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Nintendo - Pan & Scan vs. Widescreen
By Cyril Lachel     |   Posted on October 07, 2002   |   Episode 25 (Show Archive)  


There was a time, not too long ago, where people thumbed their noses upon movies presented in widescreen. Back in the old days, when video cassettes roamed the Earth, people would often say "why does this movie have black bars on the top and bottom?" and not even attempt to seek the answer out. Now that DVD's are the industry standard, and people see the difference, you'd think things would be better. But there's at least one company that has not fully embraced the true power of widescreen.

For the unfamiliar, most movies are shot in a widescreen format (2.35:1 aspect ratio). This is about two and a half times wider than it is tall. When a company edits the films original aspect ratio to fit into a standard television (4:3), this is called pan & scan. As you can tell by the demonstration above (with Blade Runner), the pan & scan image on the left leaves out about half of the full picture (right). It has been edited in such a way where you no longer see both people, and forget about the grandeur of the set design.

So who would want this? Well, Nintendo to one. You see, Nintendo of America has decided to package their GameBoy Advance games in a standard square box. These boxes aren't too unlike those found on the original GameBoy or its Color/Pocket counterparts. In Japan, though, Nintendo is using a rather attractive wide box. This box is a little shorter, a little thinner, and much wider. As you'll see, when Nintendo ports these boxes, sometimes it's the artwork that suffers. Read on ...

While this may not be the worst example, it does show just how much can be edited out of a cover. The Japanese Final Fight One box (right hand side) features mug shots of a few bosses and bad guys. The Japanese cover actually offers a strange 1970's Blaxpoitation vibe, where as the U.S. cover (left) keeps the heart of the picture, and throws away the rest. This is not unlike most Pan & Scan. One simply has to compare the widescreen and pan & scan version of films like Reservoir Dogs, Fight Club, or dare I say, Boogie Nights. This can be seen to a much larger degree with the Tactics Ogre: the Knights of Lodis box art (below).

As you can see, the GameBoy Advance version of Tactics Ogre offers a well drawn piece of artwork. It's a moody image, no matter which one you have. But if you take a look at the Japanese one (right) you will see just how much more artwork there is. There's a weapon-like thingy (I'll take credit for that great usage of the English language) you wouldn't normally see (well, it's in the American cover, kind of). You will also see the castle on the right hand side. It's pretty apparent that when being ported to the U.S., the box art had to be cut.

Sometimes a movie doesn't need to be edited. In small circumstances, mainly computer animated, a company doesn't need to cut stuff out of their movie. In the case of Toy Story 2 of Monsters, Inc., Pixar was able to reedit their film without losing the detail. This doesn't work on movies shot on film, but computer animated is a different story altogether. Sometimes companies don't have to edit much with their boxes, either. The newest CastleVania game, Harmony of Dissonance (White Night Concerto in Japan), suffers from this problem. It's not that the picture has been altered, per se, more like squished. Same goes with Tekken Advance (below). All the characters are shown, but are repositioned, even squished together to get the same point across.

These are just a few of the many examples. Unfortunately I can only touch on the tip of the iceberg. But if you want to do more research about widescreen and pan & scan, I suggest you head on over to the Digital Bits Widescreen-o-rama! Hopefully Nintendo will wise up next generation.


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