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Why Zack Snyder’s Justice League Uses That Aspect Ratio, According To The Cinematographer

Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman in Justice League

So, you sat down to watch Zack Snyder’s Justice League on HBO Max. You have been hearing so much about the movie, and you were curious to see if the film lived up to the hype. You were ready for the run time (four hours), and you’d read about the reshoots from the 2017 movie. But… what is with the black bars on the side of the image? Why does this movie look unusual on your TV screen?

Zack Snyder’s Justice League is being presented in a 4:3 aspect ratio. A title card at the beginning of the movie actually tells viewers that HBO Max is presenting the image in that ratio to “preserve the integrity of Zack Snyder’s creative vision.” And yes, Snyder intentionally filmed his action with this aspect ratio in mind. The presentation, which works extremely well on an IMAX screen, delivers taller images that capture more of the top and bottom of a scene, while pulling in the sides. It’s almost like a square (that would be a balanced 4:4 ratio), and according to Fabian Wagner, the film’s cinematographer, this was a conscious decision of Snyder’s from day one. Wagner told CinemaBlend in an exclusive interview:

I think that we should respect every filmmaker, and every filmmaker’s choice and opinion. When I had my first meeting with Zack about Justice League, and that was even before he even offered me the job, this was just sort of a preliminary meeting, he mentioned the aspect ratio and that he would love to do something in this aspect ratio. It’s a format that has been used for many, many decades before. In the Fifties and Sixties, suddenly widescreen came in and everything else. (But) I've always loved the idea, because we are now so used to seeing those Hollywood movies in that widescreen aspect ratio, and a lot of them look very similar, or the same. So when Zack came to me and mentioned that aspect ratio, I was like, ‘That could be so awesome.’

In a perfect world, DC fans would be flocking to open IMAX theaters to watch the full four-hour cut of the movie on an IMAX screen, where the chosen aspect ratio for Justice League would fit beautifully. But it’s noble that HBO Max didn’t chop and squeeze Snyder’s imagery to fit the mold of people’s television sets.

Zack Snyder even told ReelBlend co-host Kevin McCarthy in an interview that there’s a storytelling reason behind the decision to shoot in the 4:3 aspect ratio, explaining:

We were completely horizontal (on Man of Steel). And then we were slightly horizontal and slightly vertical (on Batman v Superman). And here we’re more vertical. And I think it’s all about, and the story’s all about… rising up and finding yourself and becoming complete. And I think that’s kind of what the aspect ratio is trying to do, as well.

So it’s a very deliberate choice, tied into the theme of Zack Snyder’s three DC movies, that is represented by this 4:3 aspect ratio that you are seeing in Justice League. Personally, I thought that it might distract during my viewing. But I immediately adjusted, and appreciated the images that Snyder worked into his films. For me, the decision very much worked. Vote in our poll and let us know what you thought of the Justice League presentation.

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Sean O'Connell

Managing Director at CinemaBlend. ReelBlend cohost. A movie junkie who's Infatuated with comic-book films. Helped get the Snyder Cut released, then wrote a book about it.