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Giving Up on Panavision

The trailer for Wes Anderson’s new film Moonrise Kingdom was released yesterday, and everyone, supporters and detractors alike, agrees that it is very Wes Anderson-y. I – generally a supporter – was a bit surprised to see that the trailer is in non-anamorphic, 1.85:1 aspect ratio.

Ever since Rushmore, Anderson has been one of the most frequent and distinctive users of the anamorphic widescreen Panavision screen shape; part of what we associate with an Anderson movie is people spread out carefully along the “‘Scope” frame. But he went back to 1.85:1 for Fantastic Mr. Fox, and now he seems to be (unless the trailer is misrepresenting it) continuing it with his new live-action movie.

I only bring this up because I used to like to observe, a few years ago, how many filmmakers in the U.S. and elsewhere were adopting ‘Scope as their preferred format. It seemed like almost every movie, even a small romantic comedy or something, would use the widest screen possible. Scorsese, who never made a ‘Scope movie before Cape Fear, made almost nothing but ‘Scope movies after; filmmakers like Brad Bird helped make ‘Scope popular even in family-friendly animated films.

But recently it seems like there’s been a move back in the other direction, to movies that are the same shape as a modern TV screen. 3D movies like Avatar and Hugo are in 1.85:1, and 1.85:1 seems to be on its way back to becoming the normal format for movies that aren’t epic in scale, especially comedies.

I don’t know what exactly is driving the trend; all I could find was a quote from James Cameron saying that he did Avatar in 1.85 because he likes the way 3D looks in that aspect ratio. I just wanted to make a note that in the ’00s, just like in the ’50s, 2.35:1 became something like the default screen shape (both, probably not coincidentally, were eras when the movie industry was desperate to compete with home viewing, including offering a wider screen than the TV or computer), and now the trend could be reversing itself.

Though now that I’ve said it, we’ll see a new screen process developed that is three times as wide as it is high, and everyone will make every movie that way. Things change fast.

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