How to ruin a Sergio Leone movie - part 1

There are two kinds of people in this world my friend ... those that like pan'n'scan ... and those with loaded guns.

Yes, that's right ... if you like pan'n'scan you should be shot. OK, maybe that's a little strong, but pan'n'scan really is the bane of the home cinema (non)experience, and this is nowhere more apparent than with the films of Sergio Leone.

Pan'n'scan is the method used to convert a movie from is original cinema aspect ratio (commonly 2.35:1) for display on a regular T.V. set (aspect ratio 4:3). The process involves cropping the image to a selected 4:3 area of the original frame by chopping off the sides. The cropped area is panned left and right to follow the characters and action across the screen. But the result is that you are in effect only seeing half the film.

The only way to properly see a film as the director intended is in full widescreen. The notion that black bars at the top and bottom of the screen are bad as they reduce the amount of picture displayed is archaic.

Pan'n'scan is akin to buying a Picasso at Sotheby's and then chopping the top and bottom off the painting so that it will fit in an Ikea frame. Ironically it is the best films that suffer most by pan'n'scan, and all of Leone's films have at one time been butchered in this way for TV or video release.

One scene from 'The Good, the Bad and The Ugly' illustrates the problem with pan'n'scan perfectly - the final showdown at the Sad Hill cemetery. Leone has obviously deliberated the composition of each frame, but in the pan'n'scan print, the long shot showing the three men in the arena is reduced to two men with a pan across to show the third. And the close-ups of eyes become close-ups of the bridge of the nose. The pan'n'scan print is, quite frankly, a mess.

Admittedly there is one process far worse than pan'n'scan, and that is the straight cropped image. Here there is no attempt to select the most appropriate region of the original frame and no panning of the image. Instead the 4:3 image remains centred to the original frame with the sides cut-off. This was more commonly used for lower-end video releases, and as such many a Spaghetti Western has been butchered in this way. A telltale sign of the cropped image is a blank screen as two characters that hold a converstaion are cut from either side.

To see a Leone film properly you really MUST see it in widescreen.

Original cinematic
aspect ratio 2.35:1
Pan'n'scan for T.V.
aspect ratio 4:3

Widescreen screen captures taken from UK MGM DVD release of 'The Good, the Bad and the Ugly'
Pan'n'scan screen shots digitally cropped for effect