Back Comments (28) Share:
Facebook Button
In the second of my articles examining aspect ratios, I’m going to be looking at 2.40:1, more commonly referred to as Scope. Those of you who didn’t read the first part of the guide might like to click here to familiarise yourself with some of the terminology I’ll be using before reading on.

2.40:1 (Anamorphic Scope)

When a director wants to give his or her picture that ‘epic’ feel, something that simply isn’t possible when shooting in Academy Flat, they have a couple of options open to them. At present the most popular of these is Anamorphic Scope, with its ratio of 2.40:1 (meaning that the image is 2.4 times wider than it is tall). Often referred to simply as Scope, after the old CinemaScope format, the ratio was altered to 2.40:1 from 2.35:1 in the 1970s in order to better hide film splices. Many people still refer to Scope as 2.35:1, and it is for this reason that a great number of Scope DVD releases are still labelled as 2.35:1 (although this is now beginning to change). Some examples of well-known films presented in the Scope ratio are the Star Wars trilogy, Jaws, Alien and, more recently, Donnie Darko.

Up until the 70s the most common cinematographic process used to shoot Anamorphic Scope was called CinemaScope, but nowadays this has given way to Panavision. Panavision can be a little confusing, as the cinematographic process is named after the company that produces the lenses. However, just because something is filmed using Panavision cameras and lenses it does not necessarily mean that it is widescreen presentation. In fact, programs such as Star Trek: The Next Generation and Ally McBeal were filmed using Panavision cameras and lenses. If you would like to check whether a film was originally shot in widescreen always scan the credits for mention of the words ‘Filmed in Panavision’, rather than ‘Filmed Using Panavision Cameras and Lenses’.

When shooting films in Anamorphic Scope, a special lens is used to horizontally compress the image being filmed to enable it to fit onto standard 35mm film. To illustrate this, let’s take a look at a scene from the recently released DVD edition of Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back.

Aspect Ratios Explained: Part Two
In the image above you can see how the full width of the 2.40:1 frame is used to convey the immense scale of the surroundings, without losing sight of the lightsaber duel between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. Now let’s take a look at what the anamorphic lens does to the image when it is filmed.

Aspect Ratios Explained: Part Two
As you can see, the lens has compressed the image horizontally to enable it to fit onto standard (1.37:1) 35mm film. Notice how tall and thin everything appears? When shown theatrically the anamorphic lens on the projector will stretch the image horizontally so that everything appears in the correct ratio (as in the first picture). Next, let’s examine what the dreaded panning and scanning process does to a Scope film.

Aspect Ratios Explained: Part Two
As you can see from the image the integrity of the shot has been severely compromised, with approximately forty percent of the frame missing in this example! Of all of the widescreen formats, Scope films suffer the most when panned and scanned. However, there is another format that is better able to cater for both widescreen and ‘fullscreen’ aficionados—Super35.

2.40:1 (Super35)

Super35 is a cinematographic process that is particularly useful to those of you who like your films in the ‘fullscreen’ format. Personally I find the term ‘fullscreen’ to be wholly inaccurate in these days of widescreen televisions—a 1.37:1 image does not fill the screen of a 1.78:1 widescreen TV, after all—but it seems to be the studio’s favourite bit of terminology for describing material presented in the Academy ratio, whether it be full frame or pan and scan.

Super35 differs from typical 35mm formats by virtue of the fact that the sound strip is removed from the film, which returns the negative to the old Academy Silent ratio of 1.33:1 (unless it has been specifically hard matted to another ratio, say 1.66:1). However, when shooting the film the image will be composed with the theatrical 2.40:1 ratio in mind (which will be extracted and turned into anamorphic release prints by way of optical printing during post-production), but this means that a great deal of the filmed image is discarded when exhibited theatrically. When it comes to the home video release a ‘fullscreen’ version could conceivably use the entire filmed image, but this is not often the case (because of microphones and other equipment getting in the way). It’s also worth noting that Super35 can also be used to create films in other aspect ratios, such as 1.85:1 or 1.78:1, but these are not as common as the 2.40:1 ratio. Some examples of films shot in Super35 include Reservoir Dogs, the Matrix trilogy and the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

In order to illustrate how Super35 differs from Scope I’m going to use a scene from Freddy vs. Jason (this is because the DVD includes both widescreen and ‘fullscreen’ transfers of the film). In the image below you can see a young lady doing her utmost to become machete fodder. This is taken from the ‘fullscreen’ version of the film, and is roughly how the shot would have looked when it was filmed. The image will fill the entirety of a standard television’s screen.
Aspect Ratios Explained: Part Two
The next image illustrates what the shot looks like once the 2.40:1 theatrical ratio extraction has been performed.

Aspect Ratios Explained: Part Two
As you can see, the extraction significantly alters the composition of the shot, but the director (or possibly the cinematographer) would have allowed for this when shooting the film. Indeed, the director would have composed the shots with the 2.40:1 theatrical ratio in mind, so it is correct to say that this is the intended aspect ratio of the film. You may notice that although this image has less information at the top and bottom of the frame than the ‘fullscreen’ version, it actually contains more information at the sides. This indicates that there is still a certain degree of panning and scanning on the ‘fullscreen’ version of the movie.

Now let’s take a look at what the ‘fullscreen’ transfer of the film would have looked like if it had been obtained in the traditional manner, i.e. panning and scanning.

Aspect Ratios Explained: Part Two
As you can see, there is considerable loss of image on all sides, creating the familiar cramped feel common to panned and scanned shots (and in this case, it turns the shot into a close-up).

There is one DVD out there that does an even better job of explaining how the Super35 process works, and that is Artisan’s release of Terminator 2. Let’s take a look at a few images from a featurette on the DVD that deals exclusively with the Super35 format.

Aspect Ratios Explained: Part Two
On the left of this image you can see the Super35 aperture, which is the entirety of the exposed image when filmed. The blue lines represent the widescreen image (as shown on the right), while the red lines represent the ‘fullscreen’ image (also shown on the right). As you can see, in this shot the red ‘fullscreen’ lines indicate that almost the entire exposed image is being shown on the right.

Aspect Ratios Explained: Part Two
In this shot you can see that, while the blue outline has remained consistent, the red outline has moved and become smaller. This is where the term panning and scanning comes from—the box is able to move freely around the frame in order to get the best possible results for the ‘fullscreen’ version of the film. However, no matter where it moves, or how big or small it gets, it always maintains the same aspect ratio. The more observant among you may notice that a microphone has come into view right at the very top of the frame, just in front of the window. This is one reason why the entirety of the exposed image could not be used in this case.

Aspect Ratios Explained: Part Two
In this shot you can see that the size and position of ‘fullscreen’ outline has changed a great deal. It’s much smaller now, and has shifted across to the top right of the image in order to get a close-up of Sarah Connor lying on the floor.

Aspect Ratios Explained: Part Two
In the final image the ‘fullscreen’ markers are more central, but there is still a great deal of picture information being discarded. However, in this case it makes perfect sense, as the composition of the close-up on the guard’s face would be ruined if any more of the picture were to be revealed. These images provide good examples of the importance of composing shots for the ‘fullscreen’ version of a film, rather than simply showing everything that was captured when shooting.

Well that concludes the second instalment in my Aspect Ratios Explained series. I hope that you’ve found it interesting, and that you’ve learned something new about the different formats. If you would like to learn more about the history of widescreen and the older ratios not covered in guide, why not visit The American Widescreen Museum?

Editorial by