasn’t 2.35:1 Panavision.

  • Rashad

    The height and fullness of 1:85 in WOTW, Saving Private Ryan and Jurassic Park, is important to the overwhelming feel of those films. When it comes to watching movies at home, I’m starting to prefer watching lower ratios over 2:35, but then again I only get excited for the movie in general. I don’t understand, you have to squint for 1:85 but not for 2:35?

  • LexG

    For 2.35:1 I watch it through binoculars from my couch.

    YEP YEP

  • JLC

    I originally got into laser discs to get away from pan and scan on VHS. Once DVD came along and everything was available in widescreen, I stopped worrying about exact aspect ratios, as long as they weren’t wildly off. Heresy, I know.

  • Glenn Kenny

    It’s a misprint. In fact the disc presents the image in pretty much precisely the way the above-quoted Tyler Williamson wished for. A plasma-screen shot, with a plasma-screen shot of the similarly presented “Chungking Express,” along with a real 1.85 shor from “Raging Bull,” along with some good-natured (more or less) razzing of our genial host, is at my blog. The image on the “Lyndon” DOES NOT completely fill the 1.78 frame of a 16: 9 display.

  • Mr. Palmer

    Leave it to the great GK to set the record straight. the Voice of reason in these parts. And leave it to Wells to jump to conclusions without actually checking it out.

  • cyanic

    Spherical cinematography is aesthetically timeless.

  • bluefugue

    >I honestly don’t know why anyone now or ever would want to shoot AAAAAAAAANYTHING in something that wasn’t 2.35:1 Panavision.

    Not all movies are suitable for that aspect ratio. If you’re mostly filming closeups of people’s faces, for instance, you find yourself forced to compose in rather awkward ways. I think 1.33 is a wonderful ratio and would like to see it make a comeback (yay Meek’s Cutoff). Citizen Kane certainly doesn’t suffer in the slightest for not being widescreen; and even epics can be very nicely arranged for that ratio (vis Gone With The Wind). 1.85 might be a little … noncommittal, but it’s capable of sustaining perfectly pleasing compositions too. Not everything has to be UBER WIDESCREEN VISTA WONDER VISION, y’know.

  • BobbyLupo

    “so they obviously have no problem presenting films in their intended aspect ratio”

    Just to clarify your point, 1.66 is not the preferred aspect ratio for ‘Lolita’ [I changed intended to preferred because, frankly, we can argue forever about intent with various evidence that exists]. Similar to ‘Dr. Strangelove’, the only letterboxed transfer of the film that Kubrick approved shifts between 1.66 and 1.33. They’ve always fudged it ever since the Criterion laserdisc.

  • BobbyLupo

    “I honestly don’t know why anyone now or ever would want to shoot AAAAAAAAANYTHING in something that wasn’t 2.35:1 Panavision.”

    It’s because directors want to protect their vision to the best extent possible. Shooting 2.35 Panavision meant for a number of years — and still does, to some extent — that most people who watch your movie… that is, the people who see it on TV… are going to see a pan-and-scanned version of the film. As the only people who can use 2.35 worth a damn tend to be the ones who use the composition well, it’s a catch-22, because they’re the ones who will care the most about bastardized compositions.

  • LexG

    A LOT LOT LOT of the best character-based, small-scale, low-key dramatic films of the golden age of the 60s and 70s were in Panavision. Here’s one right off the top– Which Mike Nichols was more cinematically exciting, the master of Scope compositions who made The Graduate and Catch-22… or the “eh whatever” 1.85 guy who shot Heartburn and Silkwood?

    Look at a movie like NICKEL RIDE, small, mostly forgotten character piece from the 70s… beautiful widescreen compositions used perfectly to set Jason Miller off at key points in the movie. Every time someone pulls the “Some movies don’t need Scope, it’s stupid in character movies,” there’s roughly a zillion beautifully realized character dramas, from INSIDE MOVES to HARD EIGHT, you can point to where Panavision is used well. And on the flip side, a ton of movies you get on DVD and go, “Eh, WHAT? Waterworld/Jurassic Park/American Gangster is in cheesy-ass 1.85?”

    There’s nothing more underwhelming to me than going into a giant theater and seeing that cheeseball little 1.85 screen up at the front. It’s like they didn’t even try.

  • cyanic

    Robocop is 1.66 the most perfect movie ever. Case Closed.

  • PastePotPete

    Glenn Kenny, I went to your blog and took a look at your screencaps, then cropped the movie image out and compared it to an aspect ratio chart and, despite the distortion from your camera, it sure as hell looks like 1.78:1 ratio to me:

    http://www.littleurl.net/15699b

    Here’s the original chart if anybody wants to try it for themselves:

    http://www.moviola.com/moviola/files/images_rc/film_and_tv_aspect_ratios_v2.jpg

  • Krillian

    I love how stuff like this gets Jeff in touch with his inner Enjolas.

  • Glenn Kenny

    @ Paste Pot Pete: I have updated and corrected my post. 1.78 it is, I’m afraid, and I’m going to bring it up tomorrow at the “Clockwork” press event with Vitali. My error was display based, and I apologize for it. Still. 1.78 isn’t 1.85.

  • PastePotPete

    Yeah better 1.78:1 than 1.85:1, I agree.

    Honestly I don’t mind the cropping that much, it’s not that extreme. The real problem was what LexG mentioned, when somebody who was truly great at widescreen compositions was cut down by pan n scan, like Carpenter and David Lynch. I remember hating Blue Velvet on vhs, until I rewatched it in letterbox and it felt like a completely different movie.

    Look forward to what Vitali has to say.

  • DavidF

    The Kubrick aspect ratio meme is among the most annoying on the Internet, along with whether a Star Destroyer would beat a Federation Starship in a fair fight.

    This happens every time ANY Kubrick movie is released. It was stupid when movies were cropped 4:3 to fit old TVs and it’s equally stupid to crop movies to fit a 16:9 TV. It shouldn’t be so hard to figure out what shape the movie is supposed to be and just run with it.

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