The history of aspect ratios is a long and convoluted story that has an unsatisfying ending: directors have used countless different film formats throughout cinema, making it difficult to show every film in the proper aspect. For television broadcasting, the geometric mean of 16:9 was created as a way to accommodate the two most common ratios of 1.33 and 2.35. But nothing pisses off filmmakers and cinephiles like pan-and-scan film cropping. The Tumblr What Netflix Does has collected 11 different instances of cropped films over the past few months, some particularly egregious examples of which are below from Man On The Moon and Last Action Hero.
Still, this didn’t generate much ire at all until Flavorwire ran a story suggesting that Netflix was "secretly" cropping its films. After all, the streaming service is now removing expiring titles without alerting anyone. Why would it bother alerting subscribers to image altering? Naturally, this provoked a lot of anger from people who don’t want There Will Be Blood or Inglourious Basterds carved up and their artistic vision ruined (with perhaps significantly less fervor for cropping of The Transporter).
But before the story could blossom into a full-blown Netflix conspiracy, the company's official response attempts to quash all that: “We do not crop," a Netflix spokesperson tells VentureBeat. "We want to offer the best picture and provide the original aspect ratio of any title on Netflix. However, unfortunately our quality controls sometimes fail and we end up offering the wrong version of a title. When we discover this error, we replace that title as soon as possible.”
Of course, that’s not going to stop the more fervent Netflix critics from blaming the company for slipping up and allowing those versions on their service in the first place. But, at the very least, it should confirm they’re not doing it deliberately—and definitely not anymore, now that everyone's noticed it.
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