Mechtild (mechtild) wrote,

Widescreen vs. Fullscreen: a comparison of close-ups.


Before I post the next three Gorgoroth entries I want to explain why I seem to be repeating myself. The long-time viewers of these entries will know I already presented the Gorgoroth scenes (except the waterskin scene) last August.

But I fell in love with poems by jan-u-wine I hadn't seen last year, poems set in Gorgoroth, and I wanted to post them. To do so I needed images. I love how jan-u-wine's poems illuminate screencaps (or Frodo manips), and visa-versa.

I decided to re-cap the Gorgoroth sequences, but using the widescreen edition. That way more of Sam would show, since the poems have to do with Sam as much as Frodo. Last year's caps were made from the fullscreen edition, focussing almost solely on Frodo. Fullscreen is great for showcasing one actor, but widescreen is better for multiple-character scenes.

Because I ended up with two sets of caps of the same scenes, I couldn’t help noticing the difference between the two formats. All these years of watching movies on television, or renting VHS tapes, I mostly have been watching what are called “fullscreen” versions of films. By “fullscreen” the makers mean, “full TV screen”, not the screen at a movie theatre.

Until recently, a TV screen’s shape was rather like a square. Movie screens are far more rectangular. New flat-panel TV’s have a more rectangular screen, but not [yet] as elongated as the screen required for an ultra-widescreen movie (like LotR). I suspect fullscreen, as a format option, will soon be unavailable, as obsolete as the tube-style TV screens it was made to fit.

Before I began making Frodo screencaps, I had assumed the fullscreen version (“this motion picture has been formatted to fit your television screen”) was achieved simply by paring the sides down from the wider theatrical version. This turns out not to be true, or not true in every case. Sometimes the fullscreen version offers more, not less, of the original image.

Below are sets of identical screencaps from the Gorgoroth and Sammath Naur scenes. As you will see, it is not always the case that the fullscreen version is made by enlarging the theatrical (i.e. widescreen) version, then cutting the sides off. The Sammath Naur scenes show the difference most clearly. Since I am not planning to present them in my Sammath Naur entries (I will be using the fullscreen version), I haven't cropped them. They still have their black bars (top and bottom). The widescreen caps for the Gorgoroth scene, as can be seen, have been cropped and trimmed, as I always do before posting them into an LJ entry.

Looking the other night at the Sammath Naur pairs—with their uncropped widescreen black bars in place—it became obvious that what is done to convert regular widescreen into ultra-widescreen is to crop the tops and bottoms off the original frames, creating a super-elongated frame. The black bars aren’t just stuck onto the original images, they actually mask part of the frame, hiding the original image top and bottom.

Realising this, I remembered moments in the DVD extras when Peter Jackson and Andrew Lesnie were talking about the composition of shots and looking into the viewer. There would be a grid of lines superimposed on the camera’s viewing window. The grid must have indicated the part of the frame that would actually show in the ultra-widescreen format.

What this means for the screencapper, or those who just love to see the actors' faces at their biggest and clearest, is that the fullscreen format provides the best head shots of any character. Their faces are literally larger, filling the TV screen from top to bottom, creating closer-looking close-ups. And, in some instances, they actually show more than is visible seen in the widescreen version. I will demonstrate.

In the first pairs of frames below (1-6), it is clear that the fullscreen format is made first by blowing up the original image until it fills the [TV] screen from top to bottom, then cutting the excess off the sides. The effect of this is remarkable to me. Although the fullscreen and widescreen frames feature exactly the same face, with exactly the same expression, they look very different to me. Perhaps because I literally can see the face better, I feel as though I can tell what the character is thinking and feeling better. The sheer size of the image makes a difference, too. The very bigness of the image implies greater depth, complexity, and emotional intensity in the character.

I suppose filmmakers have for ages used close-ups to achieve this effect—intensifying the viewer’s experience of the character’s thoughts and feelings simply by bringing the camera closer. The picture is so big, and so close, the face of the character is literally “in your face”. No wonder actors covet these shots. Even their acting looks more impressive, even though they are doing the exact same thing in the smaller, more distant images.

I sent jan-u-wine a mock-up of this post, to take a look at it. She offered another idea for why these close-ups work the way they do, an idea I want to share here:

You are right, I think, in what you say about the close-ups. But it isn't as easy as that, I think. That is, if you say 'the close-up brings us closer to the emotions of the character because we are "in his face"', you are, of course, stating an observable truth. But the close-ups also cut out most of whatever else would normally be in our line of vision. All we see is the character. It's sort of like distilling the moment, narrowing it until all we CAN see is that emotion. Unlike real life, where we see the "panorama" of the "shot".

This was a great observation. In the first set of pairs, once the image is enlarged to fill the TV screen format, almost all the sides have to be cut off for the resulting close-up. The character's face is virtually all that remains of the frame. The setting is made unimportant, even non-existent.

In the second set of pairs below (7-10), the effect is different. The fullscreen version’s image is not blown up; the face is the same size as it is in the widescreen frame. But the fullscreen version provides more of the original widescreen image--the print under the black bars has been restored.

This must be what filmmakers who want to use an ultra-widescreen format have had to do in order to get a really close close-up. Cropping off the top and bottom of the frame, they sacrifice part of the actor’s head, even part of his face. Only the speaking area of the face--the eyes and mouth--is left. (In "Go home, Sam" scene, Jackson pares the frame down to only Frodo's eyes.) When the top and bottom of the frame are restored, bringing back the forehead, chin, and the way the head sits on the character's neck and shoulders, I think it changes the look and/or expression of the character, even if subtly.

Radically cropping off the top and bottom of the actor’s face has another effect. Take a look at pairs 7 through 10, which form a sequence. As the frames proceed, Frodo's face becomes more and more tightly cropped as the camera moves in closer and closer. Finally the camera is "in his face". For me as the viewer this has an unsettling, disorienting effect, which I am sure is part of the point. The camera is so close it feels almost as if it might push inside Frodo’s head. There is a feeling of violence or violation to it, which I think works for this powerful, disturbing scene. Thinking back, the extreme close-up works similarly on the Stairs of Cirith Ungol. The camera, coming closer and closer, cuts off more and more of Frodo's face, as if pressing against him, until he explodes at Sam, shouting, wide-eyed, “Get away!”

Well, then, on to the exhibit!


Fullscreen vs. Widescreen:
In every pair, the widescreen version appears above the fullscreen version.

As usual, I have tweaked all the caps, bringing up the light and sharpening the focus in each. I did not alter the sizes of the frames, fullscreen or widescreen. The images are the size the screencapping program makes automatically. The Gorgoroth widescreen images have been trimmed of their black bars, as well as a little of their width to make them fit better into LJ. But the Sammath Naur widescreen caps have not been cropped or trimmed at all.

1. Pairs of identical frames in which the transition in formats has been made by making the fullscreen version bigger, then cropping off the sides:

# 1

# 2

# 3

# 4

# 5

# 6

2. Pairs of identical frames in which the transition has been made not only by cropping off the sides, but by restoring the parts of the print, top and bottom, under the bands of black masking:

# 7

# 8

# 9

# 10


Just RotK entries:

~ All ROTK screencap entries.

Tables of Links:

~ All Frodo and Elijah screencaps.

~ Mechtild

Tags: close-ups, frodo screencaps

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