“Man on the Moon” (1999), original image.
“Man on the Moon” (1999), Netflix presentation.
“Inglourious Basterds” (2009), original image.
“Inglourious Basterds” (2009), Netflix presentation.
“There Will Be Blood” (2007), original image.
“There Will Be Blood” (2009), Netflix presentation.
Basically, as those comparisons from What Netflix Does illustrate, they’ve been cropping off the sides of 2.39:1 images to fit them into a standard 16:9 widescreen image. It is, at its essence, the same thing as “pan and scanning,” but they’re not telling you that they’re doing it — and most viewers, without the obvious visual cue of black bars on the side of their TV, have no idea.
This may sound like nitpicking, but these are issues that matter for those who care about movies. The framing choices made by a director and cinematographer are important, and Milos Forman made a decision when he chose to show both Jim Carrey and Jerry Lawler. Quentin Tarantino wanted all of those people in that shot. Paul Thomas Anderson didn’t want Daniel Day-Lewis and Kevin J. O’Connor falling off the side of the goddamn frame.
You don’t go around chopping off the tops of paintings so they fit in the frames you’ve got lying around, and you don’t go around slicing off the edges of movies so you don’t have to deal with letterboxing. And if Netflix is going to insist on doing so, they should at least have the courtesy to tell us they’re monkeying with their merchandise.
UPDATE (7/18/13, 9:45 AM): The fine folks over at The Verge have been looking into this matter, and have been told by Netflix “we do not crop,” though they “may sometimes deliver the wrong version of a title. ‘When we discover this error, we work to replace that title as soon as possible,’ the company notes.” We’ve reached out to Netflix for comment and will report back.
UPDATE (7/25/13, 12:00 PM): We’ve spent the past week talking to studios and Netflix about this issue. Here’s what we found out.