Aspect ratios and me.
This blog’s name is quite simple, yet, it’s meant to convey many ideas and feelings at once. (I’m) Not a Fanboy means, primarily, what it says: I am not the kind of person to adore whatever someone does just because they’re the person doing it. My favourite author has made some really bad books, my favourite director has had a couple missteps in his career. I’m not the slavering, self-debasing fan you’ve seen at conventions, drooling over Christopher Nolan’s next movie. The (I’m) is in parentheses because, even in the first day of starting this website, I knew that I was going to have other writers coming in for guest articles–and hopefully, if I may confess a grand ambition, would have a website with dozens of regular writers, a news team, editors, a video unit–basically, its own Canadian fandom empire. If we ever expand into video, I wanted to be able to start every segment and interview with “Joe Criger, I’m Not a Fanboy“. That’d really let those people I’m interviewing know what’s what! This would, again, expand to everybody I had working for this site. So, you’re asking now, how does this all relate to aspect ratios?
Aspect ratios and my relationship with them are the perfect demonstration of the subtextual meaning of my blog’s name: that the only people who would have to deny being fanboys are themselves fanboys. Indeed, in a way, I chose this name because it puts my name and fanboy in the same sentence. It’s a fanboyish endeavour to start a blog built primarily around reviewing movies, music, books and media. That’s why the title of my last article in the first book is “I Am a Fanboy”. I know the title doesn’t appear in the article itself–joys of starting and finishing an article in two separate sittings–but that’s the real feeling I was going for: I’m not just pretending to be a reviewer now. I’m a fanboy, dammit, and that means that I’m gonna start pretending to be a whole new media enterprise!
And all of this started, believe it or not, with a screengrab of The Abyss in Jumbo Video at Dundurn Plaza when I was about eight or so. Let’s set the scene.
I’m walking through the store, talking to my brother and my mother about what we want to rent. I likely already had the free bag of popcorn we always got on the way in. That stuff may have been sort of stale and questionably warm, but it was an essential part of the VHS rental experience. My family only had a VCR to rent movies–my mom invested in Betamax in the early 80’s (not literally, but with the entire original series of Star Trek)–so all the movies we ever saw were “full screen”. I didn’t know this at the time, but I was a couple aisles away from finding out. Sure enough, from the same store where I rented my first Darren Aronofsky movie–which I still haven’t seen, MOM AND BEN–came the realization that would change my attitudes towards movies for the rest of my life. We turned the corner into the action aisle and there, sitting on top of the shelf, was a small cardboard display. DVDs were just coming out, so maybe it was a Blockbuster already and maybe it was the early 2000s and I wasn’t as young as I think I was. But I plucked it off of the top of the shelf and looked at it. On it was a screengrab of James Cameron’s The Abyss.
It had the entire widescreen image on it, showing a woman and some guy staring at a monster made of CGI water. A 4:3 pan-and-scan fullscreen frame was pillarboxed into it, showing exactly how much of the image was missing when it underwent the pan and scan process to become a full screen DVD. I looked at it in amazement. The movie you saw in theaters and the movie you watched at home were different some way? It was a revelation. My little mind almost couldn’t bear thinking of it. I had no idea that people were allowed to change a movie when you sold it to people at home. I vowed on that day to never see another movie in fullscreen. Sadly, Netflix has dashed that ambition, as well as the Movie Network’s only copy of Shaun of the Dead. Then, my brother leaned over my shoulder and asked me what I was looking at.
“It’s this thing that shows how much you’re missing when you buy a fullscreen DVD.”
“But you’re not missing that much.”
“You’re still missing something. That means you’re not seeing the actual movie.”
“You’re seeing the movie. There it is. It’s on the screen and it doesn’t have those stupid little black bars.”
“Watching it in widescreen means you have to look at stupid black bars.”
“When I watch a movie, I don’t want to watch little black bars, I want it to fill my screen.”
I’m not going to say that even back then, I knew that TVs were gonna get wider. I’m not going to say that even then I knew that the entire world was going to side with me on this inevitably after the HDTV revolution. However, I will say what was true. I knew then just like I knew now that he was wrong. You don’t watch movies to fill whatever you’re looking at them through at home. A pan and scan version of a motion picture is inherently a reduction of the picture and makes it not the movie that the director wanted you to see. It wasn’t then and isn’t now the way I want to see a movie. I do my best to see a movie in every aspect ratio available. It is for this reason I envy the cheap bastards who saw Avatar in 2D–because when it was released in 2D, it was in 2.35:1, whereas the 3D release was in 16:9. I still have to see that 2.35:1 release and am considering becoming rich enough to hunt down a 2D print of it.
And doesn’t that perfectly demonstrate how I really am a fanboy?