Well, the reason it's good for you is because you're seeing the film as it was originally intended by the director. In times gone by, some people would baulk at the thought of black bars on their screen, but this has thankfully waned somewhat, thanks to the home cinemas that have taken over our living rooms.
For many years, seeing a film with a ratio of around 2.35:1 being shown on a conventional TV channel has been rather a rarity, even in the early '90s when Alex Cox's Moviewatch series would claim to show films for film buff, yet he was hampered by the BBC sticking to their guns by never doing justice to his selections.
I've been a proponent of this for as long as I can remember and, in the early days of this website, I also started a list of all the widescreen videos which were released in their original format, as most were cropped to 4:3 and generally looked horrendous. Slowly, but surely, the studios released that there was demand for widescreen and companies like 20th Century Fox led the charge in the early '90s with five widescreen videos: Alien, Die Hard, Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.
Over time, these were joined by more titles from both Fox and other studios and this became an accepted reality. The advent of laserdisc boosted the demand for widescreen, but that format's popularity lost footing when DVDs were first made available and eventually became the most preferable buying format we have today, with videos long since dying out and Blu-rays now chipping away at the DVD market at an increasing rate.
Widescreen has also become the accepted norm in the last few years with TVs mostly being only available in a 16:9 format and, if you have the money and the space, a Cinemascope 2.35:1 TV from Phillips, costing several thousand pounds.
It's been a long slog to get TV stations to accept this, though, and when the Sky Movies channels, and also Film4, got into the habit of showing these films correctly, it still didn't filter through to any terrestrial ones, even Channel 4 itself.
All that changed on December 1st, 2007, when Channel 4, and all of its offshoots, finally grabbed the bull by the horns and replaced almost all of its tired old 16:9-cropped prints with new ones in their correct ratio. There are still the occasional lapses, though, as they've never obtained correct prints for Eraser, Annie and Enemy at the Gates, and the first time they showed the Lord of the Rings trilogy in its correct ratio, the second film, The Two Towers was still cropped to 16:9. I enquired about this at the time and they blamed it on a dodgy print, but would correct it for subsequent screenings, which they did.
One thing that's also important about seeing films in their correct ratio is getting rid of the old prints. While The Sound of Music, for example, was originally shot in 2.20:1, a 2.35:1 print had been struck for cinemas at the time, and until recently, BBC HD had been showing the latter. The print doing the rounds on BBC1 at the same time was a terrible 16:9-cropped version of the 2.35:1 print, so not only were you losing picture information from the sides, but they compounded the problem by losing some from the top and bottom, effectively 'windowboxing' it.
Also, the BBC were apparently contractually-forbidden from showing a 16:9 print of the first three Indiana Jones films, so had been recycling the aged 4:3 prints which looked older than the films themselves! Meanwhile, BBC HD was showing them in 2.35:1.
Over the past couple of years, however, the other terrestrial channels have been slowly getting a clue. In early January 2009, for example, BBC2 broadcast Dances With Wolves in 2.35:1, albeit in its 3-hour version, a print that's since been broadcast twice more, also around Christmas and New Year. They did the same with Blade Runner: The Final Cut, a few months back.
ITV, forever being as dumb as a chimp and putting out cropped 16:9 films on their HD channels as well as their main ones, have occasionally pushed the boat out with 2.35:1 versions of the Gone in 60 Seconds remake, End of Days, Mrs Doubtfire, Nevada Smith, an old Steve McQueen film on ITV4, and Ocean's Twelve, although neither its prequel or sequel. They're still not quite getting it, though, as they're missing so many opportunities since then - particularly anything featuring James Bond, where most of the films were made wider than 1.85:1 - and it's clearly not a priority for them. That said, we did get a 2.35:1 screening of Happy Feet over the Christmas period.
It's a similar situation for Five, soon due to be renamed "Channel 5" (again). They got it right with the Jet Li movie, War, Danny Dyer in Outlaw and The Fifth Element (that one on Five USA), but are still trailing in joint last place with ITV, missing out with films such as 300 and 10,000 B.C..
Clearly, the advent of HD TV has helped with this change. As film rights are renewed, the channels are generally obtaining new widescreen masters that they can show in high defintion. Without emblazoning such films as requiring black bars onscreen, I thought some of these channels would start trying to put something out there to explain why these films were shown in that format, but they've just gone for it and broadcast them in the hope they'll be accepted, and thankfully it seems that they are.
The channel that's done its best over Christmas 2010 to bring 2.35:1 films to the masses is the BBC. They've put out almost all of their major films in the correct ratio, including The Sound of Music and the latest movie from the aforementioned franchise, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. However, they bottled it when it came to their 90-minute drama shown in prime-time, Toast, clearly shot in 2.35:1 from the clips, but shown in 16:9 on BBC1 and BBC1HD. Conversely, the recent 9pm screenings on BBC2 of the near-hour-long dramas, The Song of Lunch and Whistle And I'll Come To You*were* shown in 2.35:1. It does seem a bit odd for a short film to be made that way, but each director must do as he pleases.
As an aside, the trailer for the BBC1 drama Zen, starring Rufus Sewell, was presented in 2.35:1, but the programme itself was actually in 16:9 and it just showed they'd been a bit arty with the trailer. Perhaps they needed some way to drag us in when it was clearly the most tedious drama I've quickly switched off after 10 minutes.
However, their list in November and December 2010 was an impressive one, showing some films correctly that hadn't been shown that way before on BBC1 and BBC2 (same goes for any repeats on BBC3 and BBC4), as well as some premieres. This list includes: Wonder Boys, The Mission, Goal!, Youth Without Youth, The Wackness, The Guns of Navarone, The Cardinal, The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe, The Chronicles Of Narnia: Prince Caspian, The Incredibles, Miss Potter, Hard Rain, Wall-E and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, although, oddly, not the sequel, the following night.
Note that January 2011 has also seen the first time that the BBC have broadcast the original Indiana Jones trilogy in 2.35:1, both on BBC1 and in HD. Previously, only the first and third films were shown correctly, but Temple of Doom was bumped from BBC HD for something else at the time. These broadcasts, and at prime time, show that the BBC have finally take a definitive step to setting matters right.
I'm keeping an eye on this, so follow me on
and look out for the hashtag
on which I'll announce whenever I spot a film, wider than the usual 16:9, being shown in its correct ratio.