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04/24/2003 Archived Entry: "Picture Imperfect"
Posted by CKL @ 11:28 AM PST

Fox has announced that they will be releasing the Buffy season 4 DVD set in region 1 (North America), but in fullscreen format, not anamorphic widescreen as it was across the pond. To placate the drooling fanbase, Joss Whedon authored this "personal message" (reprinted from The Digital Bits) to be included with the US release:

Gentle Viewer:

No doubt you are looking over this scrumptious BUFFY package and exclaiming "No @#$%ing letterboxing? Whutzat? GYPPED!" Possibly you are breaking things. Please calm down. The fabulous episodes of BUFFY (and that one crappy one, sorry about that, seemed really cool when we wrote it...) were not shot in a widescreen format. They were shot in the TV 4 by 3 ratio. Now I'm a letterbox fanatic, but not just because I crave th' wide. I want to see the whole screen, as framed by the director. The BUFFY's I (and others) shot were framed for traditional TVs. Adding space to the sides simply for the sake of trying to look more cinematic would betray the very exact mise-en-scene I was trying to create. I am a purist, and this is the purest way to watch BUFFY. I have resisted the effort to letterbox BUFFY from the start and always will, because that is not the show we shot. This is. So enjoy! Stop breaking things. You're getting the best presentation of -- let's face it -- the best Television Drama since MATCHGAME '79. Bye for now!

Sincerely,

Joss Whedon

I suspect there's some political situation being defused here. It would have been a baldfaced lie to say that there is no widescreen source material available, since it was released last year in Europe. But notice that Joss said Buffy episodes "were not shot in a widescreen format. They were shot in the TV 4 by 3 ratio... framed for traditional TVs" (my emphasis). He doesn't deny that a widescreen version is available; he's simply defending the action of not releasing a widescreen version in the US.

I think his real beef is with letterboxing, not widescreen per se. In Europe, where 16x9 format TVs are more common, widescreen is a big selling point. But the US audience is, frankly, less sophisticated, and widescreen TVs have yet to catch on here. For better or worse, letterboxing turns off a lot of consumers-- they don't like the black bars at the top and bottom of their screens-- and most of those folks also don't know how to change the widescreen/fullscreen mode on their DVD players.

The bottom line is, Buffy's a TV show, with all the good and bad things that implies. If you really want Buffy in widescreen, you can get it from the UK or Australia or somewhere else. I mean, c'mon-- you downloaded "Graduation Day, Part 2" when the WB refused to air it. This is much less illegal (if at all).

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