Harry Potter

CoS: Why Widescreen?

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Because a full screen version of the Chamber of Secrets DVD is not available here in the UK, you owe a huge debt to Richelle Votaw for doing an incredible amount of work in preparing all of the full screen shots you see below. The pictures you see here are just a fraction of the ones Richelle and I originally prepared and discussed, and based on which I made my final selections. Nevertheless, Richelle is not responsible for any of the conclusions I've reached, and if you disagree with any of the comments here, it's all my fault. From the e-mails I exchanged with Richelle while we were preparing the pictures, she probably disagrees with my conclusions anyway!

Just like with Philosopher's Stone, the yellow boxes around pictures show the "fullscreen edition", and the white boxes the widescreen picture. These are not approximations - these are actual captures from the two versions which have not been changed other than to compensate for digital distortions. If you click on the original screen captures on this page, a larger version of the same picture will appear in a new window. (Note: there are no larger versions of the superimposed pictures which are included for comparison purposes, so don't bother clicking on them!).

I feel quite strongly about this movie's presentation, and so rather than just show superimposed pictures as I did last year, I'm going to include the original separate pictures as well, and make some comments which lead to only one possible conclusion:

Widescreen Is The Only Option

There are three main reasons widescreen advocates such as myself give for the superiority of widescreen transfers:

It's what the director wanted us to see - the shot was set up deliberately
Information included in the widescreen shot is lost in a "fullscreen" transfer
It's what we saw in the cinema (known as Original Aspect Ratio, or OAR)
A fourth argument is that widescreen DVD transfers are technically superior.

The third is self-evident and the fourth is very technical, so the main thrust of this page is to show why the first two apply to this movie.

1. Image composition: Cinematography 101

There is a principle in visual communications known as the Rule of Thirds. It applies not only in widescreen movies, but any size or ratio picture and all other kinds of visual compositions, such as paintings, drawings or photography, and even interior design and classical architecture.

I won't waste time explaining the Rule in detail, but the principle is that human perception is drawn to or near to the intersection of imaginary lines dividing an image in thirds across and down. The first item in almost all photography manuals explains the Rule, and this is the reason why most mid-range photographic and video cameras have these points marked in the viewfinder (it is a common misconception that the markings are there to indicate the centre of the picture area). If that doesn't make sense, or if you've never heard of the Rule of Thirds, read this before continuing with the rest of this page, because I'm going to be returning to the subject fairly often.

Harry enters the Chamber of Secrets


The widescreen picture is a classic application of the Rule of Thirds. The snakes' jaws and the statue's mouth run along the top line, with the perspective drawing our eye into statue. The lower jaws, across Harry's shoulder blades, and not coincidentally, the tip of his wand, are arranged along the bottom line. The wand is vertically aligned with the statue. Harry's head, the weakest element in the composition, is in the mathematical centre of the picture.

As for the fullscreen picture, the lines and intersection points are all over the place and nothing actually stands out. Unequal numbers of snakes' heads on either side also weakens the perspective.

1:59:23 1:59:23

Ron gets a Howler
A classic mixed action/static shot, where the widescreen emphasis is on the static element: Errol the owl is moving, bang in the middle of the picture (weak element). But our attention is drawn, as intended, to Ron's hand, on the left line, and Colin's camera, at the intersection of the top and right.
The fullscreen picture emphasises Errol's wing along the top third, and the open books along the bottom, right on the "strong" intersection points. (Half of Ron's and Hermione's heads being cut out is a separate issue.)
0:32:40 0:32:40

Ron points his wand at Quidditch Match
The "strong" point in the widescreen picture is Ron pointing his wand, with his hand running almost along the top line, and his shoulder near the intersection of the left and top lines.
The "strong" point in the fullscreen picture is Neville's wand hanging flaccidly over the balcony: the high contrast of the balcony edge, running close to the bottom third line draws attention. Neville's hands break that contrast line near the right-hand intersection point, as does Hagrid extending above the line of heads behind Neville. (Also note Seamus and Colin being cut out of the picture.)
0:52:41 0:52:41

Harry and Malfoy chase the Snitch

In the widescreen picture, the bottom-left intersection point is Harry's mouth; the right is Malfoy's hand (and mouth behind it). The two players' arms run along the bottom line.
The fullscreen picture is dominated by the irrelevant beam on the top-left intersection. Malfoy's mouth (he's speaking) is nowhere close to the "golden third". The loss of much of the players' bodies disippates the scene's dynamism.

0:32:40 0:32:40

2. Lost information: Widescreen has much more going on in the picture ...

It goes without saying that if you start off with a picture that's over twice as wide as it is tall (true widescreen is at a ratio of 2.35:1) and shrink it down to a picture that's only just wider than it is tall (standard TV screens are at a ratio of 1.33:1 or 4:3), something's got to give. Either you need to squash the width of the wider picture or you need to crop almost half of it, in order for it to fill the TV screen.

With both Harry Potter films, as with a great many others, it's not quite that simple (little in life is!). Just like Philosopher's Stone, Chamber of Secrets was filmed using a process known as Super 35 (see this site for more information). This means that the film negative includes information above and below the image seen in the cinema, and so when creating the "full screen" edition, the technicians had more picture area from which to select, and the classic "pan and scan" reproach against full screen presentations doesn't apply. In a way, the widescreen picture is as much a "scan" of the original negative as the fullscreen one.

Nevertheless, some shots in Chamber of Secrets make it abundantly clear just how much of the original picture is lost, even considering that extra information comes into play at the top and bottom and thus allows more of the original widescreen image to be included. Some of the pictures above already show some characters cut out, but here are some even more glaring examples:


Where's the Hogwarts Express?

Further to the comments above regarding image composition, also note that the front of the train provides an incredibly strong focus and a counterbalance to the three Weasleys on the right of the picture. The fullscreen picture has no such focus or balance.

0:21:46 0:21:46

Harry has a duel with... err...

I always thought that duels involved two people. Just where has Malfoy gone?

Not to menion that in terms of the image composition, that platform looks lost in the fullscreen picture, while it elegantly fills the widescreen one.

1:04:52 1:04:52


Where's Dean?

Others in online Harry Potter fandom might know that I'm fascinated by the character of Dean Thomas and where his character is going in the remaining books. I'm therefore particularly sorry to see that in most crowd scenes, if a character is cut out from the full screen edition, it's usually him!

In this instance, Neville suffers the same fate (as he does several other times).

0:55:09 0:55:09

Fred and George get lost

That Fred and George Weasley are cut from the right of this shot might be considered irrelevant. However, one of the points of this sequence is to show the difference in the relationships between Harry and Malfoy, and Harry and the Weasleys, as well as between Lucius Malfoy and his son, and Arthur Weasley and his children. This is made a bit more difficult if two of the Weasley brothers aren't there...

0:18:48 0:18:48


Hermione and Filtch get the chop

Of course, the plot of Chamber of Secrets is all about a conspiracy to rid the magical world of non-purebloods, but did the DVD technicians have to do the same to the movie?

0:44:37 0:44:37

... or does it?

As said above, some of the exposed negative of what the camera saw didn't make it into the cinema (or indeed the widescreen DVD). Some of the details shown in that area may be ... interesting... Harry Potter fans are a nit-picking bunch and small details get our adrenaline going. So here are the details we didn't see in the cinema:


At Flourish & Blotts

A question people have asked is answered: there is a bookstore sign above Lockhart's head which has hitherto been unidentified. In the fullscreen version, it's clear that it says "Dark Arts". Interesting, or not?

0:18:05 0:18:05

In love with Lockhart

OK, it's not important, but it's a lovely touch. The fullscreen version shows that the article about the Lockhart booksigning in the bottom half of the Evening Prophet is presented in heart-shaped columns. Considering the trouble the design team went to to create this, it would have been nice to have seen it.

0:28:18 0:18:18

The Weasley Clock
This clock has been the subject of much debate. Where's the "Mortal Peril" position, described in Goblet of Fire? Where are the other Weasleys? The fullscreen version sheds a little light on the issue: "Mortal Peril" is at the "3 o'clock" position, next to Quidditch (Charlie?). We also learn that four Weasleys are in the Garden (Molly and Ginny are obvious, but who are the other two, and how come Ginny comes downstairs in her nightclothes rather from the garden?). Even so, the clock clearly shows eight hands. Where's the ninth? Questions, questions...
0:10:45 0:10:45

Polyjuice recipe

Again, not important, but included for desperate Harry Potter fans: more of the Polyjuice Potion recipe page from the book of "Moste Potente Potions".

0:50:30 0:50:30


The same for the page about Basilisks which Hermione had torn out of a book...

1:48:40 1:48:40

And finally...

Something which perplexed me when Philosopher's Stone was released on DVD and perplexes me even more with Chamber of Secrets is that the easiest way to present a movie filmed in Super 35 on a TV screen is to show the entire exposed negative (or "open the mattes", as it's known technically). This largely gets around most of the image composition issues I raised above, and makes the fullscreen edition far more attractive. This is certainly the way James Cameron (Titanic, Terminator, etc) has released most of his movies (he's a big Super 35 fan). A downside of this is that equipment such as microphones or booms might show up on the fringes of the picture if particular care wasn't taken during filming.

Two key sequences (or rather, images) from Chamber of Secrets got this treatment, or very close to it (as did the closeup of Harry's letter in Philosopher's Stone). What intrigues me is why much more of the film (such as the Hogwarts Express picture above) wasn't dealt with in the same way:

2:10:48 Ginny wakes up

The people doing the fullscreen DVD transfer simply had no option but to show the entire image for this one. Why didn't they do it with more of the movie?

2:10:48 2:10:48

The writing on the Wall

For this image, rather than having the mattes opened all the way, the widescreen picture has been quite visibly squeezed in at the sides in order to make the entire message fit into the TV screen. Note the angles of the stone arches, which appear to be much more acute in the fullscreen picture.

0:42:26 0:42:26

Well, the caption I gave to that last picture signals that the writing's on the wall for this page. I hope that what I've written above has been helpful in encouraging people in seeing the good sense of widescreen releases. I must say that working on this page left me with absolutely no ambiguity about where my personal preferences lie, which as I said last year, wasn't the case with Philosopher's Stone. I have a niggling suspicion that someone involved in the making of Philosopher's Stone was involved in selecting the shots for the fullscreen DVD release. Chamber of Secrets strikes me as little more than a hatchet job by a technician who was probably pressed for time and probably has little understanding of the artistry of film-making.

As I said at the top of this page, the pictures I've included above are just a small fraction of the screen captures Richelle and I prepared, and absolutely none of them has shaken my belief.

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Full screen video captures prepared by Richelle Votaw
Text, HTML and graphics by Richard Sliwa 2003