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January 2005

Hark back to 2003 when a class action lawsuit was brought against MGM by two people out in California, Warren Eallonardo and Joseph Corey. The claim in the proverbial nutshell was that MGM misrepresented certain widescreen DVDs as losing 50% of the movie as compared to their pan-and-scan counterpart. In fact, the Plaintiffs were arguing that the movies were deceptive in that movies filmed for 1.66:1 or 1.85:1 exhibition were the same width as their full frame counterparts; therefore, there was actually more visual information lost in the widescreen version. Hark back also to the furor of many who felt that this was an attack against widescreen DVDs.

On 20 December 2004 a class action settlement was approved in Los Angeles County Superior Court involving this case. All of those who purchased specific, widescreen DVDs (from a list of several hundred) between 1 December 1998 and September 8 2003 are entitled to either a free, “eligible” DVD from a list of 325 or a cash refund of $7.10.

I agree with this lawsuit in principle and the legal resolution as agreed.

Take a few breaths, calm down, and read on.

On the surface and without really reading what the lawsuit was about, it certainly does look as though it was an attack against the widescreen presentation of open matte movies. I admit clearly in my “Matted Widescreen” section that widescreen releases of open matte and Super 35mm movies do indeed have information covered at the top and bottom of the screen. My argument has always been that is preserves the artistic integrity of the film makers. I still hold that to be the truth. So, this lawsuit definitely looks like an attack on widescreen and OAR if you don't bother to read into its merits this lawsuit .

The truth as I see it, however, is that this lawsuit was not an attack on widescreen.

In fact, this lawsuit addresses things that I've noticed about some MGM titles that even made me your militant (as I'm called at the American Widescreen Museum), widescreen advocate say to myself , “No, this is wrong. They shouldn't be doing this.”

A Wish Called Wanda was filmed in open matte with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Unfortunately, in the accompanying booklet MGM implied that AFCW was filmed anamorphically by showing a pan-and-scan versus widescreen example using a 2.35:1 image. To add further complications, the comparison image then placed a 1.33:1 overlay above the 2.35:1 image to “demonstrate” what was being lost during pan-and-scan.

There are two glaring issues here that bothered me. The first is the implication that the movie is 2.35:1. That is wrong because it's 1.85:1. The second is that the non-widescreen version of this movie is subjected to pan-and-scan. That is wrong because it's open-matte. So, MGM was claiming that the supposed pan-and-scan version of AFWC was actually losing 45% of the image. I might be militant, but that kind of blatant deception goes beyond militancy.

Not only was I upset about MGM's actions as a consumer advocate, but I was also very upset because I knew that this kind of misrepresentation could give the widescreen movement a black eye. Unfortunately, it looks like it has, with the result that MGM is releasing a lot of movies only in 1.33:1. So rather than correct the product labels and inserts, MGM has decided to scrap widescreen entirely for most of their 1.66:1 and 1.85:1 library. Have you seen a widescreen DVD for titles like Remo Williams? I haven't. Yes, we got a widescreen Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (after waiting far longer than we should have), but that was filmed anamorphically, not by soft matting. So, that doesn't count.

As quoted from the settlement papers:

The gravamen of Plaintiffs’ Complaint is that certain representations on the label and package insert of MGM’s widescreen DVDs are false and misleading because MGM’s widescreen DVDs for films shot in the 1.85 to 1 aspect ratio have the same image width as MGM’s standard screen format DVDs.

That's the main issue that this lawsuit was against. This was not an anti-widescreen lawsuit. This was a lawsuit for false advertising.

The whole widescreen/pan-and-scan argument really doesn't come down to black bars. It never has. The aspect ratio as intended by the film makers is what counts, hence why the term OAR (original aspect ratio) is something that widescreen advocates myself included wish the studios would start using on their DVDs instead of “widescreen” or “full screen”. Stanley Kubrick preferred 1.33:1. There should never be a widescreen version of any of his non-anamorphic movies. But Kubrick's 1.33:1 movies prove that widescreen does not always equate to OAR nor does pan-and-scan/full-frame always equate to MAR (modified aspect ratio).

Before any of you start to worry, the realistic side of me says that this was indeed a frivolous lawsuit to an extent. MGM misrepresented the facts, but no harm was really done, either mentally or physically, to anyone. The whole idea behind widescreen, regardless of how MGM misrepresented the widescreen examples, is the sustaining of artistic integrity for those who spent a great deal of time making that movie a hell of a lot more time than someone who sits and watches the final results in the form of a $20 DVD. MGM was a tad too over-zealous in representing 1.66:1 and 1.85:1 movies, but the final result was the same the aspect ratio of what was seen in theatres. Their widescreen DVDs appear on the TV screen exactly as they should. I don't see that a lawsuit in this case was really necessary.

As a computer geek for over 25 years, I'm more insulted with how hard drive manufacturers falsely claim that their 149 GB drives are actually 160 GB due to unethically redefining a gigabyte in order to suit their purpose. Those of you who have wondered why a supposedly 4.7 GB DVD-R can only hold 4.38 GB of data are also victims of the storage-gigabyte, marketing lie. That's theft as far as I'm concerned because you're paying for what you are not actually getting in tangible, physical terms. This can lead to real sums of money if you work in an I.T. data center and are trying to scale a large array or SAN deployment.

(For those not in the know, a gigabyte is 1,024 to the 3rd power or 1,073,741,824 bytes. It is not and never has been 1 billion bytes - regardless of what dictionary defines it as such or the ignoramuses who continue to defend that just because “it's in a dictionary.” The hard drive manufacturers and their robot supporters unethically created and still define this bogus definition in order to artificially and I believe illegally inflate capacity for marketing reasons.)

But when the aspect ratio of a MAR movie is 1.33:1, it is really theft or damaging to anyone if MGM or any studio misrepresents how it got to that 1.33:1 aspect ratio? I honestly don't think so.

Is this just the start? Are other studios vulnerable to this type of lawsuit? I doubt it. Warner and Paramount have been saying from the beginning that non-anamorphic movies (I'm not talking about whether a DVD is 16:9 or not) are matted to fit the original theatrical aspect ratio. Fox also differentiates between matted and Scope presentations on their DVDs.

It also appears that this lawsuit could have been filed due to another practice that MGM engaged in: reissuing DVDs without changing UPC codes or the type of release. I've seen more than one person say that they bought an MGM DVD, supposedly in widescreen, at (of course) Wal-Mart only to get the disc home and find out that it's not the widescreen disc. It's a pan-and-scan ... sorry ... full frame re-issue, but MGM never bothered to change the cover accordingly. That is definitely a case of not getting what you paid for.

So, take heart. I'm convinced that this lawsuit was not an attack against widescreen. It was actually an attack against false advertising. If any of the lawyers were named Bernard J. Farber, then it clearly would have been an attack on widescreen, but fortunately our favorite anti-widescreen troll had nothing to do with this. If I thought that this lawsuit was in any way an attack on widescreen, I would be attacking it left and right.

Will I be partaking in the settlement since my widescreen A Fish Called Wanda qualifies? Maybe. I doubt it, though. I still think that it's a frivolous lawsuit, and there is no explanation of what kind of DVD I can get. Will it be in widescreen with the correct labelling or full frame with the mattes wide open? Regardless, I'm sure that the lawyers will be very glad that they filed the suit when they get their $2.7 million payment. Sadly, they're the real winners of this lawsuit. Shakespeare had it right.

Until next time...!