The Prophecy on DVD:

Is it presented in its original aspect ratio or not?

The Prophecy has been a long time coming on DVD in Region 4. There have been concerns whether or not it would use the same transfer as the Region 1 version (from all accounts not a good transfer), and there have been more recent concerns raised that it has had its original aspect ratio chopped down for the current release. This concern has been prompted by viewing the current DVD version side by side with the same film presented in full screen on the older VHS cassette format.

Essentially, the issue is whether or not there has been matting applied to the original version to get the VHS version, then new matting applied to the VHS scaled version to give us our current DVD version.

Having been asked to do a comparison between the two and make some assessments on the DVD version, I have come to the conclusion that the DVD version as presented in Region 4 (and 2) is indeed the way the film was meant to be seen. What follows is my logic and reasoning as to why this is the case, and why we will not know for sure unless the director of the film, Gregory Widen, or his editing team respond to this page.

Anamorphic transfer or not? First I just want to clarify a small point: the Region 4 DVD is definitely an anamorphic transfer, a point which some had contested. Below is an example of an uncorrected frame compared with a corrected frame. You can clearly see that the image is anamorphic in nature and when compressed vertically by 16:9 gives an image aspect ratio of 2.35:1 (images resized to 50% for layout purposes):

Uncorrected anamorphic image
Corrected anamorphic image

Letterboxed or not? The main issue raised by a concerned fan of the film was that the VHS version had been truncated to be full screen from its original film frame, and that the DVD version had been letterboxed from that transfer (albeit a much cleaner source) to provide the current DVD transfer, losing even more of the original picture.

This is where it gets more interesting. Both the VHS and DVD versions we are comparing have parts of the original film frames the other does not. Here is a good example frame to illustrate:

Extra VHS image portions
Extra DVD image portions

As you can see, the VHS full screen version has more image above and below the part of the image shown on the DVD, but this is reversed for the side information, where the DVD version has quite a deal more image to the left and right of the portion captured by the VHS version.

Here is another example. You'll note that this time the framing is different to the shot above; that is, different parts of the image were used in the X and Y sense to give the final images:

Extra VHS image portions
Extra DVD image portions

Why I believe the DVD is the correct aspect ratio. Looking at those two examples, and watching the whole film on DVD and VHS, I have come to the conclusion that the correct, intended aspect ratio and framing is indeed present on the DVD.

Movies are often shot on 35mm film, which have an aspect ratio of 4:3 initially until the director and editors crop the image they want from the full recorded frame. Most movie cameras have markers etched into the viewfinders which show both the 4:3 aspect ratio and either 1.85:1 or 2.35:1 aspect ratios, so the director can frame his shots to take advantage of the artistic qualities of whichever ratio suits his film. When the movie is edited, the individual frames and scenes are cropped as needed to fulfill the artistic aspects of the scene. I believe this is evidenced by the two examples above - in the first frame of the school bus, the widescreen image places the bus itself at the two thirds line, an imaginary line that delineates the frame as part of the rule of thirds, which holds that when filming a scene (film or still photography) you should line the focus subject up with these lines to get the most artistic picture:

The widescreen image can also be used to make a scene more intimate, by effectively bringing the viewer into the picture more than its full screen counterpart. You can see a great example of this below, where in contrast to the previous examples, there is virtually no extra side image in the DVD version compared with the VHS version, with the cropping being almost completely done in the vertical to bring the camera in as close as possible to the two subjects to show the trust and comfort they feel with one another:

Less intimacy due to full screen
More intimacy due to widescreen

Viewing the whole movie on DVD armed with this information, you will see that most scenes exhibit the types of editing decisions made to display the movie in ways that illuminate the subjects of each scene at their most filmic. When viewed alongside the full screen VHS version, the DVD's composition and framing, in my opinion, appear to bear this out.

Finally, if the DVD were indeed cropped from its original widescreen to full screen and then further cropped to what you see on the DVD, you would think that any further cropping would be done so as to minimise further image loss, by cropping to the 16:9, or 1.85:1 ratio, not the 2.35:1 ratio in fact exhibited by the DVD. I also figure that if they were going to do this, they would not have taken the time to align different scenes as shown above with their various different parts cropped.

I'll wager that if a DVD has been encoded with a 2.35:1 ratio, it is almost certain to be that way because the original intent of the director was indeed to use that ratio, because it represents the most common high aspect ratio in movies today.

As a result of this analysis, short of the director or editors telling me different, I believe that the DVD version of The Prophecy in all regions is indeed the correct aspect ratio that the director intended, and that the VHS full screen copies actually show more image than was originally intended for its cinema release.

- Paul Leeming