Dark Doctrine: “The Masque Of The Red Death”

VOD Streaming. It’s convenient, it’s easy, and for the most part it works.

Yet one of the downsides that doesn’t get talked about is the way various VOD services chop and change their product for mass appeal – in the process messing up the intent of the filmmakers and producers.

On Netflix, cult shows like “Doctor Who” and “Heroes” have anywhere from a few seconds to up to five minutes cut out of their original broadcasts.

Now, the service has come under fire for another issue – fiddling with aspect ratios.

The Tumblr page What Netflix Does has started showcasing examples of various films shot with the fairly common 21:9 Scope (2.35:1-2.39:1) aspect ratio that have undergone cropping by Netflix, sometimes severe, to fill out the 16:9 (1.85:1) aspect ratios of today’s widescreen TVs.

As a result, certain films are losing a good portion of their image including major titles like “Inglourious Basterds,” “The Passion of the Christ,” “Planet of the Apes,” “Man on the Moon,” “There Will Be Blood,” “Zodiac” and “The Transporter”.

The move reflects the changing nature of non-cinephile complaints about aspect ratios. A little over ten years ago, DVDs came into mainstream use and many were still using standard 4:3 square televisions. At the time people would complain that the black bars would cut out part of the image with widescreen films – unable to understand that almost all ‘Full Screen’ films actually chopped off big parts of the original footage.

These days, that argument has been reversed. With widescreen TVs now ubiquitous and the days of 4:3 filming both on TV and in film long over, complaints are that films and shows that were shot in 4:3 and or 21:9 (aka. 2.35:1) don’t entirely “fill” a 16:9 widescreen TV and thus part of the image is being hidden by the black bars – when it fact it’s actually preserving the original aspect ratio.

Netflix responded to website The Verge about this issue saying “When we discover this error, we work to replace that title as soon as possible.”

Yet the question is, why wasn’t this problem caught before by the service itself? It isn’t 1999, we now live in a time when most people seem to have adjusted to watching media of varying aspect ratios thanks to DVD, Blu-ray and the rise of new technologies like IMAX.

So why does Netflix feel the need to do this? Some say it’s the content providers themselves are to blame as in some cases they provide the streaming services with the cropped and/or edited versions (like they do for cable networks). That argument is true in some cases, but in others it simply doesn’t hold water.

By all means, if you are one of those people who hates having black bars on your screen – adjust your own TV to stretch or crop the image as required. Practically every media playback device from iPhones and tablets to laptops and Smart TVs all have that capability.

For the content provider to make that adjustment themselves is not only a disservice to them and us, but to all those who worked on these films and shows. Netflix isn’t exactly short on cash these days, here’s hoping in the future they funnel that towards employing some quality control for what it is they are streaming.