Booze, Baseball, and another "B"

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Lions Gate MARing their DVD releases....

It has come to my attention that Lions Gate Entertainment has been messing with the visual presentation of their films when releasing them on DVD. Lord of War, a good film which would normally make a solid DVD purchase, was the first one that people were talking about. Then "Waiting...", which came out last week, had it, and this week Saw II has it. Lions Gate has decided to MAR all of these films to 1.78:1.

MAR stands for "Modified Aspect Ratio." What's that mean? Let's examine.

Aspect ratio, referring to films, is the ratio of width to height for a shot. Common aspect ratios for films are 1.85:1 and 2.35:1. Lord of War was shown in theaters in 2.40:1, Saw II was 1.85:1. Both of them have been cropped to 1.78:1 for the DVD releases, as has "Waiting..." Why is this important?

If you don't watch films in "widescreen," then you certainly won't care about these movies being cropped. For people who do watch their films in widescreen, they do so because they do not want to miss out on parts of the film; they don't want to miss out on the director's original vision. When these movies are getting cropped, consumers are losing picture and losing what the creators wanted you to see.

Take, for example, this comparison screen from Lord of War, with the 1.78:1 version laid over the 2.40:1 version.

As you can see from the picture, you're losing picture. But we still don't know why.

On The Digital Bits, Bill Hunt asked Lions Gate what the problem was. They told him that it was the film's production company who requested the change. Normally that could be acceptable as an explanation for this. It doesn't make sense that a company would want their film altered like that, but sometimes directors are odd.

But Lions Gate's explanation doesn't make sense anymore. Why did the film production company want the Region 1 disc altered, but they didn't request it for the Region 2 release? And why did Saw II and Waiting... both get the same change? It seems obvious that Lions Gate is altering these DVDs on their own.

Why do it? Essentially it goes back to the old widescreen vs pan & scan argument.

If you have an HDTV, you'll know that when you watch a film formatted in a 2.35:1 or 2.40:1 aspect ratio, you get black bars on the top and bottom of the screen. That's because the aspect ratio of the TV is 16:9 which is ... 1.78:1. To be able to view all content, you have to have black bars. A TV which was made in a 2.40:1 ratio wouldn't be able to show 1.85:1 or 1.78:1 content; the stuff wouldn't fit.

It seems logical the reason why Lions Gate Entertainment is MARing these releases is because they don't want to see black bars when watching films on any TV. If you have a 4x3 screen, buy it fullscreen. If you have an HDTV, you're getting the HD equivalent of fullscreen. People who like to watch the director's intended presentation of a film are getting shafted in favor of people who like to watch pan & scan. In Lions Gate's defense, 1.78:1 is not a whole lot different tan 1.85:1, and when viewing on a HDTV, you wouldn't see much of a difference. 2.35:1 and 2.40:1 are a much different story.

Do yourself, and everyone else, a favor and skip these modified Lions Gate releases, particularly Lord of War.

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