In 2014, Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel” was released featuring not one, but three aspect ratios. This is more or less unheard of as far as big studio productions go, especially considering most Hollywood pics are primed for release with the ratio of 1.85:1. Not one to cave in to convention, Anderson’s film boldly and playfully utilizes different aspect ratios so as to transport the audience to three very different time periods. As such, Anderson’s zany, fast-paced screwball narrative kicks off in what is commonly known as “academy ratio,” or 4:3, before adopting different perspectives so as to suit the respective eras that the story itself encompasses.
I bring this up only to illustrate a point: that a film’s choice of aspect ratio has a tremendous subconscious influence on how we choose to perceive it. It’s why widescreen compositions, when done right, can provoke awe and wonder, or why the academy ratio itself hearkens back to an older lineage of Hollywood moviemaking. In a new video essay called “Aspect Ratio: Which Should You Choose?” we are afforded the opportunity to take a look across the spectrum of film history — from the talkies of the 30’s and 40’s to the large-scale blockbusters of today — and how each individual example is afforded distinction by way of the aspect ratio, and also how framing a film forces us to define it on our own individual, emotional terms.
Anderson, not surprisingly, is mentioned early on, although another recent example of a major aspect ratio change is brought up in the form of Christopher Nolan’s massive “Interstellar”: a film that goes IMAX-huge in its quietly dazzling space sequences, only to revert back to standard 21:9 ratio for its more earthbound moments. “(500) Days of Summer” also gets a shout-out for framing its early scenes — where Joseph Gordon-Levitt miraculously discovers there’s a girl in his office who likes The Smiths almost as much as he does — like the sort of faded Polaroid photograph that the hipsters in the film’s target audience are surely all too fond of. The idea being, the way director Marc Webb frames it, that this is a recollection of a better time, before the cruel onslaught of reality set in. Running just over a little four minutes in length, the vid is a fascinating, educational watch — one that really makes you consider how essential this particular tool is in the art of making a film. Check out the whole thing below.