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(re)discover open matte...
Once upon a time, every film released in home media formats (we are talking end of 70s here) was full screen; to achieve that, many were pan&scan - took just a part of the screen, eventually slide it left or right, and the sides were lost.

After a while, the laserdisc format (followed by all the others) started a new trend, letterboxed movies, where the whole image was displayed, adding black borders on top and bottom; at the time, many were against this, because TV sets were 4:3, and so black bars huge, and image smaller than non-letterboxed version.

Then came the 16:9 TV sets, DVD, HDTV, Blu-ray, and letterbox is the standard "de facto" for released movies.

So, what's about open matte? Well, many movies filmed in 35mm were "soft matted" when projected in the theaters; that mean the whole 1.33/1.37:1 image is used - apart, usually, for FX shots, as the cost of them is directly proportional to image area; then, when projected, a matte mask is put in front of the projector, to get rid of top and bottom parts, and get the desired aspect ratio. There are also some "hard matted" movies, where the black bars are on the print, and so no chance to get back the image parts that were behind them.

Many argue that a movie, at home, should be watched as the director (and/or studios) wanted it projected in theaters, in its OAR (original aspect ratio); I agree, this is the best way to watch it. But an open matte version is a great, alternative way, sometimes, to discover interesting things. Of course, not every one is a good version.

The best chance to find a good open matte version is to find out the OAR and the OM (open matte) AR; 1.85:1 (and smaller) AR and 1.33:1 OM, and in general 1.78:1 OM have often (but not always) a good chance to be good, and lose small to few image on the sides, often gaining more image on top and bottom.

At the contrary, 2.35:1 movies in 1.33 OM are usually heavily cropped, and a bad way to see the movie; also, many movies with a 2.35 (and higher) aspect ratio were shot using anamorphic lenses, so no way to get an OM version of them, but only P&S (Pan and Scan)

Old VHS tapes, laserdiscs and also DVDs offer a vast opportuinity to get 1.33:1 OM versions; I read somewhere that about 80% of the so-called fullscreen DVDs (in opposition to letterboxed DVDs, anamorphic or not) are indeed OM. On BD and HD-DVD, chances to get an OM version are quite rare, while often it's possible to see them on HDTV broadcast, or web download.

While open matte means to get a movie without mattes, not all of them are of the same kind. We could distinguish them in the following main kinds:
  • full open matte - the image includes all (or almost all) the letterboxed image, hence a lot more image on top and bottom, while none (or a little bit) of image lost on the sides; this usually happens for movies where OAR difference is not that high from the OM AR - example, 1.66:1 OAR and 1.33:1 OM, 2.00:1 OAR and 1.78:1 OM, but sometimes happens also in other cases - as far as I know, vast majority of 1.85:1 OAR -> 1.78:1 OM is full open matte; 1.50:1 OAR (and lower) -> 1.33:1 could (should?) be the same
  • normal open matte - the image includes more details on top and bottom in comparison to letterbox, but quite some image lost on both sides; this is the normal situation of higher difference from OAR to OM AR - example, 1.85:1 OAR and 1.33:1 OM, and 2.35 OAR and 1.78:1 OM
  • open matte cropped - the image gain something on top and/or bottom, but a lot of details are lost on both sides; the difference with pan&scan is that usually no pans occour during the movie, but the OM image remains centered, or offset on given shots
  • mixed open matte - some scenes could be full or normal open matte, while others could be cropped (usually during widest shots, or shots with special effects) or pan&scan
  • variable aspect ratio - lately we find some movies, usually shot on IMAX, that retain some shots open matte (full or cropped), while the rest of the movie is letterboxed
Share your opinions, ideas, experiences about open matte here!
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Sometimes it's hard to state what kind of open matte a given version is; but, making a direct comparison could help.
  • Timeline 1.78:1: a full open matte where almost all the letterbox shots are just the top part of the open matte version, while few are the center one; almost always no image lost on the sides at all, while in few instances only a fraction is lost; one shot lose a bit more detail on one side in the OM, while only very few shots are cropped, for a total of few seconds
  • Apollo 13 1.78:1: haven't done a direct comparison of the whole movie, but according to some screenshot comparisons, and the fact there was an IMAX version, I think this is a full open matte, too
  • Chronicles of Riddick, The 1.78:1: another movie I haven't made a direct comparison (yet), probably a mixed open matte, normally full with cropped VFX scenes
  • Matrix trilogy 1.78:1: normal open matte IIRC also on VFX scenes
  • Alien Resurrection 1.78:1: mixed, with most full shots, and some normal, can't remember if some are cropped, too
  • True Lies 1.78:1: according to some screenshot comparisons, it seems full - must check frame by frame, but I guess it's the case
  • Terminator 2 1.33:1: mixed, normal, cropped and p&s
  • Gattaca 1.33:1: mixed, normal, cropped and p&s
  • Waterworld 1.33:1: seems almost always full, if not some scenes should be normal
I can confirm that every 1.85:1 movies I watched (AFAIR), opened to 1.78:1, is full open matte.
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there is also a full open matte (4x3) copy of the Matrix...
For the longest time, a 4x3 was only available as a screener VHS copy, but last year a Ukrainian TV station broadcast a 4x3 copy that is full open matte. It was only available in Ukrainian voice-over, but I synced the Cinema DTS track to it and it's available ontheinternalorganWink
Thanks given by: spoRv
Great find, thanks Jerry!
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Yeah, something I got my hands on and released while you were on break last year...
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Went through two Super 35 films. Both can be considered "mixed open matte" but the extra image differs vastly:
Ronin (1998) - R1 NTSC 1999 - standard Cameron-style Super 35 transfer with variable cropping and panning. Most of this transfer shows more vertically than it loses horizontally (14x9 frame height, though at least two wide shots are almost completely unmatted) and no completely cropped shots.
The Fifth Element (1997) - R1 NTSC 1997 - much simpler, often center-cropped 4x3 transfer. Generally 16x9 frame height (the included widescreen transfer aligns almost perfectly), some cropped more, only one shot shows more than that vertically. CGI shots were hardmatted at Besson's request and the 4x3 not only contains no extra vertical information but less. The restaurant boat has one overcropped shot (losing half the original height) and one unmatted shot with visible greenscreen.
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By all accounts Pitch Black was filmed super 35

I got a fullscreen DVD on my wish list to purchase shortly
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I think I added it to the open matte master list...
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Today I discovered that Robin Hood - Prince of Thieves on the Italian PAL LD is actually full open matte!

May someone be interested in its preservation? It has some localized test, but I think it should be pretty simple to replace those few shots.
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Italian PAL DVD of Robin Hood prince of thieves has original text in ITALIAN from 35mm??? Can you post some screenshots?
AKA thxita on OriginalTrilogy
I preserve movies as they first appeared in Italy.
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