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Idea: AVATAR (2009) - Cinemascope Aspect Ratio

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Hi, I’m a big fan of James Cameron and find it quite shocking that there’s no copy available of the THEATRICAL CUT of AVATAR as it was shown in 2D cinemas in its original CINEMASCOPE 2.39 aspect ratio. Specially given that Cameron himself has said multiple times that it is how it was originally framed and his preferred aspect ratio for 2D screening (and frankly, much superior and cinematic).

I tried to make it myself, adjusting the framing shot by shot taking a cam version as a reference, but my computer just can’t deal with HD video files.

Of course in some tv’s you can just mask the image, but for an optimal experience some shots must be slightly reframed.

Given that 10 years have passed since the movie opened and there are still no plans for a cinemascope release, it’s up to us to preserve AVATAR as it was originally intended.

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tachikoma said:

Hi, I’m a big fan of James Cameron and find it quite shocking that there’s no copy available of the THEATRICAL CUT of AVATAR as it was shown in 2D cinemas in its original CINEMASCOPE 2.39 aspect ratio. Specially given that Cameron himself has said multiple times that it is how it was originally framed and his preferred aspect ratio for 2D screening (and frankly, much superior and cinematic).

Snip…

tachikoma said:
Given that 10 years have passed since the movie opened and there are still no plans for a cinemascope release, it’s up to us to preserve AVATAR as it was originally intended.

Are you referring to the 3D version, rather than the 2D release? Here’s a 2010 interview with Collider where Cameron confirms that the 16:9 aspect ratio is his preferred format of presentation for the 2D release:

http://collider.com/james-cameron-interview-avatar-blu-ray-also-talks-titanic-3d-and-avatar-2/

What do you think the best format is to view this film in?

Cameron: The film was released in two formats. We released it in 16×9 and cinemascope aspect ratio. Obviously, the 35 mm prints were all in the scope ratio and with the IMAX stuff, we tried to take advantage of the height. The highest and best format for this movie is the 16×9, which plays beautifully. We finished the picture in 16×9 and then we vertically extracted the cinemascope when we were mastering the film for theatrical release.

In the theatrical release of the movie, it played in 3-D in non-IMAX digital theaters in both formats. We did that by selecting whichever theater was going to look best in which format. But, for the home, we wanted to go with the full picture. I really think it helps, with the sense of vertigo underneath the flying creatures, to have that little bit of extra frame down there, when they’re looking down over cliffs. It enhances the sense of height.

Even though I love the cinemascope ratio compositionally, I actually found myself falling in love with the movie in 16×9, as we went along, and I prefer to watch it in that. Everyone thought the best viewing conditions for the movie were in 3-D, but in 3-D what we struggled with was the light levels. We struggled to get the light levels up, in the theaters. You get such a bright, crisp, dynamic picture on the DVD and Blu-ray. Something actually comes back to the viewing experience that you don’t get in the theaters, with the colors and the strength of the contrast.

“Logic is the battlefield of adulthood.”

  • Howard Berk
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Like most modern films, Avatar was shot digitally in 16:9 with safety protection in most shots for several different aspect ratios. It was released in either 1.85:1 or 1.77:1 in 3D, apparently depending on the theater.

However, Cameron has stated in at least one interview that he prefers the 2.39 aspect ratio for 2D projection:

For Avatar we’re shooting in a 16:9 ratio, we’re extracting a cinemascope ratio from that for 2D theatrical exhibition, and for 3D theatrical exhibition we will do, in the theaters that can, we’ll be in the 16:9 format and the theaters that can’t we’ll be in the scope format. Because I actually think that the extra screen height really works well in 3D. It really pulls you through the screen. So I’m actually going back on years of kind of eschewing the kind of 1.85 format, now saying 1.85 – or actually, it’s 1.78:1 – actually works really well in 3D. But only in 3D. I still like the scope ratio compositionally for flat projection.

And I have to agree that, if nothing else, the Blu-ray version looks off. There’s too much space on the top and bottom of the picture in general, and it looks more like an open matte version than something that the cinematographer would intentionally shoot for such an AR.

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zxthehedgehog said:
And I have to agree that, if nothing else, the Blu-ray version looks off. There’s too much space on the top and bottom of the picture in general, and it looks more like an open matte version than something that the cinematographer would intentionally shoot for such an AR.

This. The 16/9 works better in 3D, specially in the aerial scenes, but the film was clearly framed in cinemascope, no doubt about it. Even the virtual cameras used in the shooting had the cinemascope ratio.