main index




Topical Tropes

Other Categories

TV Tropes Org
Pan and Scan

Modification of a widescreen movie to fit the (now older) TV Aspect Ratio of 4:3, or the (current norm) HDTV aspect ratio of 16:9.

This is done by isolating a viewing window within the original frame, then cutting and "panning" said window back and forth to follow the action on the screen; this has the natural side effect of "slicing off" a large portion of the original frame (up to 50 or 60 percent).

Since the pan looks entirely unlike a camera move, it can be very jarring for the viewer. With the growing acceptance of the 16:9 (or 'letterbox') ratio, publishers have differentiated the formats with pan and scan being marketed as "fullscreen" while letterboxed editions are "widescreen." As it is with acceptance of more rectangle-proportioned screens and the fact that both formats are priced the same, pan and scan has seriously declined in popularity, with letterboxing being seen as more "classy"—plus, it doesn't lop off the rest of the screen.

For many directors, this is something of a minor (or major) Berserk Button, since this means a technician has to, according to some, redirect the film, and will frequently lose either important details, or the ambiance of a scene or a whole movie. Turner Classic Movies (TCM) made a quick documentary with several famous directors talking about the downside of pan and scan (it's only 5 minutes, give it a watch).

Contrast Letterbox, Visual Compression, Widescreen Shot.

Due to the ubiquity of this device, only Lampshade Hangings or other unusual examples will be listed:

  • Probably one of the most disastrous examples of pan-and-scan was featured in the Cary Grant/Doris Day comedy That Touch of Mink, which was used in an example on a Siskel And Ebert show chastising the process. One scene in question takes place at a New York Yankees game: in one shot, Day is making such a big commotion, but you can't see her; only the others reacting to her. The same scene has a cameo by Yogi Berra, but while you can hear him, he's barely in the frame!
  • The Die Hard DVD contains a featurette giving a very good illustration of the differences between letterbox, "centre-scan" and pan-and-scan.
  • Parodied in a sketch of The Benny Hill Show in which a technician attempting to pan and scan a movie in real time manages to miss all of the important details.
  • Sadly, upon 16:9 TVs coming into popular use, some presentations of material originally filmed for 4:3 sets is now being cropped the other way on HDTV channels I (pan and tilt). Victims of this process for Blu-ray include Thunderbirds and the classic documentary series The World at War. Justified for movies that premiered in theaters with mattes covering the top and bottom of the picture, such as Shane and The Jungle Book.
    • Starting in the late 1950s, and proceeding through at least the '70s, movies that premiered in 1.37:1 became re-released in theaters with the top and bottom cropped to simulate a widescreen picture.
  • Inverted with most of the earlier animated films by Pixar (later films, such as Cars and WALL•E are all shown only in widescreen): Rather than cropping the edges and showing only the major elements of their films, they actually moved certain characters and objects either toward the center of the screen or off to the side in order to preserve the film's original quality. One of the most obvious examples of this is a particular scene from A Bug's Life where they show two young ants climbing up a leaf: In the original widescreen version, you couldn't see the second ant at all, but in the fullscreen version, you actually do.
    • Another obvious example from a Pixar movie appears to be a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment that happens toward the end of Finding Nemo during the Aquascum scene (it's right when Gill says "False alarm!").note 
  • Played straight with most Disney animated films, but inverted in Brother Bear where the film actually starts out in fullscreen, but switches to widescreen just right after Kenai turns into a bear.
  • Subverted in the horror movie Cabin Fever, where the widescreen version trades off vertical details for horizontal ones. Of particular note is the immediate lead-up to an oddly out-of-place sex scene, where the man placing his hand on the woman's leg is hidden and replaced with greater coverage of the surrounding scenery.
  • The music video for R.E.M's "Imitation Of Life" was designed around this: the entire video is just one looping 20-second take, with pan-and-scan used to zoom in on individual parts of the scene.
  • In the commentary for Ghostbusters, during the lobby scene at the Sedgwick Hotel, Harold Ramis laments that he's frequently chopped out of the picture entirely in pan-and-scan presentations due to his not having many lines in that shot.
  • Some channels air movies with the picture cropped down to fill an HDTV screen. As a result, SDTV viewers watch a letterboxed version of the movie, albeit one that still doesn't show the complete picture.
  • Taken Up to Eleven in the case of some channels that still have pan & scan copies of some films and keep their High Def feeds horizontally stretched regardless if the content is 4:3 or not. So you end up watching a movie that has been cropped to fit the old style televisions, then distorted sideways in order to fit the new style of televisions.
  • HD channels will often air the pan-scan version of widescreen films despite the fact that HDTV is designed for their original aspect ratio. This is also done with television shows as well—for instance, Comedy Central's pre-prime time reruns of South Park do this for all episodes prior to Season 10, despite the fact that Seasons 5-9 were rendered in widescreen. It also doesn't help that the episodes have their individual title sequences replaced by a single catch-all Title Sequence Replacement and have content present in the original broadcast versions edited out.
LetterboxCamera TricksVisual Compression
The OtherwoodsAdministrivia/Useful Notes Pages in MainParalympic Games

TV Tropes by TV Tropes Foundation, LLC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available from
Privacy Policy