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Pan and Scan

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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).

This practice was common in The '80s and The '90s when movies were released on VHS and Betamax and TVs had smaller screens. As home video became more common in the '80s, film directors would take pan and scan into account when framing shots even in widescreen. Completely CGI productions like those from Pixar could simply be re-framed and re-rendered for the 4:3 home video release.

LaserDisc used to be primarily Pan and Scan, too, but starting in the late '80s, it started releasing letterbox versions of every widescreen film available. It was seen as the premium format of movie buffs and A/V geeks. The VHS format would later follow suit, with movies featuring rare widescreen releases on tape oriented for videophiles. LaserDisc remained far more reliable for finding letterbox movies, and most VHS films were Pan and Scan "full screen" releases for the broader public. Pan and Scan is still used today for some films when shown on TV channels, though letterbox movies on TV are more common than they used to be thanks to the advent of High Definition.


Since the pan looks entirely unlike a camera move, it can be very jarring for the viewer. Pan and Scan also has minor troubles whenever it encounters a Widescreen Shot in a movie, having to pan across it or picking one little part. With the growing acceptance of the 16:9 (or 'letterbox') ratio, publishers have differentiated the formats with pan and scan being marketed as "full screen" while letterboxed editions are "widescreen" (though as of 2017, you'll only find full screen films to purchase in store discount bins for stock manufactured at least a decade ago and still not sold).

For many directors, this was also 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).


Because of how ubiquitous Pan and Scan was and how much of a problem it was for both videophiles and filmmakers, many directors adopted the practice of shooting movies in "Open Matte" format, in which a film is shot in a full-frame aspect ratio but designed to be cropped to a widescreen format in the theater. Thus, movies could be screened to audiences in an intended widescreen format, but be un-cropped to 4:3 on both TV broadcasts and home media releases without needing to be given the Pan and Scan treatment.note 1 note 2 note 3  The extra image area can cause problems when done carelessly, such as revealing filming equipment that was just outside of the theatrical framing, and can aesthetically mess with a shot's composition. The most notable director to make use of this technique was Stanley Kubrick, who used it for his last three movies (as they were produced when VHS and television broadcasts of films had already become commonplace) and even mandated in his will that open matte transfers be used for posthumous home media releases of all of his movies (which were shot in full-frame and cropped to widescreen in theaters even before he started consciously using the Open Matte technique) just to prevent any horizontal detail from being lost. Later home media releases made after the mass adoption of widescreen at home reverted back to a widescreen-friendly aspect ratio.

An alternative compromise that was popular for television in Turn of the Millennium and The New '10s is "shoot and protect", whereby important details are framed within a 4:3 "safe area" in the middle of a 16:9 image. This allows the final product to be watchable when center-cropped to 4:3, with the creative limitation that a shot's focus can't stray too far from the middle of the frame. This is distinct from open matte, because here the "opened up" version uses the intended framing and does not have extraneous details. Before analogue broadcasts were shut down, the BBC would protect its widescreen programs for 14:9 instead, with the 4:3 feed having both minor cropping and thin letterboxes.

Pan and Scan started to decline in the 2000s, with DVD credited with killing it off for goodnote  As it is with acceptance of 16:9 screensnote  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. As 16:9 sets became the dominant aspect ratio, some TV shows that were originally shot in 4:3 have been "remastered" for HD by cropping them to 16:9; this introduces a lot of the same problems of pan and scan, namely losing important parts of the picture.

Contrast Letterbox, Open Matte, Visual Compression, and Widescreen Shot. Similar to Screen Crunch in video games. Not to be confused with Stan & Pan, the names under which Laurel and Hardy are known in Hungary.

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 initial home video release of The Black Hole was pan-and-scanned to anamorphic 1.78:1 as opposed to 1.33:1, resulting in a full picture if you unsqueezed it on a widescreen tv.
  • 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 (tilt and scan). Victims of this process for Blu-ray include Thunderbirds and at least one edition of the classic documentary series The World at War (a subsequent release restored the 4:3 ratio). Justified for movies that premiered in theaters with mattes covering the top and bottom of the picture, such as Shane and The Jungle Book. The Criterion Collection's On the Waterfront DVD and Blu-ray sets include the option to watch the movie in either matted widescreen or 4:3, and a "visual essay" comparing them.
    • Starting in the late 1950s, and proceeding through at least the '70s, movies that premiered in 1.37:1 were re-released in theaters with the top and bottom cropped to simulate a widescreen picture. During the transition towards widescreen in the 1950s, Columbia Pictures (and possibly other studios) had their films made in such a way that they could be projected at any ratio from 1.33:1 to 1.85:1; On the Waterfront was one such film, whose cinematographer Boris Kaufman framed the shots at 1.66:1 to split the difference (this aspect ratio is the default one on the Criterion discs).
    • 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 2.39 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.
    • For the Dragon Ball franchise, this trait is one of the biggest points of contention against Funimation's "remasters" of Dragon Ball Z for DVD and Blu-Ray, mainly stemming from the perception that it is both unnecessary and awkward compared to the original 4:3 footage (the releases of Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball GT weren't cropped). Sadly, Toei Animation themselves followed this approach when making Dragon Ball Z Kai: The Final Chapters to adhere to Japanese broadcast standards, as it was cheaper to do that than to also make a separate uncropped version for the home release.
      • Inverted regarding widescreen releases of the classic Dragon Ball films: while they were originally animated in 4:3 for TV broadcasts, they were composed to still work when cropped to a widescreen aspect ratio, which is how they were screened in cinemas. Toei did the same for The Transformers: The Movie and the Sailor Moon R and Sailor Moon S movies.
    • When every episode of The Simpsons was marathoned on FXX, the pre-season 20 episodes were cropped like this, rather than being pillarboxed as they were on prior airings and streaming platforms. This led to a lot of visual gags being completely cut out of the frame, and when these versions began streaming on Disney+, there was enough public outcry that Disney vowed to fix them shortly afterward.
  • The Full-Screen DVD of The Dark Knight shows the IMAX scenes in Open Matte, while the scenes filmed in Panavision (anamorphic) 35mm are pan and scan.
  • Inverted with most of the earlier animated films by Pixar (starting with Ratatouille, the movies are all shown only in widescreen), which use a digital equivalent of the open matte technique: rather than cropping the edges and showing only the major elements of their films, they actually re-rendered their films entirely to fit the whole frame, showing visual elements at the top and bottom that aren't visible in the widescreen version. In some cases, they moved certain characters and objects either toward the center of the screen or off to the side in order to better resemble the original framing.
    • 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 is a moment in Finding Nemo during the Aquascum scene. When a female patient with a skirt enters the dentist office, her legs are visible in the fullscreen version, but not in widescreen.
  • 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 (1984), 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. This actually cuts out the main joke of the scene, that he's silently feeding Bill Murray's character the numbers.
  • Warner Bros. Animation's shows from the 2000s were made specifically to avert this. The animation team had monitors with 4:3 and 16:9 safe areas so they wouldn't crop off important elements like characters. When most television networks started using HD feeds, the team switched to monitors without 4:3 safe areas effectively getting rid of the old monitors by The New '10s. Recent reruns of some of the shows (shows such as Teen Titans and the earlier Tom and Jerry and Scooby-Doo DTV Films) are in the original 16:9 aspect ratio, as are the Blu-ray releases and the versions on streaming services.
  • 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.
  • There are 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.
    • Then there are channels whose Standard Def feed is just a downscaled version of their High def feed meaning its cropped to fit the old style televisions, then distorted sideways to fit the new style of televisions and then Letterboxed to again fit the old style televisions.
  • The Spanish Blu-Ray of Highlander: The Source proves that this trope lives on in the HD era, cropping the 2.39:1 image to 1.78:1, on top of heavy compression that would be unforgivable for a single-layer DVD.
  • 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 and does not even bother with proper reviews, insisting that no good reason exists for a DVD released in The New '10s 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 (1998), 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. However, the 4:3 version can play out to the Droste effect in the "We're in 'now' now" joke as Dark Helmet and Col. Sandurz were watching the movie in 4:3. All widescreen DVDs released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer during this time have similar inserts, but are often inaccurate depending upon the nature of how the movie was shot.
  • Atlantis: The Lost Empire has a particularly annoying case of this in its DVD release (Especially the European release), especially because it touted its letterbox format and beautiful, sweeping panorama-esque sets as something of a selling point...Only for it to be presented with a tiny aspect ratio of 1.33:1. 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. Luckily the Cinescope aspect ratio was fully restored in the Blu-Ray version.
  • Video game example: The Xbox Live and Play Station Network releases of Dragon's Lair, as well as Dragon's Lair Trilogy for the Wii, have the top and bottom of the picture cropped to fit a 16:9 screen. Fortunately, you can avert this in Trilogy: by switching the Wii's screen to 4:3 mode, you can play the games without any cropping at all.
  • The pan-and-scan VHS and DVD releases of Anastasia (1997), have one of the most unusual cases of this trope, in that the picture is actually slightly wider than 4:3 (the DVD specifications list the aspect ratio of this version as 1.48:1 as opposed to the common 1.33:1). As such, it is one of the few pan-and-scan versions of a film where you can see black bars at the top and bottom of the frame throughout the entire movie (as opposed to just the opening and end credits).note 
  • Some scenes in Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine were filmed in anamorphic widescreen and intentionally panned and scanned for their TV presentations. They include shots in which special effects couldn't be rendered on a moving camera shot, and one scene in If Wishes Were Horses in which Dax interacts with her Doppelgänger, to make it look more convincing.
  • The HD remasters of Resident Evil Remake and Resident Evil 0 use vertical cropping and tilt & scan that follows the player in their widescreen modes, which can obscure important objects. Luckily, the original 4:3 display is still available as an option via Letterboxing.
  • When Terrytoons started making shorts in CinemaScope, much of the action was kept in the center of the screen so it wouldn't be lost when they would be eventually be shown on television. It helped that, by that time, the studio was owned by a TV network.
  • The short-lived smartphone-exclusive streaming app Quibi allowed people to watch content in vertical or horizontal aspect ratios. Many of the vertical versions are pan and scanned versions of the horizontal versions. Some also provided gimmicks, such as the horizontal versions looking like a normal TV show and the vertical version showing what's on the main character's phone.
  • While Avengers: Endgame was largely filmed in an open matte 1.90:1 aspect ratio for IMAX, and cropped vertically to 2.39:1 for general exhibition, repurposed footage from Thor: The Dark World was cropped horizontally in the IMAX release (though retaining its original aspect ratio in the general release), as the latter film was shot in Panavision.


Video Example(s):


pan and scanned 'Santa Claus'

Scenes from the 2.35:1 theatrical version the film compared to a 4:3 pan and scan version. Note the two-shot where one character is often cut out.

The 4:3 clips are sourced from a contemporary making-of documentary.

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