One of the most important film innovations in the last twenty years was the DVD. Before DVDs, it was really hard to find a movie in the proper aspect ratio: Most VHS transfers cut the movie in half, essentially, because it was cheaper, and much of the movie was lost. So the fact that everything is in widescreen now means Netflix is just streaming the proper image when you fire up a movie, right?
Nope. Not at all. In fact they are going out of their way not to.
The recently launched blog What Netflix Does offers some examples of what amounts to some truly awful cropping. Here are just two examples:
Netflix hasn’t explained why this is happening, but I can hazard a guess. Video and electronics store employees have all dealt with the guy who tries to return his “broken” DVD, and when he’s told the black bars are supposed to be there, he gets ragingly angry because “I WANT TO USE ALL MY TEE VEE!” I’ve literally seen people pitch screaming fits over this. One imagines Netflix customer service hasn’t been exempt from these clowns, either.
So why should you care? First of all, Netflix hasn’t been telling anybody about this, or giving people an option to see the movie as it was intended to be seen. That’s not a starving-children grade problem, but it’s pretty lousy. Secondly, it means you’re not seeing the film like you’re supposed to. Imagine going to, say, the Louvre and seeing this: