‘Kong: Skull Island’ and ‘Keanu’ Directors Take HBO to Task for Showing Airplane Edits of Their Films
If you’re a particularly committed cinephile with an HBO subscription, then you’re undoubtedly aware that the network is notorious for showing films in the wrong aspect ratio. For instance, Mad Max: Fury Road was formatted in 2.35:1 widescreen, but changed to 1.78:1 for HBO — effectively cropping out a significant portion of the action. Although casual viewers likely don’t notice a difference, it’s rather frustrating for more dedicated movie fans…and directors, as evidenced by an interesting Twitter exchange between Jordan Vogt-Roberts and Peter Atencio.
It began last night when Vogt-Roberts called out HBO for showing the airplane edit of Kong: Skull Island. The blockbuster, which is set on the titular ape’s exotic mythological home island, features ambitious action sequences and impressive scenery — but if you’re watching the film on HBO, you probably won’t get the full effect. Atencio, who directed Keanu, responded by expressing similar frustration with the network for showing Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele’s kitty caper in the wrong format. The pair had a bit of a back and forth about the issue, discussing exactly why HBO’s decision is troubling:
As pointed out above, filmmakers and studios often have to re-edit their films to be played on airplane screens. This involves shifting the aspect ratios and sometimes trimming explicit content, like profanity, violence and sex. Both Vogt-Roberts and Atencio went out of their way to make the best possible airplane edits and keep the aspect ratios as intact as possible. But those versions are for airplane viewing, not widescreen home TVs.
You’d think a network like HBO, which premieres documentaries on Steven Spielberg and Nora Ephron, invests in pricey cinematic shows like Game of Thrones and The Deuce, and spends hefty sums to show blockbusters and prestige pictures alike, would care about showing films the way they were meant to be seen. You would think that. And clearly you’d be wrong.
After all, this is the same network that remastered The Wire, David Simon’s acclaimed Baltimore crime drama and the greatest television series of all time (fight me), in the incorrect aspect ratio. The series was originally shot on film and formatted in 4:3; HBO later remastered it to 16:9 so that the image would fill up the entire screen. Essentially, HBO doesn’t want you to see any black bars on the top and bottom of your screen. And if that means playing films in the wrong ratio or acquiring the edited airplane versions, so be it.
Sure, there are people in the world who don’t like seeing those black bars; they assume the film isn’t being shown properly and they’re missing the full picture, but when they watch a movie in the wrong aspect ratio, that’s exactly what’s happening. They just don’t know it because they think the image should take up the whole screen — especially if it’s a big ol’ HD screen they paid a lot of money to own. (In my family, these are the same people who refuse to disable the motion smoothing on their TVs. I’m sure you can relate.)
HBO’s decision to intentionally display films incorrectly isn’t just troubling; it’s downright confusing, and it makes me wonder if the network’s aspect ratio department is actually run by my mom’s boyfriend.