The Mother of all Boxes.
by Matt Fowler, IGN
Superhero fans were recently treated to a throwback aspect ratio when WandaVision opened its run with the yesteryear sitcom screen of 4:3 – the glorious black and white square that viewers saw on their sets for decades. But that was semi-expected, given WandaVision’s TV time-hopping gimmick.What people may not have been prepared for was Zack Snyder’s Justice League (a.k.a. The Snyder Cut) being presented in a very similar ratio. The trailers for the film were not in the widescreen format like the theatrical release was. And indeed, Snyder confirmed that – yes – all of the new Justice League, which premieres March 18 on HBO Max, is presented in what was once the standard aspect ratio of TV – a square.
So why exactly is The Snyder Cut full frame? And what has Snyder himself said about the move? Read on or watch the video for the full story.
Why Is The Snyder Cut in 1.33:1?
Zack Snyder’s four-hour reassembling of Justice League is using the boxy 1.33:1 ratio instead of the standard 16:9 (or sometimes wider) widescreen. So the question is why? Well, the director’s love for the format stemmed from the IMAX scenes he shot for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which were rendered in full frame, in the 1.43:1 aspect ratio. Ever since that movie, Snyder’s been enamored with the square composition and the idea of using it for future projects.
At Justice Con, back in July 2020, Snyder explained how he originally intended to shoot all of Justice League with this aspect ratio in mind, so that the movie could fill up a giant 1.43:1 IMAX screen for the entire runtime, instead of just select action sequences, which is typically how IMAX is used for big-budget studio movies like this. Snyder didn’t shoot the film using IMAX cameras, since they don’t use sound, but he did shoot with a ratio ideal for 1.43:1 theaters. And as Justice League lands on HBO Max, fans can see it all in the ratio Snyder intended.
What that means is that whereas many viewers are used to seeing black bars on the top and bottom of a widescreen image, in this case the bars will be on the left and right of the square image instead.
“My intent was to have the movie, the entire film, play in a gigantic 1:43 aspect ratio on a giant IMAX screen,” Snyder said at Justice Con. “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.”
Back to Square One for Justice League
The first Justice League, complete with a multitude of added scenes and reshoots, was released in 2017 with a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, which has been one of the most common US widescreen cinema standards since the ’50s. Releasing a 35mm film in this way means that the frames of the movie basically have to have their top and bottom cropped off. A big part of Snyder’s remaking/remodeling of Justice League involved restoring the original film squares that were composed in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio.
So the “TL;DR” answer to why Justice League is “square” now is that it’s because it was part of Zack Snyder’s original vision. And why go through all this trouble of reworking and reassembling the film into a Snyder Cut if it’s not exactly what Snyder wanted to do with the film in the first place?
Black and White Version: Justice Is Gray
It’s one thing to release a full movie in 1.43:1 (or 1.33:1), and it’s another to also offer it in black and white. Yes, Snyder has also confirmed he’s got a full black and white version of Justice League, which he calls the “Justice Is Gray” edition, ready to go too.
Check out the trailer that Snyder released back in November for Justice League. It gives a sense of what the “Justice Is Gray” edition might look like, while also containing much of the footage that was released at DC FanDome earlier this year (with the exception of a few blink-and-you’ll-miss-them moments from the likes of Darkseid, Superman, and Cyborg).
There’s no known release date for the “Justice Is Gray” edition, though Snyder has said that his ideal version of Justice League would be in black and white.