So this morning Hollywood Elsewhere's Jeffrey Wells decided to get all apoplectic, largely because it's just not a full day for Hollywood Elsewhere's Jeffrey Wells if he DOESN'T get all apoplectic about something. Seriously, I'm surprised the guy doesn't give himself a stroke. Or maybe he already HAS given himself a stroke, and Hollywood Elsewhere is its aftereffect. In any event, I don't normally bring my little differences with him here, but it so happened he chose to get apoplectic about something I'm in the middle of examining first hand myself. "It's only just hit me that Warner Home Video's Barry Lyndon Bluray...has been masked at 1.85 to 1...storm the barricades!" Um, yeah, sure, whatever you say. Lest you wonder just how this "hit" him—something to do with the voices in his head, maybe?—he reproduces a bit of the liner tech-spec copy, which, sure enough, specifies a 1.85 aspect ratio, whereas Barry Lyndon itself is a 1.66, or something like that. After a bit of obligatory spittle-flecking ("and I know I'm in the right on this one," blah, blah blah) Wells goes on to quote one Tyler Williamson, writing on the standard-def DVD release, and wishing for "a Blu-ray remaster with Barry Lyndon's 1.59 or 1.66 image (the difference in more or less negligible, so I don't really care) in the center of a 1.78 frame -- which is how Blurays handle films with aspect ratios less wide than 1.78. All the 1.66 and 1.37 films on Blu-ray are done this way: Chungking Express, The Third Man, etc." (The 1.78 frame, incidentally...or really not so incidentally, when you come down to it—being the native aspect ratio of your 16:9 displays.)
And, er, guess what, kids? I actually have the Barry Lyndon Blu-ray, and I've actually looked at the image from the disc rather than just what turns out to be the misprint on the liner specs, and that's pretty much exactly the way Warner handled the approximately 1.66:1 frame of Barry Lyndon! I even took some pictures off my plasma screen, which I'm presenting uncropped to give the full effect of the centering. I even took a picture from the Criterion 1.66 Blu-ray of Chungking Express for context/comparison. Hell, I even took a picture from a genuine 1.85 Blu-ray, Raging Bull, for comparison/contrast. Check it out!
Barry Lyndon. Boy, that Leonard Rossiter's a stitch, huh?
Chungking Express. Pay particular attention to the BLACK BORDERING AROUND THE ACTUAL FRAME! CONCENTRATE!
Raging Bull. Behold its 1.85 glory.
From the "sneak peek." I don't know who the hell cropped this, but he or she...cropped it.
On my display. Note bottom of tree. Come on, people.
So. Hold off on storming those barricades, people. While this proves one more unfortunate "right as usual, sir" (see the paddleball scene in Blazing Saddles) moment for Wells, the news is good for Blu-ray-ready cinephiles, who may buy Barry Lyndon with relative confidence in the integrity of its aspect ratio.
FURTHER UPDATE (5/24/11): Well, this has been enlightening. And embarrassing. Prompted by the observations of several commenters, most prominently the one who calls himself "The Fanciful Norwegian," I have been looking into just how a 1.66 image resolves itself into a 1.66 image on my own personal display, a Hitachi P50V701 50-inch plasma. The Norwegian, citing the display from Chungking Express among other things, suggested a calibration issue. Well, the good news is I'm not sure that my set needs recalibrating. The bad news is that I've often been using the incorrect setting to watch my Blu-rays.
The P50V701 has two settings for "16:9 Standard." One would assume that the first one, "16:9 Standard 1," would be the most accurate. But no. According to the owner's manual, "Use this aspect mode to display 16:9 sources...preserving the original aspect ratio showing 95% of the size." Say what? Yeah, 95%. Hence the problem on the Chungking Express frame cited below by the frivolous one, not to mention the paucity of black bars on the side of the screen. As it happens, quite counterintuitively in my opinion, it is the "16:9 Standard 2" setting that is "preserving the original 16:9 aspect ratio showing 100% of the size." Now sorry to put up blurry shots of a TV screen one more time, but here's the Chungking on said display in "16:9 Standard 2," now showing more lightbulbs and more indications of its 1.66 aspect ratio:
And here's Barry Lyndon, in, yes, 1.78:1, goddammit.
My apologies to you all and particularly to the BluBrew people (although, yeah, what Joel E. said, too; also, why crop your thumbnails so severely, I wonder?), but none to my frenemy Mr. Wells, who went off even more half cocked than I, what with going from box copy rather than the disc itself. As disagreeable as 1.78 is, it still isn't 1.85. And this story isn't over yet. As it happens I'm interviewing Leon Vitali, a keeper of the Kubrick flame, tomorrow, and this issue will be on the agenda. Stay tuned...