Lest anyone worry that HBO Max would tarnish Zack Snyder’s auteur work Justice League, for which the company spent $70 million on reshoots and new digital effects in order to meet the director’s requirements and satisfy years of fan demand for a better cut of the widely panned movie, the service is prefacing all streams of the film with a short disclosure:
“This film is presented in a 4:3 format to preserve the integrity of Zack Snyder’s creative vision.”
That’s right. HBO will not artificially crop the image just to satisfy your natural demand for widescreen viewing. Nor would it tell Snyder that, hey, maybe Justice League isn’t First Cow and doesn’t need to be presented in a tight boxy format in which it’s unclear if the entire film was even originally intended to be presented. After three years of demands, this is his vision, and no one’s going to touch it.
Now look, I’m not going to make fun of directors choosing less common aspect ratios (I contend that First Cow, a quiet movie about a cow, which was also shot in 4:3, was robbed of its place on the Best Picture nominees list). But this does mean that HBO Max’s highest-profile film — one that was announced before the streaming service was even available, is exclusive to the service, and is very much meant to bring in new subscribers — is presented in the aspect ratio of a ’90s TV series and leaves about half the screen empty on most modern devices.
It was known before the movie’s debut this morning that the Snyder cut would be presented in 4:3. So it’s really only HBO’s warning — likely meant as a heads-up to less obsessive fans who may be confused by the crop — that’s a surprise here.
The film was supposedly shot for this boxy format, and if that’s the case, then you’re actually seeing more on the screen than you did in the 2017 version (which was released in a more traditional widescreen format… and was also two hours shorter). The intention was for the taller footage to be shown on giant IMAX screens, which are close to a 4:3 ratio, though typically only portions of a movie are presented in the larger format. For now, your best bet at watching the film on a device intended for that screen size is to go with something a bit smaller: