November 15, 2021
Disney+ has added enhanced Imax versions of a selection of Marvel adventures but does it make a shred of difference?
More is less? What it’s like to watch an Imax movie at home
It was not so long ago, children, that a person desiring to watch a movie at their leisure had no choice but to purchase a round, shiny object called a Digital Video Disc. The early days of DVD continued and widened a debate begun during the VHS era, in that many titles were released in both “widescreen” and “fullscreen” formats from which a discerning customer could make their own choice. The widescreen presentation would fit the theatrical projection to the average consumer TV, “letterboxing” the frame with black bars called mattes above and below to squeeze a long rectangle into a shorter one. As promised by the name, fullscreen versions instead filled the entirety of the TV by cutting off space on the left and right of a shot. This was the demonstrably inferior option – you’re missing parts of the movie, sometimes elements integral to the text – but customers kept buying. For them, the feeling of seeing more overruled the fact that they were in actuality seeing less.
Fast-forward to today, and the cinematic medium now faces an odd inverse of this schism in visuals. The notion that every inch of our massive televisions should be put to active use has compelled Disney to re-release 13 of their Marvel Studios films in “Imax Expanded Aspect Ratio”, ostensibly bringing the immensity of the multiplex into the living room. In practice, this special feature of the Disney Plus streaming app unmasks the image, restoring space on the top and bottom that had previously been cropped out for ordinary theaters. The taller Imax screens allow for a width-to-height ratio of 1.90:1, as opposed to your given movie house’s anamorphic standard of 2.35:1, without the sacrifices in visibility of a fullscreen DVD. Disney wants to extend this experience to the home, where the usual high-def TV has a ratio of 16:9 (or more relevantly for comparison here, 1.77:1). As the press release on Marvel’s own web site puts it, this on-demand Imax “offers up to 26% more picture for select sequences – meaning more of the action is visible on screen, just as the film-makers intended”.
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