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Netflix Responds To Reports That They Are Horribly Cropping The Movies On Their Streaming Service

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by Kevin Jagernauth
July 18, 2013 11:09 AM
19 Comments
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So, the story of Netflix right now seems to be that of a rental company that has grown into a behemoth media provider, mailing out discs and becoming the premiere streaming service not only in the United States, but in countries around the world. They continue to break new ground as they head into original programming, dropping new shows that circumvent the network and cable model of one sampling per week, by allowing users to watch all the episodes whenever they want. And yet, it seems that maintaining the integrity of the image of the many, many movies in their streaming catalog is proving to be a problem.

Starting to make the rounds this week is the Tumblr page What Netflix Does, and it's a rather surprising collection of movies that have been severely cropped from their theatrical aspect ration to fit 16:9 TV screens. Not to get too nerdtacular, but anything presented in Scope (generally 2.39:1—think "There Will Be Blood" which you can check out below) gets unceremoniously chopped to 1.78:1 which is the ratio of TVs across the land. Or basically here's another way to put it: you know when you watch a movie with black bars on the top and bottom? Netflix drops those out and chops the edges so it fills up your whole screen.

You could think everyone would have moved on from the Pan And Scan VHS days and gotten used to all this when studios (finally) decided to preserve theatrical aspect ratios on home video. (In the early days of DVD, when most people still had square box set TVs, movies were still rejiggered to fit those 4:3 dimensions). Either way, it might behoove Netflix to take a look at what they're doing to some of these movies, because while some cuts are less noticeable, others are pretty egregious, removing big chunks of the frame.

Check out the Tumblr page above, but you can see two examples below of Paul Thomas Anderson and Quentin Tarantino's movies getting sliced and diced. (Side note: those examples do not affect U.S. streams, but international ones, but there also are plenty of stateside movies getting destroyed). Thoughts? Does this make or break Netflix for you or do you even care? (But really, if you give a shit about movies, you should be fighting to see them the way the director intended). 

As for the company, they say that sometimes the "wrong version" of a movie gets uploaded to the service and that "we do not crop" and that they offer "the best picture and provide the original aspect ratio of any title." They continue, "When we discover this error, we work to replace that title as soon as possible." Maybe they need to hire some quality control to catch it the first time instead of waiting for customers to complain? [Flavorwire/The Verge]

http://whatnetflixdoes.tumblr.com/ "There Will Be Blood" Netflix Crop
http://whatnetflixdoes.tumblr.com/ Inglourious Basterds Netflix crop
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19 Comments

  • jaime | April 29, 2014 1:20 PMReply

    The thing I find most annoying about Netflix is the frame rate, it's too fast or something, I can't pin the problem down exactly but it has a cheap video look to it, not cinematic. Movement is too fluid or something. If they could show old titles (the ones I watch the most) in 24 fps I would be much, much happier with their service. This annoys me a lot more than any cropping, though that's pretty terrible as well.

  • TONY CARUANA | July 21, 2013 3:44 AMReply

    One example is THE ENEMY BELOW, which starts with 2.35 ratio, but as soon as the title sequence is over it switches to 1.78, which I find extremely annoying, especially when I opt to watch in HD.

  • LET"S GET IT TOGETHER | July 19, 2013 5:53 AMReply

    I've also noticed OLDBOY is dubbed in English... the worst

  • Craig | July 18, 2013 6:08 PMReply

    Netflix doesn't even have inglorious basterds or there will be blood streaming right now...

  • Richard Schitz | July 19, 2013 10:03 AM

    Basterds is available on Canadian Netflix and TWBB is available in Mexico, Brazil, Scandinavia, Ireland and UK.

    In other words, there are places in the world that are not the US of A...

  • CinemaPsycho | July 18, 2013 6:57 PM

    Has no one else noticed this comment?

  • Mookie | July 18, 2013 3:26 PMReply

    Two thoughts. One is the difference between 1:78 and 1:85 is VERY slight and an easy correction for the filmmaker to make when color-correcting and creating the TV version of a movie. You'd really never notice if they do it right. But doing it right requires the producer to spend the time and money to make sure the TV version looks, sounds, and is composed correctly. And that's a tall order since most producers care about as much as Netflix or the cable providers, which is to say they don't really give a shit, or at least enough to want to spend the money. Worse yet, these days it's hard to find a producer who even knows what they're doing and thinks about this stuff. Quality as a concept seems to have become a "quaint" idea. And with consumers watching movies on mobile phones and laptops it's easy to see why producers no longer give a shit.

    Second, you only have two options to watch a "scope" (2:35) film on a 1:78 TV. Either see the whole film frame but leave black bars top and bottom or "Pan/Scan" the movie so it fills the screen but the image you see is adjusted in each shot to be the best it can be. The worst is to just blow the whole image up without going through pan/scan and the results in this article speak for themselves. Most filmmakers know well enough to frame their actors to fit in the 1:78 space so at least they don't look horrible when the TV version comes out but it's the wild west out there and, frankly, most people in the business just don't give a shit.

  • MDL | July 18, 2013 3:26 PMReply

    I'm pretty sure that Netflix uses the versions that are given to them by the studios or distributors. If you check out the tumblr page you'll see the cropping is all pretty inconsistent, which leads me to believe they are not purposely cropping the images. I remember that some of the Starz movies that were up on Netflix were cropped. They were all Starz's versions. So blame the countries and the distributors not Netflix.

  • Carter | July 18, 2013 2:21 PMReply

    Can I add that the suggestion screen that happens when the credits begin is a terrible terrible feature. Why do they do this? I'm not finished watching a film and you're telling me to watch something else. Please, Netflix, give us the option to turn this off.

  • Richard Schitz | July 18, 2013 2:03 PMReply

    Netflix Canada, among other disasters, has full-screen versions of American Psycho and A Prophet offered. This combined with their b-s 'HD' options are a huge joke. Pirate Bay + ~4 Gig 720p Blu-Ray rips FTW.

  • Andy | July 18, 2013 1:57 PMReply

    I was shocked the other day to find that The Robe, historically known as the first ever CinemaScope film, was pan and Scan on Netflix. Disgusting.

  • Fuck Em | July 18, 2013 1:26 PMReply

    Fuck Netflix! If you're in a sizable city many times the libraries have a very good selection and you can have them sent to your local library if not on shelf there. TV has soo many movies all the time IFC, Sundance, TCM, etc. DVDs are gettin' cheaper....Sometimes it's good not to have all movies on order or at your fingertips. You can wait. It makes the movie more of an event.

    Also the cropping is beyond repair. Boycott these people that have no respect for the craft if you have respect for the craft. If you like music you gotta boycott Spotify too, who have no respect for the artist and pay them jack shit.

    I'm a little older fashioned, I enjoy going to video stores and DVD stores when I can, they are few and farther between but still around out there. There's nothing like browsing around, looking at the covers of movies. It's not romantisization it's really great. So I don't like Netflix effect. Fuck 'em.

  • CinemaPsycho | July 18, 2013 7:07 PM

    Where I live the only video stores left have terrible selections and are out in BFE, so it's a hassle to even get there. Netflix has a great selection, plus I still get DVDs in the mail which are widescreen 100% of the time. Most cable movie channels show pan and scan movies 95% of the time. Netflix customers still have the option to rent widescreen DVDs!

    I basically use Netflix for "rentals", movies that I would rent, not buy. If I really love a movie, then I would buy a copy. As SEVERAL people have pointed out, Netflix themselves are not cropping the movies. They are using the versions the studios are giving them. Given the thousands of movies they have on their service, do you REALLY expect them to know what the studios are giving them for each individual title? That's what customer complaints are for. Every film has a comment page. Use it.

    Not everyone in the world lives in a "sizable city" full of libraries and video stores that are film literate. Most of America does not. For millions of film fans, Netflix is the best and most affordable option. If you don't like the streaming service, YOU CAN RENT DVDS AND BLU-RAYS. You don't have to use the streaming service. Why do people not get that??

  • Matt | July 18, 2013 3:32 PM

    Netflix does not crop movies. They use the movie versions that are given to them by whomever has the rights in each country. BTW if you are old fashioned then wouldn't you go to movie theatres rather than to video stores? Or are you just nouveau-old fashioned?

  • spassky | July 18, 2013 12:59 PMReply

    I've been saying this for years. If more others were paying attention, they would have gotten rid of Netflix a looooong time ago and maybe we wouldn't have this problem. But, no, so called "cinephiles" (i.e. chin beards who only notice when it happens to a Tarantino movie) are only gearing up now... why?

    Regardless, the quality you sacrifice by streaming should clue you in to how much Netflix gives a shit about the presentation of movies in their streaming catalog.

  • James | July 18, 2013 12:10 PMReply

    Also, just a little error in the article - widescreen TVs are 1.78:1, not 1.85:1, which is the aspect ratio of conventional "flat" movies in theaters.

  • James | July 18, 2013 12:09 PMReply

    Another reason to buy discs. Streaming is like cable, forced to serve a mass audience who don't understand or care about "the black bars" :(

  • Dan S | July 18, 2013 12:08 PMReply

    The aspect ratio of widescreen televisions are 1.78:1, not 1.85:1. When films composed for the latter ratio are displayed on a widescreen television, there should still be thin black bars at the top and the bottom.

    I don't think Netflix is doing this, the studios are in control of mastering for television. They probably just give Netflix the same transfers created for cable movie channels. Because of the predominant use of Super 35 since the 80's, I would not be surprised if Netflix receives a lot of open-matte transfers for their library. "Prometheus" is definitely an open-matte transfer, and "Planet of the Apes" is completely re-framed (not just pan and scanned liked the others).

  • Matt Brennan | July 18, 2013 11:52 AMReply

    Kevin, I think this is reflective of the shift to "media behemoth" that Netflix has undergone, which you note in the first line of your piece. I originally signed up for the service because they promised a cinephile's paradise of rare (and not-so-rare) DVDs I couldn't find at my local video store; since then, they've lost that original sense that they were in it not just for the love of money, but love of the art form.

    Netflix SHOULD do better, but I fully expect that they'll shrug and move on raking in the dough. I'll still stream television series, particularly their laudable slate of original content. But for some movies -- There Will Be Blood is a perfect example -- there's no replacement for the cinema, whatever the aspect ratio.

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