Why are there so many Full Screen copies of Full Metal Jacket?
May 12, 2007 3:37 PM   Subscribe

IdleCuriosityFilter. I know that Full Metal Jacket is available on DVD in Widescreen. But how come every copy I see at my local retailers' is Full Screen?

It's a great movie, and yes, I know I can order it from Amazon, eBay, and countless other places. But often I see it on the shelf and try to impulse-buy it. But it's always Full Screen. I have seen it this way at Best Buy, Borders, Hastings, Wal-Mart, and others, and searching for a Widescreen copy on the shelf is futile. I don't recall seeing any other movie so prevalently available in Full Screen, and so hard to find in Widescreen. Any ideas, speculation, guesses, or inside info from anyone involved in the retail DVD biz?

I hope I don't have to name my cat in the next week, since I am using my question on this trivia!
posted by The Deej to Media & Arts (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Aspect ratio was always a matter of controversy with Kubrick. Speaking somewhat cynically here, widescreen is a "concept" that the movie studios came up with to distinguish itself from the threat of television, and there's really no study to show that it's "better" or that "more people prefer it". As a director, Kubrick clearly was not a fan of letterboxing. More on Full Metal Jacket and how it was shot.

Ironically, you're probably looking at an older version of FMJ that may be what is called a "loss leader" on shelves - priced cheaply, and used as an incentive to get you to buy other things. So, despite being older, it is truer to the way Kubrick intended it to be seen.

The review I linked to above refers to the HD-DVD version of this movie, which I have not taken a look at, but I believe is a widescreen version.
posted by phaedon at 3:52 PM on May 12, 2007

Response by poster: Interesting!

Yes, it's true that most of the copies are $14.99 or under. Hence the impulse to buy.

Thanks for the link!
posted by The Deej at 4:04 PM on May 12, 2007

Response by poster: From phaedon's link:

When it came time to release them on DVD, Warner Home Video believed that they were doing the right thing in honoring Kubrick's wishes by retaining the 4:3 framing, even for the "Digitally Remastered" editions released in 2000.

Film purists protested the full-frame decision, and now Warner is using these new High Definition releases as their excuse to finally unveil Full Metal Jacket in widescreen for the first time on home video.

So I guess the Widescreen versions I have seen are the the HD ones. Thanks again, phaedon!
posted by The Deej at 4:10 PM on May 12, 2007

You're welcome. After reading your quote, I realize the statement I made that "this is the way Kubrick intended to be seen" is actually much more complicated, and maybe widescreen is the way to go with your purchase.
posted by phaedon at 4:17 PM on May 12, 2007

Response by poster: Yep, I have always loved Kubrick's composition. It's a major reason I got interested in photography. Think I will wait until I get a high def player or X-Box 360.
posted by The Deej at 4:20 PM on May 12, 2007

What phaedon said is not entirely true. It was very common in the '60's and '70's in Europe for films to be shot in 1.66:1 aspect ratio. All of Kubrick's films (with the exception of 2001, which was shot at 2.20:1) were shot at this ratio. They were cropped to 1.85:1 to be shown in US theaters, which of course Kubrick didn't like. He asked that all of his films be transferred to full screen for the VHS and DVD releases.

Therefore, none of his films, with the exception of 2001, are available in widescreen on DVD.

Sorry I have no links to back this up - it comes from Mr. Koko's ecyclopedic head.
posted by Koko at 6:18 PM on May 12, 2007

posted by Koko at 6:19 PM on May 12, 2007

Response by poster: KoKo, without researching, I do think you are correct about the widescreen unavailability. I have 2001, and it is indeed widescreen. The only other Kubrick film that I have been really desirable to own is FMJ. As I think about it, it do recall picking up The Shining a time or 2, and putting it back because it was full screen.

Interesting addition of trivia about the aspect ratios. Thanks.
posted by The Deej at 6:29 PM on May 12, 2007

Question asked and answered, but this is something I've always wondered about: why the prevalence of 4:3 transfers (letterboxed or otherwise) of widescreen films, particularly in/from Region 1?

I understand the DVD specs quite well and, given all the presentation info available on the disc & MPEG-2 stream (native movie/menu AR, 16:9 centre cut/letterbox presentation flags, P&S vectors, etc) as well as the players themselves (TV AR configuration, widescreen presentation), I don't understand why junk like "letterboxed full-screen" exists. Surely the sensible way is to flag 4:3 content as 4:3, widescreen content as 16:9 (matted to 16:9 during encoding as necessary, e.g. 1.66:1, 2.40:1, etc), and let the player sort it out?

There's no logical reason for it, and the illogical ones boil down to a) crapness on the part of the studio/manufacturer, or b) stupidity on the part of the end-user. And, really, is telling your DVD player you have a 4:3 TV and prefer widescreen to be letterboxed or centre cut so hard?

Inquring minds want to know (though not to the extent of starting a whole new AskMeFi post ;-)
posted by Pinback at 6:41 PM on May 12, 2007

Response by poster: Being totally ignorant of the technical aspects (ha!) of how DVDs work, I just always assumed 4:3 with letterbox was the only way to make it work on non-widescreen TVs. They look fine on my widescreen TV, set to the correct aspect ratio.

As a widescreen TV owner, my pet peeves are:

DVDs with menu screens put pertinent text or links too high or low, so you can't see them when the TV is set to widescreen.

Also, widescreen movies with subtitles which fall into the black area of a standard TV, which means they can't be seen at all on a widescreen TV unless you make the ratio 4:3, or streteched fullscreen. The Kill Bill movies are a good example. And an earlier version of Ran. Thankfully, I bought a new version of Ran which corrects this.
posted by The Deej at 7:02 PM on May 12, 2007

If I had to give a creative answer to why widescreen films are transferred in 4:3, i would say either:

a. there are some movies that are, say, 99% widescreen, but then break out of that frame as a plot device,
b. it has something to do with the quality of black of the letterbox matching up with the black present in the captured shot.

my pet peeve is dvds that have menus designed in the wrong aspect ratio. and then it kind of "pops" in when it loads.

my other pet peeve are "fake 4:3 letterboxes", which, if you own a widescreen monitor, you'll notice with some movies that they have a 16:9 widescreen ratio, but within a 4:3 box. so imagine, you not only have lots of black up and down, but now to strips on the left and right. (the widescreen effect inside a square box less wide than your actual widescreen.) a lot of cheap dvd's have this.
posted by phaedon at 7:20 PM on May 12, 2007

The Deej: either you've got some majorly fecked-up DVDs (the title/button safe area specified for menus is waaaay inside the video safe area, as is the subtitle safe area over content), or you're ... stretching/cropping 4:3 content into a 16:9 display?

Bad puppy! ;-). Tell your DVD player / STB / whatever that you've got a widescreen TV, and tell your TV not to warp 4:3 into widescreen.

Unfortunately, that doesn't solve your original problem with "fullscreen" letterboxed DVDs - you end up with what is called here a "postage stamped" picture; widescreen inside 4:3 inside 16:9. Which is the problem with the manufacturer's decision to master them as widescreen inside "fullscreen", when the real solution is to use the capabilities the DVD Consortium gave them.

The only solution? Don't buy "fullscreen" DVDs.

(The other option is to set your TV to stretch sideways, and become one of the masses who seem perfectly happy to accept that "widescreen" = "short fat people riding ovoid bicycles"...)

On preview: phaedon, I think your second peeve is exactly what The Deej is on about. Your point (a) is a good one, but I can't think of an example of it being done in the 50 years - and it's something which correctly should be handled during encoding/mastering (exactly the way it was created during the original film editing/transfer). And, on point (b), black should be black regardless, provided your setup is adjusted correctly (agreed, most aren't).
posted by Pinback at 8:03 PM on May 12, 2007

Response by poster: The Deej: either you've got some majorly fecked-up DVDs (the title/button safe area specified for menus is waaaay inside the video safe area, as is the subtitle safe area over content), or you're ... stretching/cropping 4:3 content into a 16:9 display?

Hmm. Lemme see if this clarifies:
I don't stretch full screen 4:3 content ever. The few full screen DVDs I own, I watch in correct ratio, witch results in blank sides on the widescreen TV. In those cases, the menu screen is always fine.

For Widescreen DVDs. my TV is in "cinema" mode. The movies play in the correct mode. BUT there are some DVDs whose menu screen is designed to fill the full video area of a 4:3 display. Therefore, the top and bottom of the menu screen is chopped off. Other DVDs take this into account, and may have full screen background graphics, but the actual menu items are within the area that I can still see them. I don't think it has anything to do with my settings.

As far as the subtitles:
My newer version of Ran (and other DVDs): The subtitles are where they would be if you were watching it in the theater: displayed over the film image at the bottom. Some other DVDs, such as Kill Bill, display subtitles NOT in the same way it was shown in theaters. In this case, the subtitles are UNDER the film image in the "black area" that is normally seen when watching a widescreen DVD on a 4:3 TV.

Unfortunately, that doesn't solve your original problem with "fullscreen" letterboxed DVDs - you end up with what is called here a "postage stamped" picture; widescreen inside 4:3 inside 16:9.

Actually, that's how I have to watch some subtitled DVDs. I can either keep it in 4:3, and have blank space on both sides, plus on the top and bottom, but the bottom will have the subtitles. OR, I can go into a full screen or panorama mode. These will fill the screen left and right, but squeeze the image up and down, allowing me to read the subtitles. I generally opt for the 4:3 selection. The pictures is the correct ratio, and not stretched or squeezed, but it's smaller than a non-subtitled (or correctly subtitled) DVDs. My screen is 56" so I don't suffer that much.

Hope that's not more confusing. Thanks for the input. My original question is answered, but the tangent is interesting.
posted by The Deej at 10:33 PM on May 12, 2007

The DVD version of FMJ that I have (the "remastered" Kubrick Collection one) is "widescreen", but at a 1.66:1 aspect ratio, which means it's non-anamorphic. However, if you use "zoom" mode on a widescreen TV, it works fine (although without the extra resolution an anamorphic disc offers) because Kubrick was all clever like that.
posted by neckro23 at 7:56 AM on May 13, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks, neckro23. Maybe I can track that one down.

So far we have this:
phaedon's link says:
Full Metal Jacket was composed for and played theatrically at 1.85:1.

koko's comment says:
It was very common in the '60's and '70's in Europe for films to be shot in 1.66:1 aspect ratio. All of Kubrick's films (with the exception of 2001, which was shot at 2.20:1) were shot at this ratio.

But, in my continuing obsessive search, I found this quote from the Letterbox and Widescreen Advocacy Page:
[Kubrick] framed most of his movies (including The Shining and Full Metal Jacket) for a 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Unfortunately, this caused a problem with many because they were shown theatrically at 1.85:1. This is not because he wanted a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Instead, this happened because most modern theaters are incapable of showing a movie in anything less than 1.85:1. As a result, most people thought that the 1.85:1 version is what Kubrick wanted. This is not true.

This means that you should never find a widescreen version of movies like The Shining, Full Metal Jacket, and others. I will actually come to the defense of those who say that there should be no widescreen version.

So, 1.33:1 is 4:3. If the last link is accurate, then FMJ "full screen" is the accurate version.

Of course I have no way to know which of these (facts, opinions, guesses?) is correct.

Just like in his movies, Kubrick likes to keep us guessing.
posted by The Deej at 9:12 AM on May 13, 2007

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