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Widescreen Formats Gaining Popularity

Paula Parisi The Hollywood Reporter

The concept of bigness is enjoying a resurgence on the big screen, with more filmmakers than ever opting for widescreen images, according to industry experts.

Films such as “Forrest Gump,” as well as the upcoming “Waterworld,” “Crimson Tide” and “Judge Dredd,” all feature the panoramic format known as “anamorphic.”

“I like it because you can do a close-up and still have some background in there,” said director Robert Zemeckis, whose summer smash hit “Forrest Gump” unfurled in widescreen splendor.

Anamorphic is also known as scope, a name derived from the early Cinemascope technology. It uses a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, which means the screen image is nearly 2 1/2 times as wide as it is high. In recent film history, the “standard Academy” format of 1.85:1 was more popular because it proved easier for producers to shoehorn into the television format (1.33:1).

Now, a sprawling image is back in style, and observers cite two reasons: anticipation of a widescreen TV format and, paradoxically, a heightened need for increased “spectacle” in movie theaters so they can more effectively compete with TV.

Anamorphic “is a lot more dynamic, a lot larger than life, which is what the cinema is about,” said Panavision president John Farrand, whose company has over the past year built many more anamorphic lenses to meet the voracious demand.

Some filmmakers, however, opted for the widescreen effect long before it became trendy. “I’ve shot all my movies in widescreen,” said filmmaker George Lucas, whose films, from the early “THX-1138” (1971) on through “Star Wars,” “Indiana Jones” and “Radioland Murders,” have spilled forth in ample splendor. “It’s just my aesthetic.”

Denny Clairmont, whose company Clairmont Camera rents a variety of widescreen systems, said the turning point was “Dances With Wolves” (1990), “which was photographically very nice. When people see something like that they say, ‘I want my movie to look like that.’ “

Now, even the close-quartered submarine thriller “Crimson Tide” is shooting anamorphic. “To be honest, I think the format helped the enclosed vertical quality of this film,” said director Tony Scott. “I’ve always loved anamorphic. I think it gives movies more the feel of an ‘event.’”

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