This discussion isn't about Ansel Adams. It's about Avatar. If you've read my comments closely, you'll see I've never advocated matting anything else. I'm not a 2.39:1 fanatic. I don't want to crop everything. I simply believe that the proper 2D ratio for Avatar is 2.39:1. If you want to goad me for being condescending or pompous and claiming I have a trained eye, go ahead. I probably deserve some of it. I haven't done enough to back up my claims with visual evidence. But so far, no one has provided any
solid argument for 1.78:1 as the proper 2D OAR.
I know I've said I was done multiple times, but hopefully after my next few posts I really will be. I took sometime to apply the 2.39:1 mattes to Kram Sacul's 1.78:1 screen grabs and I'm going to take some time to write up some visual analysis of why the 2.39:1 frame works better. I didn't do anything to the frame that Cameron didn't already do himself. Millions of people saw the film this way. In fact, my entire argument is that the mattes convey how Cameron originally framed these shots. Hopefully this will provide some insight for some into how composition factors into visual storytelling.
I'll start with a simple profile close up of Sigourney Weaver, presented in matted 2.39:1 below.
Now, from a storytelling perspective, what is this image doing? What is Cameron communicating to the audience with this image? What is he trying to convey?
This isn't a trick question. The answer is that Sigourney Weaver's character, Grace, is looking through a microscope. That's it.
The 2.39:1 frame is bounded to convey this simple act. The focus is on Grace's eyes as they look through the microscope. Now, what happens when we open up the matte to 1.78:1?
Not much you might say. Grace is still looking through that microscope. But let's look closer.
We get to see a lot more of her forehead at the top of the frame and her lips and jaw become visible on the bottom. A greater percentage of the frame is occupied by unfocused background due to the shallow depth of field of a long lens. From a storytelling perspective, what does this extra visual information add to the purpose of the shot?
Nothing. Grace's forehead isn't doing anything. Her lip and jaw aren't doing any talking. Nothing is going on in that fuzzy background. It's all extraneous detail.
Now, it would be hyperbolic to say that opening the mattes ruins the storytelling in the shot, but it does blunt the pointedness of the original 2.39:1 frame. There's a precision to the 2.39:1 framing that's lacking in the 1.78:1 frame. You may say that I'm overanalyzing a simple shot, but this is the process that good directors and cinematographers go through when framing their shots.
Between playoff games tomorrow I'll go through a few more examples where I'll mark up screen grabs to explain how the eye lines, balance and geometry all seem to be composed and designed for the 2.39:1 frame. Before that, however, I need to get some sleep. Hopefully this has been helpful.