On the great ‘Simpsons’ aspect ratio controversy

Sections: Comedy, TV

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aspectratiosThe world became a slightly better place last week when FXX began a 12-day-and-change marathon of every single episode ever of The Simpsons, the greatest prime time television show of all time.

If you’re like me, you let a couple of days go by to allow the bumpy first few seasons to run their course before jumping in around season 3. Hearing Homer sound less like himself and more like Walter Matthau just bothers me, as I’m sure it does you too. But it’s been a riot reliving my teenage years with my wife by my side, rolling her eyes and putting up with me shouting out lines at the screen.

However, as wonderful as it is to see my favorite line ever in glorious hi-def (“Do you Homer take this cocktail waitress you just met to be your lawfully wedded wife? And now by the power vested in me by the Chicago outfit I now pronounce you man and wife”), there has been a bit of a hullabaloo about how it’s presented in said-glorious hi-def.

Up until season 20, the show was presented in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio, you know, the way our televisions used to look before hi-def models took over.

Starting with the middle of season 20, the show upgraded to Hi-Def 16:9. While the visual quality improved, the writing quality not so much. Oh well.

And now, on FXX, the show has been upgraded…sort of. All episodes are presented in 16X9, and as a result, the episodes have been either cropped, or stretched out, to fit the new aspect ratio.

To this day, I have an unhealthy obsession with aspect ratios. I don’t remember when I figured out that every single film shot in the ‘scope’ aspect ratio lost almost half of it’s visual information on its way to home video, but when I did, I was infuriated. I became giddy on the occasions when they would release a, “letterboxed,” version of the film in question on VHS, though those were far and few in between. I joined the niche market of Laserdisc where every film was available in its original aspect ratio, and in better quality. I almost didn’t care that I had to flip the disc every hour.

In spite of films being present as originally intended, the trade off was that a good chunk of the picture was taken up by black box. Having the artistic vision of the filmmakers preserved was more important to me than having that vision be a bit smaller on my small screen, but then again, I’m was and am a film nerd.

A legitimate complaint with the hi-def upgrade is that some visual jokes are suffering. For example, this one. What is Abe yelling at? Now we’ll never know. It’s a bit annoying that they hopscotch back and forth between stretched out and cropped, but the picture is sharp and crisp, and the show has never looked better.

Frankly, even though I can certainly empathize with my fellow fans angry about losing part of the image, I’m more perturbed because while we’re getting the full uncut version for the marathon, FXX will air the edited syndication versions in the future, because they know that less running time in an episode means more time for commercials, and more revenue.

Makes sense from a business sense, to be fair, but man alive there are so many jokes that I had completely forgotten about, most likely  because Clinton was President when I first heard them.



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