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 & 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.
    • In the 1980s and 1990s, many directors and directors of photography avoided pan-and-scan by shooting in the Super 35 format, which exposed a large non-anamorphic 4:3 image on the film, and the theatrical 2.35 print was created by cropping the top and bottom of the frame. The camera negative was still 4:3 though and was (mostly) well-composed, so creating a version for TV was as easily as simply not cropping the original image. One side effects of this is a precipitous increase in visible boom mics and matte boxes in television airings of 80s films; boom mics that had been framed-out on the 2.35 print suddenly became visible when the frame was embiggened.
  • 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.
  • The Fox Cinema Classics Made On Demand DVD service has made an unpleasantly surprising effort to revive this practice. DVD Talk gives automatic "Skip It" ratings to most of these discs, insisting that no good reason exists for a DVD released in The New Tens to have its widescreen picture cropped to 1.33:1.
  • Some of Cartoon Network's broadcasts of Doraemon consist of older episodes created before the anime jumped into widescreen, with the top and bottom cropped so that they fit onto a 16:9 screen. Particular egregious in that some of the network's older programs that are still played on a night-time slotnote  (The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, The Powerpuff Girls, Dexter's Laboratory) remain in 4:3.
  • The DVD release of Spaceballs is a "flipper" disc with the original widescreen version on one side and the pan-and-scanned 4:3 version on the other. It includes a paper insert that educates the viewer on the difference and implores them to watch the widescreen version, using a screenshot of the characters skipping four abreast in a visual Shout-Out to The Wizard of Oz as an example of the sort of gag that's ruined when the two characters on either side are cropped out of the picture. All widescreen DVDs released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer during this time have similar inserts.
  • Atlantis: The Lost Empire has a particularly annoying case of this in its DVD release, especially because it touted its letterbox format and beautiful, sweeping panorama-esque sets as something of a selling point. The worst case of this is a couple of dialogue scenes, for example the discussion between Rourke and Helga discuss the difference to the plan to sell the Heart of Atlantis, where the camera has to very awkwardly cut back-and-forth between two people standing right next to each other.