December 18, 2009

Getting Cinemate: #6 Cinemascope and 70mm

The ratio between the height and the width of the projected image is called the Aspect Ratio. The TV has the aspect ratio of 1.33:1. This ratio, arbitrarily, became popular since the beginning of cinema. It was eventually standardized by the Academy, hence being called as the Academy Ratio or the Academy Aperture. In the 50s, the television revolutionized audio-video media like never before and its growing popularity was a threat to cinema. So, to make cinema a unique experience, ‘Widescreen’ ratios came into practice, ratios ranging from 1.66:1 (common in Europe) to 1.85:1 (common in America) or even greater.

To achieve this ratio various methods are applied. One of them is the use of Anamorphic Processes. Twentieth Century-Fox made the process with the trade name of Cinemascope. But it is now used as a common noun for anamorphic processes in general. And although it is just one of the methods to achieve it, it is often used as the general term referring to the widescreen aspect ratio.

Paramount Pictures’ answer to Cinemascope was Vistavision. It is a non-anamorphic process and instead uses film two times wider than the traditional 35mm film. This film, with an increased width-height ratio is the 70mm film used for shooting. For projection it is reduced to 35mm print which enhances the quality by reducing the graininess.

Widescreen ratio provided so much of space around the subject that it increased the visual appeal of cinema. Action sequences, musicals, outdoor shots – everything looked better. Just compare the two pictures of similar shot compositions and see what a widescreen ratio does.

P.S. Since I was a child I wondered what Cinemascope is. And also, why they write 70mm on the censor certificate? 70mm is 7cms, and the screen is so huge! Poor me, I had no one to answer these questions.

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