Sunday, March 22, 2015

Meek's, cut off

Poor Meek's Cutoff.

It is officially getting the runaround from me at this point.

I've already seen this movie once, back in its original release year of 2011, but I've been eager for a revisit ever since then, as it's a film that keeps growing in my retroactive estimation. I've borrowed the movie at least three times from the library, probably more like four, which you know is a no-no if you read this post. Multiple rentals are much more likely in Australia than they were in the U.S.; there, you could borrow only three at a time, but here, your rentals are limited only by your imagination, and the likelihood that you will be able to gather them all together to return them by the due date. (The actual restriction is 50 items at once.)

Meek's Cutoff has got to have felt like its turn for a rewatch was finally due, especially given my flurry of rewatch activity lately -- in March alone, I had already watched a dozen movies that I'd already seen.

And I did indeed pop it into the DVD player yesterday afternoon. I needed something that I'd already seen, and preferably something calm and methodical, to watch in the background while I worked on my computer. (A different DVD from the library -- another recent rewatch, Night of the Living Dead -- had gotten stuck in my computer's DVD player, and I was going to need to do surgery to extract it.) Meek's fit both descriptions.

Unfortunately, when the movie started playing, Meek's Cutoff was cut off.

There were black bands on the sides of the screen. Not the tops and bottoms, but the sides.

Tops and bottoms = good. That means you are getting a widescreen presentation.

Sides = bad. That means the damn thing is a pan & scan version of the movie, and therefore, an extremely hobbled version of itself.

For those who may not know what I'm talking about, I will spare a few words of explanation. "Pan & scan" is the derisive term to describe movies that have been formatted to fit the standard 4 by 3 dimensions of an old cathode ray tube TV. Average people seemed to like that format because it meant the image filled their entire screen, but purists always hated it because they knew that the sides of the image had to be cut off to make it fit. The term "pan & scan" comes from the fact that on occasion, an actual artificial shifting of the "camera" had to be introduced into the image so that crucial information form the side of the screen was not lost. I think most notably of one of the first times I recall seeing something in pan & scan, when I watched Pulp Fiction with a friend, and noticed that the "camera" was panning from side to side of the elevator in order to capture both Vincent and Jules' faces as they went up to shake down the three low-level criminals. In the original movie, of course, that is a static shot, but the actors are far enough to the sides of the screen that you'd lose half of each guy's body if you just did a straight chopping of the sides of the image.

Now that many TVs are more rectangular than square in shape, pan & scan movies look even more egregious because you get the empty space -- the very thing studios were trying to avoid when they initially conceived of pan & scan -- on either side of the screen. So not only is the image butchered, but the butchering is no longer "seamless" to the untrained (average moviegoer) eye. For that reason, pan & scan versions are much more rare these days, and I think not seen at all on BluRays, though I may be wrong about that.

Needless to say, I resist any scenario that will involve watching something in pan & scan, especially when the movie is thoughtfully composed. If it's a dumb comedy I will probably just watch it that way, but something like Meek's Cutoff? No way.

So I cut off Meek's Cutoff after less than 30 seconds, and put in my own copy of The Shawshank Redemption instead. (Full post to follow on my experience of watching Shawshank for the first time in more than a decade.)

It's not the first time in the past six months I've been forced to abort a viewing because it was a pan & scan version. I had been determined to watch The Shining for the first time in eons around Halloween, but discovered (to my horror) that the copy we owned was indeed in this dreaded format. I blame my wife. She's a good film fan, but it's not second nature to her to check the aspect ratio when she buys a movie. And this is one she bought ages ago.

The next time I see Meek's Cutoff at the library, I'll make sure it's on BluRay.

1 comment:

Derek Armstrong said...

Okay, a post script: I just found out in another forum that Meek's was actually shot at the 1.33:1 aspect ratio in which it was being presented it to me. So maybe I actually will watch it before I return it to the library this time.