Originally Posted by andy sullivan
OK. In reality I think I know why. At least the reason given starting in 1996 when folks first started complaining about black bars at the top and bottom of the screen. It is the directors choice and he wants the material available in the wide shots on screen to be forwarded to the TV screen. It interfered with his creative whatever. Many at the time blamed it on the directors ego actually. For the first 5 or 6 years many releases were made available in both 4x3 and either 2:35tx1 or 1:85x1 or a few in 1:78x1 (mostly Disney). Now we fast forward to 2013 and still the majority of major releases are in 2:35. 2-40, and 2:20. A nice exception is Rise of the Guardians (1:78x1). It's quite easy to find out how much a movie makes $$$ wise in the theaters compared to DVD sales, and in most cases the $$$ is much larger in the DVD sales. So, now that you can;t even buy a 4X3 TV and every single new set is 16x9, and every single major network is broadcasting HD TV in 16x9, why do the studios not demand that all releases are in 16x9? It certainly seems that the vast majority of viewers would prefer that their entire screen be filled with beautiful video, especially blu-ray. The only TV out there that actually has a 2:35x1 screen is on single brand new model from Vizio, which almost nobody is buying.
Hmm. Despite the flack you're getting about this, I do believe there is an "Emperor's New Clothes" element to your question that hasn't been dealt with by theatrical filmmakers who still choose an aspect ratio dramatically wider than 1.78:1 and the scant few Home Theater enthusiasts on the planet who pony up for a 2.35:1 Constant Image Height Home Theater set-up.
As much as I recoil in horror at your insinuation that theatrical filmmakers ought to just forget about choosing an aspect ratio other than the established HD 1.78:1 for whatever personal statement they want to make and merely choose the ratio that fits the prevailing television ratio...the fact is there is less value in a filmmaker choosing, say, 2.35:1 over 1.78:1 today than ever before. In many cases, I submit it is even counterproductive to their most likely goal in choosing the wider aspect ratio.
As you point out, the greater money in the long run is the home video/television market, not the theatrical market. I would add that in the majority of cases, many more people will also view a movie on home video/television than will see it in a theater on its initial or subsequent (if any) releases. That wasn't the case when William Wyler made BEN-HUR. Wyler's movie made tons more in theatrical sales vs what was expected for it in television sales at the time so he knew he would be getting much more bang for the buck in choosing 2.65:1 for his movie and not even giving much thought to what KCOP Channel 13 was going to do to it 15 years later.
But that just isn't the case today. Spielberg might want his next 2.35:1 blockbuster to really impress audiences with its bigger-and-wider-than-television size at your local multiplex...but the truth is, when it hits the DVD/Blu-ray market with the inevitable black bars at top and bottom, it will look puny compared to any "lesser" production that fits a 1.78:1 flat screen in your sister's living room. And it will do so for many, many more years than it ever will play in theaters and for a much greater percentage of its sales shelf life. So whatever grand statement Spielberg or other filmmakers thought they were making by going bigger (as Wyler did in 1959, Kubrick did in 1968, Spielberg did in the 1970s, etc.), the impact and value of making that decision is necessarily lost the moment the movie is transferred to DVD/Blu-ray and presented on a 1.78:1 flat screen.
When that inevitable day comes when the next Spielberg or Nolan theatrical release hits the DVD/Blu-ray shelves (or streamed) less than a month after its theatrical release, they're going to have to come to grips with why they bothered to frame a movie at 2.35:1 at all in order to, among other things, impress the audience with its sheer size relative to the latest HBO mini-series, if virtually everyone who sees it will only be impressed with how much smaller it looks in its "original theatrical aspect ratio" with thick black bars at the top and bottom vs that HBO mini-series.