We’re getting a huge amount of mail about our edition of The Last Emperor, specifically about the aspect ratio, which is 2:1. Some people seem to believe that we’ve lost our minds, forsaken our mission, and taken it upon ourselves to crop the sides off the picture. Others assume we just got careless. Either way, a rising chorus is asking how we could do this to Vittorio Storaro’s Academy Award–winning compositions. And to Bernardo Bertolucci’s framing. The answer is, we couldn’t, and we wouldn’t, and we didn’t do anything to violate the filmmakers’ wishes. This is the way the filmmakers want the film to be seen.
From the start of this project, Bertolucci has insisted that Storaro have ultimate approval of the mastering of the feature. This master was made in Rome under Storaro’s direct supervision, with Bertolucci’s approval. When we asked Storaro about the framing of the film, he unhesitatingly told us that the correct aspect ratio for The Last Emperor was 2:1, even though the film was commonly projected at 2.35:1. He told us that The Last Emperor was the first film he shot specifically for 2.0 framing, and Bertolucci backs him up. Our mission is to present each film as its makers would want it to be seen, and in this case the director and cinematographer asked that we release their film in the format they say they had always envisioned. We had quite a lot of discussion over this, and we certainly knew it would be controversial, but in the end the decision was not made by us. It was made, as it should be, by the filmmakers.
I can understand how people might be upset about this. The general rule of thumb where widescreen films is concerned is that wider is better, but in this case it’s not so obvious. I recently had the pleasure of joining producer Jeremy Thomas at a screening of The Last Emperor, and I asked him about this issue. Was it really true that they had envisioned the film less wide than the 2.35:1 aspect ratio in which it was commonly screened? Thomas said that they had originally hoped that all of the original release prints would be in 70 mm, framed at 2.2:1 or 2:1, but not 2.35:1 or 2.33:1. Thomas said Storaro and Bertolucci filled the wider frame knowing that there would be 2.35:1 prints in circulation as well, but that they always knew they were shooting a format wider than what they hoped to release.
So, in short, while some viewers may prefer the wider framing, the filmmakers must have the final say. This is not a case of our losing track of our mission, but rather one of being true to it.