The Shining

Matted vs. Unmatted Presentations

These are screenshots from the Warner Home Video DVD of The Shining (specifically, the US/Region-1 “Kubrick Collection” release from 2001), showing the two “errors” most commonly cited in the film’s second-unit helicopter footage. Click on any image to view it at full size.

The images are geometry-corrected from DVD's native 1.5:1 aspect ratio (720 × 480 pixels) to 1.33:1, as they would be when viewed on any DVD player. They are resized to 843 × 632 pixels, matching height — at a scale of 1 pixel = 0.001″ — with the 0.868″ × 0.632″ size of standard Academy-ratio film (as described by Gordon Stainforth, assistant editor on The Shining). A little of the width of the 1.37:1 Academy frame (0.025″) is lost: I have assumed that the DVD image crops this from the sides of the Academy frame.

screenshot with helicopter shadow and matte lines   screenshot with helicopter shadow and no matte lines   unretouched screenshot with helicopter shadow

The helicopter shadow (timecode 1:09–1:12)

screenshot with helicopter rotors and matte lines    screenshot with helicopter rotors and no matte lines    unretouched screenshot with helicopter rotors

The rotor blades (timecode 2:42–3:00)

In both shots, the “error” is marked off with green lines, shading and text. The black matted screenshots on the left show the film framed for the standard 0.825″ × 0.446″ 1.85:1 composition area (as described by Gordon Stainforth and as projected in most US cinemas). The unmatted screenshots in the centre show the film as it appears on the DVD, with the matting removed to show the full original negative. The original unretouched screenshots appear on the right.

The matted framing demonstrates that the helicopter shadow was not visible in the film as it was composed and projected cinematically: it was made visible by the opening of the mattes for the film’s home video release. By comparison, the helicopter rotor blades, though faint and difficult to spot, were always visible in the film.

Update 24 August 2015: Thanks very much to Jeff Blyth, who wrote to share more details on the film’s aerial photography:

I was the helicopter cameraman that filmed the scenes of the opening in Glacier National Park. We were filming with full Academy apertures on both 35mm cameras and I was monitoring with a black and white video set-up that was mounted between the cameras. I did not have thru-the-lens capability and one of the cameras used a 9.8mm lens, more than likely the camera that caught the shadow. There was only the roughest line-up possible when using that camera/lens combination because my video pick-up was not nearly as wide to match what it was getting. I could use the monitor for centering and lining up the shots but couldn’t see if the shadow had crept in. We were filming for a month, and never saw dailies, so I had to rely on the editor and Stanley Kubrick to pick those shots that worked for them. It was a great surprise when I went to the premiere as well as a disappointment that other, more intricate and involving shots, didn’t make it into the film. I was perhaps the only one pleased to see some of my additional footage into the ending of Blade Runner. Those were shots that I grabbed when I was waiting for the yellow Volkswagen to return to our starting points. If the light was really good (not all that often) or there were some nice low-hanging clouds, I would always look for something to film.

By the way, I was not the cameraman who shot the Timberline Lodge aerial. Our unit never went to Oregon, only Montana. I still don’t know after all these years who did that shot, but I assume I get blamed for that “error” too!

Photograph of Jeff Blyth's helicopter camera rig

Jeff Blyth's helicopter camera rig, used to film the Montana aerial shots.