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Pan And Scan Turmoil- The Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Saga

Originally Posted August 20, 1998.

Since the debut of the DVD format, I have felt that MGM Home Entertainment has been doing a very good job with their releases. MGM has offered far more classic titles from their library than any other home video company. Their James Bond DVDs have been excellent, as have many of their releases. Of course, there were a few missteps made early on in regards to issuing pan and scan only editions of wide screen films. Just about every company made the same mistake; every one of them quickly discovered the error and pan and scan releases pretty much disappeared. Or so I thought...

MGM Home Entertainment recently issued a cropped only edition of MOONSTRUCK- one of the best films of the 1980’s. I thought MOONSTRUCK was an oversight, not to be repeated. That is, until I heard the announcement for a cropped edition of CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG. MOONSTRUCK was filmed in a 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio, and compositionally, the cropped presentation is unsatisfying. MOONSTRUCK does not deserve such shoddy treatment. In fact, MOONSTRUCK should be re-issued in full anamorphic wide screen. However, let’s get beck to the matter at hand. CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG was produced in 70mm and had a 2.20:1 aspect ratio. Presenting CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG cropped removes roughly half the viewable image, rendering the film completely worthless. Both MOONSTRUCK and CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG have been issued on Laserdisc in the Letterbox format, so I can’t understand why at the very least the DVD’s didn’t utilize these existing (albeit old and unenhanced) wide screen transfers for the DVD releases.

I absolutely hate having to write about a situation that should not even exist. I really like MGM and have been singing their praises for years. MGM Home Entertainment was at the forefront of Letterboxing on Laserdisc. It was their groundbreaking Laserdisc releases of BEN HUR and DR. ZHIVAGO that lead to Letterboxing being the rule, instead of the exception on Laserdisc. Most of the individuals who now purchase DVDs come from the realm of Laserdisc, with a preference for seeing films presented in their proper aspect ratios. Laserdisc may have lead the way, but that video format isn’t the only place where Letterbox presentations have gained acceptance. There is Letterboxed pay-per-view, plus there are a number of major cable stations that show films in the Letterboxed format. Additionally, the home video industry has been cultivating a market for wide screen VHS cassettes. If there are Letterboxed VHS cassettes, who are the pan and scan DVDs for? Imagine the irony of having to purchase VHS, if one wants to own films in their proper aspect ratios!

I wonder if anyone at MGM has considered the fact that wide screen digital television is on the horizon, which makes any pan and scan release doubly worthless. The home video folks should ponder this as well; these new digital televisions intensify the need for anamorphically enhanced wide screen DVDs. In this new digital age, standard Letterboxed transfers are a thing of the past. Every home video company really should come to realize this fact. All DVDs should be mastered with the future in mind. Anamorphic wide screen is the only type of release that makes sense for the DVD format. If anyone out still doesn’t get the point, let me spell it out. Pan and scan is the dinosaur of the home video industry- it is a format that is already extinct and it should be consigned to the museum.

CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG isn’t just an upcoming DVD release; it is now a cause for the future of the format. If you want to insure that future MGM DVD releases are presented in their proper aspect ratios, please take the time to contact MGM. Let them know that you want to see CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG issued in its proper aspect ratio with the anamorphic enhancement for wide screen televisions.

DVD Department
MGM Home Entertainment
2500 Broadway
Santa Monica, CA 90404-3061
Telephone: 310-449-3370
Fax: 310-449-3026
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