Why was Zack Snyder’s Justice League shot and distributed in a 4:3 aspect ratio?

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DC Comics fans who had waited several years for the Snyder Cut and bought it on Apple TV+, Prime Video or Rakuten TV were surprised: the movie is entirely shot and distributed in an aspect ratio similar to 4:3, that of the first cathode-ray tube televisions!

The result? On a 16:9 4K UHD TV, there are vertical black bars on both sides of the picture.

Zack Snyder's Justice League
When it was released on VOD platforms, the Zack Snyder’s Justice League movie kept its original IMAX aspect ratio, which is very similar to 4:3.

Snyder Cut: shot in 70mm IMAX

Did the director choose this format out of pure nostalgia for old TVs? Not really. In fact, from the beginning of the project, Zack Snyder opted for a format that is rarely used in cinema today: the “classic” IMAX format, with the idea of showing the movie in IMAX theaters on very large screens.

This film format was created by the IMAX Corporation, founded in 1968 in Canada. At 70mm wide and 48.5mm high, IMAX film offers a much larger exposure area and therefore higher resolution than conventional 35mm film (21.95 x 18.6mm).

IMAX: the ultimate cinema experience

The resulting image has a 1.44:1 ratio, which is in between 16/9 (1.77:1) and 4/3 (1.33:1). Taller than the most common cinema formats (1.85:1 and 1.66:1), it offers spectators an unparalleled feeling of immersion. In particular, it allows many more elements to be added to the image and provides a more global view in action scenes which are more coherent as a result. This format allows the director to better stage his characters without cropping them.

IMAX on 4K UHD TVs: black bars

For viewers equipped with a 4K UHD TV in 16:9 format, the experience can be distracting. It may remind some of the golden age of TV series shot in 4:3, with titles such as Friends, Ally McBeal, Sex & The City and many others which also feature black bars when viewed on DVD and Blu-ray.

These series can be found on streaming platforms, sometimes in their original format, but most often cropped to 16:9 to better fit current TVs. A sacrilege for both fans and directors who do not always have a say in the “cropping”, generally imposed by the studio to fit the current modes of distribution.

If Zack Snyder is true to the 70mm IMAX format he chose for the release of his Director’s Cut of Justice League, it’s unlikely we’ll see it released on 4K Blu-ray in IMAX Enhanced (16:9 aspect ratio). That would be negating the entire original approach of this project.

How to Enjoy IMAX Enhanced immersive cinema

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