The James Bond 007 Dossier

Bond, James Bond.

30. June 2014 05:19
by m

James Bond in Widescreen vs Fullscreen

30. June 2014 05:19 by m | 0 Comments

Today, most people in the US have nice, flat panel, widescreen, HD television sets, but as recently as 10 years ago, the majority of people still had "Square" 4:3 aspect ratio televisions, in which the width of the TV is just 1.33 times the height. Most modern films, however (including most of the James Bond films) are filmed in a much wider format (typically around 2.35:1). In order to make these films fit on a 4:3 TV there were basically two choices: Either crop at least 45% of the picture from the sides (as much as 75% would need to be cropped from movies like Ben-Hur and Lawrence of Arabia) or present the film in a letterboxed format, with big black bars on the top and bottom of the screen.

Unless you had a TV that was bigger than about 32" the letterboxed format would reduce the viewing area so much that it was hard to see what was happening on the screen, so most TV broadcasts, VHS and early laserdisc releases were "Full Screen Pan & Scan" versions. By the late 1980s when large projection TVs were gaining popularity, Letterboxed "Widescreen" versions were also becoming available on laserdisc, and later on VHS as well. You may remember that even in the late 1990s when DVDs started to really take off, most movies were offered in both Widescreen and fullscreen (often on the same disc) and I knew some people who mistakenly believed that the widescreen versions were cutting the top and bottom off the picture!

Anyway, creating a full screen version of a film is not as easy as simply cutting 25% off the right and 25% off the left and keeping the middle. The main character may walk from left to right across the screen and then stop off center, which is where the Pan & Scan part comes in. Somebody, and for TV broadcasts it was not usually the original director of the film, would have to decide which parts of the screen to show, and which parts could be cropped out, often changing the director or cinematographer's original vision and intentions for a scene.

Interviewed in 1983, Maurice Binder (who designed the title sequences for 14 of the first 16 James Bond films as well as the famous Gun Barrel sequence), talked passionately about how the television networks "hacked [his work] to pieces!":

Describing the effects for ThunderballThunderball and the fifth Bond mission, You Only Live TwiceYou Only Live Twice, makes Binder a bit gloomy when he recalls how the TV networks have treated his labors of love.

"What they're showing on television is all wrong, " he says firmly. "They have squeezed the film. Some ass at the lab—who figures himself a designer " Binder stops, backtracking a moment, still emotional when he speaks. "It's OK to scan a picture, because you must if it's a scope picture. However, because the titles for ThunderballThunderball are on one side of the screen and then the other, this lab man stops the action for the TV version, cuts from one side to the other. And it has nothing to do with my design! They really hacked ThunderballThunderball to pieces!

"On You Only Live TwiceYou Only Live Twice, they redid the opening, and even killed the storyline. Here's this girl who is supposed to be in bed with Bond; she gets out, presses a button, and the bed closes up into the wall. They really screwed that sequence up."

Indeed, in TV prints of You Only Live TwiceYou Only Live Twice, the last segment of the pre-credits sequence comes first, and the first last, with a few snips here and there for anything which might prove sexually or violently offensive. In the process, the storyline becomes incoherent. [Watch the TV Version]

"The Bond films started with a normal size screen," Binder remembers, less emotional now that he is past the personal horrors of unskilled mechanics tinkering with his work. "With ThunderballThunderball, we went to Cinemascope. Then with Live And Let DieLive And Let Die, they went back to the small-size screen. Now, I didn't have to worry about the proportions of Live And Let DieLive And Let Die or The Man With The Golden GunThe Man With The Golden Gun—or what some TV lab technician might do to them. The screen ratio fits on television.

"But! With The Spy Who Loved MeThe Spy Who Loved Me, we returned to Cinemascope and we had trouble. So, now, I do a TV or Home Box Office version—whatever you want to call it—for each title. That means keeping the same design, but redesigning the proportions and the format so that it fits. When you see it on TV, it looks like the same title, but it isn't. I know what I'm cutting off, and, I know if I left it to some ass at the lab to do the damn TV thing—on For Your Eyes OnlyFor Your Eyes Only, for example —he would have cut out Sheena Easton on one side, or the behind of the girl dancing on the other side of the screen."

[Source: Starlog #74, September 1983, P.20-26, 60]

In the following clips you can see exactly how the the James Bond movies "A View To A KillA View To A Kill", "MoonrakerMoonraker" and "The Living DaylightsThe Living Daylights" were panned and scanned for TV and VHS by comparing them to the original Widescreen versions taken from the DVDs:

MoonrakerMoonraker (1979)

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A View To A KillA View To A Kill (1985)

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Presumably, this is using on Binder's "TV or Home Box Office version", although I'm a little surprised that he would choose to squeeze the one shot in the middle with the sniper scope rather than crop it, or pan from one side to the other.

The Living DaylightsThe Living Daylights (1987)

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By the way, I didn't create these comparison videos, they were on Youtube a long time ago and were probably removed due to copyright issues. Fortunately for us they was saved by James Bond enthusiast "SuperBond", who sent them to me, so that I could share them with you. If you are the creator of these clips and would like credit for your work, or if you have more content you would like to share, please contact us!

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