Filmmaker, audiences outraged after Netflix butchers movies’ aspect ratios

By Stephen C. Webster
Thursday, July 18, 2013 11:22 EDT
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Stock Photo: A Young Woman Screaming On The Phone While Watching A Scary Movie Alone At Home" on Shutterstock.
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A filmmaker behind several major motion pictures in recent years announced Thursday that he was outraged to discover that online streaming service Netflix had cropped one of his movies’ original aspect ratio, resulting in a film where a significant portion of the picture was missing entirely.

The movie in question was “Crossing Over,” a 2009 film about race and culture in Los Angeles, starring Harrison Ford, Ashley Judd and Ray Liotta. The writer and director of that film is Wayne Kramer, whose other credits include the award-winning William H. Macy film “The Cooler” in 2003 and the Paul Walker crime thriller “Running Scared” in 2006.

Kramer explained on his Facebook page Thursday morning that Netflix was showing “Crossing Over” at the wrong aspect ratio, effectively filling the viewer’s screens by chopping off part of the picture and zooming in on what remains. To film buffs, that’s a display method known as the much-loathed “pan and scan,” which effectively went out with the introduction of DVDs.

“I wrote to [Netflix CEO] Reed Hastings directly, voicing my disapproval,” Kramer wrote. “Within just a few weeks, Reed had the correct aspect ratio version replace the cropped version. Filmmakers need to be WAY more proactive about this stuff. There are big formatting differences…” He did not respond to a request for comment.

Unfortunately, it appears that Kramer’s movie is not alone in this cinema butchery. A relatively new Tumblr blog called “What Netflix Does” has been chronicling what appears to be dramatic frame crops in popular movies like “Man on the Moon,” “Planet of the Apes,” “Prometheus” and “Inglorious Bastards.” The images on the blog are, in a word, dramatic. In one particularly egregious screenshot, the Academy Award-winning film “There Will Be Blood” is cropped so that the only two actors in the scene are both practically off camera, hanging onto the edges of the frame as they speak.

A Netflix spokesperson told The Verge they are not intentionally cropping the films, but “may sometimes deliver the wrong version of a title.” They went on to add: “When we discover this error, we work to replace that title as soon as possible.” In other words, it is entirely possible that the pan-and-scan versions of films are being supplied to Netflix by movie studios, but filmmakers should still be on the lookout.

["Stock Photo: A Young Woman Screaming On The Phone While Watching A Scary Movie Alone At Home" on Shutterstock.]

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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