One of the most important film innovations in the last twenty years was the DVD. Before DVDs, it was really hard to find a movie in the proper aspect ratio: Most VHS transfers cut the movie in half, essentially, because it was cheaper, and much of the movie was lost. So the fact that everything is in widescreen now means Netflix is just streaming the proper image when you fire up a movie, right?
Nope. Not at all. In fact they are going out of their way not to.
The recently launched blog What Netflix Does offers some examples of what amounts to some truly awful cropping. Here are just two examples:
Netflix hasn’t explained why this is happening, but I can hazard a guess. Video and electronics store employees have all dealt with the guy who tries to return his “broken” DVD, and when he’s told the black bars are supposed to be there, he gets ragingly angry because “I WANT TO USE ALL MY TEE VEE!” I’ve literally seen people pitch screaming fits over this. One imagines Netflix customer service hasn’t been exempt from these clowns, either.
So why should you care? First of all, Netflix hasn’t been telling anybody about this, or giving people an option to see the movie as it was intended to be seen. That’s not a starving-children grade problem, but it’s pretty lousy. Secondly, it means you’re not seeing the film like you’re supposed to. Imagine going to, say, the Louvre and seeing this:
Yeah, it’s some of the Mona Lisa. You can get the idea that it’s the Mona Lisa. But it’s not all of it. A lot of detail is missing and some of that is important.
Now imagine that, but twenty four times per second. Yeah, cropping out the guy in the foreground in The Transporter may not seem to be the biggest of deals, but the director put that guy there for a reason; cutting him out wrecks the composition of the shot. It’s essentially the equivalent of a bookstore deciding to hire Danielle Steele to rewrite works of classic literature because the customers are complaining about all that hoity-toity language, and they don’t need those fancy words.
If you’d like to let Netflix know this isn’t acceptable, you can do that right here. Hopefully Netflix reverses this position; movies deserve to be seen properly.