Definitively Not( James )


In the before times, two titans battled out a war in North America - a bitter ande drawn out war that waged on for decades.

Eventually, the Video Home System overcame the Betamax cassette. Home Video consumption became a norm. The Videocassette Recorder was feared by the television industry and heralded by consumers. A new way to consume movies and television was born with the VHS.

There was one issue with translating theatrical movies to the small screen: Home televisions were 4:3 aspect ratio. This meant that the the screens had a width of 1.33 times the height unlike the new Cinemascope and other Widescreen formats for theatrical releases that became popular after 1960.

Two techniques are available to make the widescreen theatrical releases fit on a smaller screen. There’s always letterboxing - which adds black bars above and below the screen. Another technique is Pan and Scan - where the image is translated to better show off the points of interest in the cinematography, shaping the film to match the 4:3 through cropping or other techniques. This would be done by an editor and could drastically change the tone of a scene if done poorly. This is why many criticize and refuse to release a pan and scan version.

The kind of film that would do well in the “home cinema” also differed from what would do well in the theater.

In the the theater there is less need to keep the audience’s attention - they were stuck there in the building. At home, you have distractions so a different kind of movie can prosper. Comedy movies like Mallrats, The Big Lebowski, and Office Space did ABYSMALLY in the theater but found their footing once they were released on VHS. Some of this is attributed to the fact that they can be enjoyed more recreationally and sporadically than many other movies that require direct attention.

The Horror film genre The Thing, The Abyss, and “slasher” movies like Halloween did extraorgdinarily well on VHS. This could because.. what’s scarier than when the monster is.. inside your own house? On the small screen it’s harder to see what’s going on but sometimes that adds to the fear.. plus, you can’t see the zipper so easily on the scary demon monster.

There’s also some films that wouldn’t be as popular today if it weren’t for home video - such as Labyrinth, Blade Runner, or Big Trouble in Little China. These three did not do well in the box office but sold well on home video. A good thing, too - they’re all fantastic films and it’s a good thing they weren’t forgotten.

VHS may be gone - the last VCR was produced in 2016 - but it’s still in our collective pop-culture memory. You get the same gritty effects used all over videos online - giving a bit of realism that it’s a “found” tape. There’s even an anthology Horror series called V/H/S which uses the the look of VHS tapes to hide all of the imperfections of CGI to great effect.

Myself? I just remember the joy of being able to watch Star Wars in the warmth of my pajamas on Saturday while eating some cereal.