After all the hype, the drama, the reshoots, and the money (an estimated $70 million) poured into it, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is finally here. The over four-hour-long cut premiered today on HBO Max to much anticipation. But what fans were not anticipating were the annoying black bars that are coming along with the film.
HBO Max informs/warns viewers right from the start that “This film is presented in a 4:3 format to preserve the integrity of Zack Snyder’s creative vision.”
Technically, those who have been paying attention amidst all the hubbub surrounding Snyder’s cut will know that Snyder originally shot Justice League in 4:3 format because the film initially was to be released in cinemas, more importantly, IMAX, which is better suited for 4:3 format. When Joss Whedon took over and basically revamped (a.k.a. destroyed) Snyder’s vision, he also presented the film in the more common 16:9 format.
For a teeny bit of clarification for those of us who don’t understand those numbers, 4:3 is old-school, when TV shows were presented in this format because TV’s back in the day was much boxier than what we use today. So, 4:3 fit the TV screens. The 16:9 is more of a wide-screen format, fitting nicely with the large, flat-screen TVs we now enjoy.
Given all this knowledge, and also knowing that even though IMAX is popular, the movie is being streamed on HBO Max, which is not IMAX. So why keep the format? Snyder told audiences at the July 2020 Justice Con, “My intent was to have the movie, the entire film, play in a gigantic 4:3 aspect ratio on a giant IMAX screen,” Snyder said via Newsweek. “Superheroes tend to be, as figures, they tend to be less horizontal. Maybe Superman when he’s flying. But when he’s standing, he’s more of a vertical. Everything is composed and shot that way, and a lot of the restoration is sort of trying to put that back. Put these big squares back… It’s a completely different aesthetic. It’s just got a different quality and one that is unusual. No one’s doing that.”
Producer Deborah Snyder, who just so happens to be Zack’s wife, spoke to Decider, explained the reasoning behind keeping the annoying 4:3 format. “The film was originally shot that way. You know, don’t forget it was intended for the theatrical release, and it was intended to have an IMAX release,” she said. “But now that it was on HBO Max, Zack didn’t want to change the aspect ratio, because everything was framed that way. And it’s also, I just think it’s just so unique. You’re getting so much of the picture, you’re seeing a lot more. If we then made the decision to just chop it off, we would be losing part of the frame. So it was really important to maintain the aspect ratio because that’s how it was originally intended to be. That’s how it was shot. That’s how the visual effects were done.” The Snyders were thinking of the fans in this aspect. They didn’t want to cut off part of the frame to convert the movie to widescreen.
Unfortunately, there is no way to lose the black bars while watching Justice League. You could, if you wish, change the picture settings to zoom on your TV, but that would result in a picture looking much like a widescreen, resulting in a significant portion of the movie being cut off.
You’ll be pleased to know (then again, maybe not so pleased) that not all devices will be affected by the 4:3 format, which in some ways is kind of humorous. The intent of Snyder and his 4:3 format was for the movie to be seen properly on a huge IMAX screen but to actually get rid of those black bars, a much, much smaller screen is necessary. In fact, the perfect size to watch Zack Snyder’s Justice League and not be bothered by those black bars on the side would be to watch the film with, get this, a device with a 12.9” screen, like an iPad Pro.
Obviously, not everyone is happy with this result, including the author of the previous tweet.
So, for those of you who plan on popping a large bowl of popcorn tonight (you may need two or three for the four-hour extravaganza) and sitting back to watch what Zack Snyder initially planned on giving to fans, also be prepared to deal with the black bars. Don’t opt for a small 12.9” screen, this is one film that needs a big screen along with big sound, you know, the way Snyder meant for it to be seen. Black bars be damned.