Editing with MP4 video

If you shoot MP4 video and then use that MP4 file in your favourite editing package, it’s very likely your entire workflow is slow and clunky. Your software might be slow to respond, the audio might be jerky or not match at all. There’s a much better way to help you edit these files which also greatly reduces the time it takes you to edit and render out your final videos. Read on!

MP4 is a codec. Codec simply means “Compress-Decompress“, or “Code-Decode“. In other words it’s a specific way in which your video files are converted from video into computer data, and back again. There are many different codecs for both video and audio, such as AVI, MP2, MP3, MP4, H263, H264, WAV, WMV, MPG, to name but a few. Over the years, lots of companies have created more efficient ways of encoding ( and compressing) video, which helps to keep a good amount of detail in your videos, but takes up less space in storage.

Here’s an example of space-saving compression;

Frame one is blue. Frame two is blue. Frame three is blue. Frame four is blue. Frame five is blue. Frame six is blue. Frame seven is blue. Frame eight is blue. Frame nine is blue. Frame ten is blue. Frame eleven is blue. Frame twelve is blue. Frame thirteen is blue. Frame fourteen is blue. Frame fifteen is blue. Frame sixteen is blue. Frame seventeen is blue. Frame eighteen is blue. Frame nineteen is blue. Frame twenty is blue. Frame twenty one is blue. Frame twenty two is blue. Frame twenty three is blue. Frame twenty four is blue. Frame twenty five is blue.

Or,

All 25 frames are blue.

The example above describes exactly the same thing. Obviously this is an incredibly simplified example of compression, but that’s what it is! The first paragraph takes up lots of space to say one thing, whereas the second paragraph says the same thing using mush less information, and therefore much less space.

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MP4 is more specifically a playback Codec. It is designed to allow lots of devices such as your TV, phone, tablet, etc, to play the video back “as is”. But if you shoot lots of MP4 video footage and then later want to edit that footage together, it can be tricky and cause lots of problems (and stress!). Let me explain why;

It comes down to keyframes (or intra frames), which is a unique way in which Codecs save space when storing video. A keyframe is simply one complete frame, full of video data. Like a full resolution photograph. And these keyframes contain a HUGE amount of data. But MP4 video doesn’t record keyframes for every frame of video. Instead it only records ONE keyframe for every second (on average). To save precious space, the Codec simply stores data on what has changed between those keyframes.

MP4 video compression is therefore described as a “lossy compression“, because in reality you are losing information and detail within the video. A video encoded with Lossless Compression would look visually perfect, but would take up lots more space. Lossy Compression stores less data, and can be bad quality, but takes up less space.

Imagine ten seconds of video footage. In the world of european TV, there are 25 frames shown on-screen to every second. Like a flip book. Therefore that 10 second clip contains 250 frames. But in MP4 video, it doesn’t store all 250 frames. As mentioned previously, MP4 only stores (in most cases) ONE full frame of information for every second. So a ten second video clip only actually contains TEN full screen, full data, captures of your video. For ten seconds that’s ten frames, out of 250? So really only 1/25th of video data is recorded!

With me so far? So the first frame of every second exists, yet theoretically all the other frames don’t. This is important for editing, because you want to be frame-accurate. If you want to cut your video at exactly “frame 27”, and then have the next frame of your video be ten seconds later, at “frame 277”, well both of those frames don’t exist. When you click on “Frame 27” your Video Editing Software will have to look back at the first keyframe for that second, read the data of what has changed up to that point and show you an interpretation of “Frame 27”. It then needs to do the same thing for “Frame 277”. So something as simple as clicking on a frame that doesn’t exist means a delay to you as your computer and software churn through all the data to interpret and show you that frame. Imagine the processing power it therefore takes if you click on your clip, and then skip back a few frames. Click, click, click. It takes the computer a few seconds to work everything out.

Even doing something simple like a one second fade between two MP4 video clips means your computer and editing package have to interpret those twenty-five frames (most of which don’t exist) as well as apply the processing to fade between each one. That’s a lot of processing for something very simple. No wonder the fans inside your computer are spinning at top speed! Editing several minutes of MP4 video like this could take hours, days, weeks!

As a side-note, occasionally you can see your computer trying to interpret data in-between keyframes if you scrub through a video clip and it tries to play it from a point where no keyframe exists. The video goes blocky, and parts of the video move around in a strange way. Sometimes there’s a green flash, and then BANG, the video clip hits a keyframe and  the whole video is back in sync.

MP4 green blocky pixel frame

 

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So what can we do to reduce all this processing power and delays..?

Convert MP4 video from a playback Codec to an edit-friendly Codec. And an edit-friendly Codec I recommend is “ProRes 4:2:2“.

At the very beginning, before you even open your video editing package, you should convert all your MP4 videos into ProRes 4:2:2 video clips.

There are lots of different types of software for both PC and Mac which allow you to convert those MP4 videos, and I highly recommend free software called MPEGStreamClip. This software will read your MP4 video file, and convert them to ProRes (it even has a Batch function, so you can drop an entire folder, and it’ll convert them all in one go). You can download MPEGStreamClip here. It can convert to many other codecs too, but stick to ProRes for editing. If ProRes isn’t available (it can depend on what software you have installed on your computer) then try Apple Intermediate Codec, or AIC.

Your newly converted “ProRes” codec video clips will visually be exactly the same video clips, except every single frame will be full of data. Effectively, every frame is a keyframe. So when you click on “frame 27”, the data is already there and the image appears, instead of the computer processing all the data to work out what “frame 27” might look like.

By doing this conversion at the very start of your workflow, you will see a noticable improvement when you come to edit. Your software will be more responsive, your computer will be doing less processing, and you’ll save time overall.

Please note that converting video takes time. But it’s still better to convert everything at the beginning before you start your edit process. You can batch-convert all your clips whilst you sleep, or take a shower, have lunch, etc, instead of having those irritating delays during the edit.

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In a nutshell it’s the same for audio. MP3 audio saves a vast amount of space by not recording the frequencies that the human ear can’t detect. Anything above 22KHz just isn’t there. Although this is great for storage, it’s horrendous for audiophiles! Classical music which contains a combination of high frequencies is therefore stripped out. And although we might not hear those high frequencies, it has an affect on the other notes which we can hear.

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Update: 2nd Jan 2016: Interesting Reddit post showing GIFs gone wrong. This shows the same principal of keyframing and how it can catastrophically and hiliariously wrong:

50 Unsettlingly broken GIFs 

 

 

 

Film Review: The Zero Theorem

We all know the meaning of life is 42. But what’s the purpose? This is the question suffered by Qohen Leth in Terry Gilliam’s The Zero Theorem.

This week, thanks to Den Of Geek, I was invited to a preview screening of the movie at the headquarters of Sony Europe in London. This is the second time Den Of Geek have offered me a free ticket, having invited me to watch The LEGO Movie a few weeks back at the headquarters of Warner Brothers. Before I go any further I should point out that this review is my own, and is not a request by Den Of Geek. Any opinions are my own and should not be linked with the opinions of Den Of Geek, Sony Europe or any other affiliate.

I would also like to mention the mind blowing bonus that the audience received; before the movie started our host asked us what we’d do if Terry Gilliam were to walk through the screening doors and say hello. Half of me was disappointed that such a carrot would be dangled in front us. And yet, like rubbernecking witnesses at a car crash, one by one people in front of me turned and gawked open-mouthed as the man himself bounded down the side aisle toward the screen. Mr Gilliam was pleasant enough to talk for a few minutes about the production of the film, the friendships with the cast and his perpetual want for being alone!

So thank you Terry Gilliam for adding that extra brilliance to what was simply a free ticket to a preview screening!

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Now, not everyone gets the visions that Terry Gilliam puts on-screen. Mostly outlandish. Definitely bizarre. Some within the grasp of steampunk. All of it very clever. Thankfully having spent a childhood watching “Time Bandits” over and over, and falling into philosophical discussions at 4am over the meaning of “Twelve Monkeys”, I was prepared to accept what was coming.

I wasn’t disappointed.

Stylistically, there is no mistake this is a Terry Gilliam film. Nobody else can portray a story like he can; clunky ridiculous fashion, day-glo neon, impressionable Governments, OTT commercialism (I particularly liked the advert on the building that tracked alongside the main character as he walked down the street, whilst all the time referring to everyone as “madam”).

Practical visuals aside, the concept delves deeper into human nature (as does every Terry Gilliam film). Almost to the point of forensics.  Life as we know it blown into ridiculous proportions, yet seemingly accepted as the norm by those not-so-far-future characters. People go to work, they consume and partake in the controlled world around them. They accept the systems in place, playing along like sheep. All the while the main character simply wants to know the purpose of life. With the whirlwind of other peoples lives around him that he blatantly wants no part of, he’s forced to follow along and step out into the big wide world (which he keeps securely hidden behind the several locks on his front door). With no option but to accept fate, we’re taken on a Gilliam-style roller coaster with an inevitable end.

Gilliam said before the screening that the film was meant to be set in the not-so-distant future, but by the time it came to Production and release the concept had slipped into what it’s actually like today.

It won’t be long before it’s a period drama!

And I totally get what he means. In one scene, a party is taking place with lots of people in attendance. But everyone’s wearing headphones and listening to their own music, staring at the computer tablet in front of them, and hardly interacting with anyone else in the room. And if they are interacting, it’s by video stream to other people at the party. From an outward point of view everyone is enjoying themselves at this party, yet everyone is actually only enjoying their own closed-off personal experience as opposed to the group experience.

The cast is great. Christopher Waltz as the troubled Qohen Leth, Melanie Thierry (you’ll seek out more of her films, I guarantee!) as the gorgeous Bainsley, David Thewlis (who played King Einon in DragonHeart!) as supervisor Joby, Matt Damon with his bit-part as Management, and the unforgettable Tilda Swinton as the fantastic Doctor Shrink-Rom.

If you’re a Terry Gilliam fan, you are in for one hell of a ride. If you’re not then sit back and absorb the double-meanings, enjoy the subtle hints of oppression, compare your own life and wellbeing to those of the main characters.

I guarantee every single person will relate to one of the characters. Whether you’re the drone in the fast-lane taking everything for granted, the adolescent kid who knows more about the world than their older siblings, the camouflaged management in control of every situation, the worker in diluted fear of that management, or Qohen who’s misused talent draws him fatefully toward his quest to find his answer.

The film will no doubt create debate. Its impressions and meanings can be interpreted a million different ways, leaving the viewer to ponder on just what happened exactly. With this in mind, I foresee The Zero Theorem becoming a typical Gilliam classic.

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Video Barcoding

Condensing each frame of a video into a single line and stacking them together. This is what Video Barcoding is. By taking more than one image and merging them together, it can create fascinating views into the colour schemes and lighting. I’m gone through my collection of favourite Film and TV series and started to create a Video Barcode project.

Here’s my first two attempts at Video Barcoding. The first is episode 1 of series 1 along the top, merged with the last episode of the last series of Breaking Bad (with a kick-ass watermark to boot!). The second is Terminator along the top, merged with Terminator 2 Judgment Day along the bottom.

See if you can work out the scenes. In the T2 barcode there’s a pretty obvious red line near the start for the biker bar termovision scene, a clear blue line for the Pescadero State Hospital scenes, the Cyberdyne assault and the ultimate bright orange molten steel pit;

Breaking Bad First and Last
Terminator and Terminator 2

Trailer Forensics: Terminator 2 Judgment Day

WARNING: PICTURE HEAVY!

Updated March 2018 with 3D Blu-Ray comparisons.

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Back in early 2014 I stumbled across the Theatrical Trailer for Terminator 2 – Judgment Day (1991). Bizarrely, as a massive fan of the franchise, it wasn’t something I’d seen before. I knew of the Teaser Trailer (Directed by the legendary Stan Winston on a budget of $150’000, as requested by James Cameron), which depicted a factory where T-800 endoskeletons were being built, and culminated in a skin moulding mechanism where upon Arnold Schwarzenegger was revealed. You can see that below…

But the Theatrical trailer was new to me. And as I watched, I spotted several differences between the trailer and the released feature. For your viewing pleasure, I give you the Theatrical Trailer for Terminator 2: Judgment Day:

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And if you’ll follow me to the paragraphs below I will take you through the nuances between the trailer and the finished film…

Apart from the lack of a colour grade, the most obvious difference is the aspect ratio. The final feature was shown in cinemas in 2.35:1 ratio. However, the feature was actually shot on 35mm film, and then edited to Cinemascope (bottom image) by cropping off the top and bottom (soft matted). See Arnie’s destructive use of a mini-gun at Cyberdyne in the comparisons below (00.33):

For completion I have since come across the Russian DVD of Terminator 2… The only DVD release ever to be 4:3 Pan And Scan. I have added a screen grab of the same scene. Notice there’s even more image top and bottom of the 4:3 version, but it’s missing substantial information from the left and right.:

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Theatrical Trailer 1
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Laserdisc (PILF-2187)
ld2_policecar
Laserdisc (PILF-1375)
policecar_comp 1
Blu-Ray
t23d_police_cyberdyne
3D Blu-Ray 2017
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4:3 Pan and Scan Russian DVD
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4k scan of a frame from the 35mm Trailer 2

Secondly, you’ll notice the colour correction. I understand that through the various released formats there appeared to be compaints from fans over the saturation and tones. The last release of the feature on DVD was described as “washed out”. I’m not sure if the colour differences below (trailer v final feature) is due to the teaser showing the unfinished product, or if the image was actually colour- corrected deliberately, or if it’s a side effect of a transfer. I am a fan of using colour in films to represent mood (another example is The Matrix, where they used a green cast across the scenes when anyone was inside the Matrix). There are more screen resolution and colour correction comparisons below (01.11):

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Theatrical Trailer 1, DVD release
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35mm trailer, frame scan
ld_getout2
Laserdisc (PILF-2187)
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Laserdisc (PILF-1375)
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Blu-Ray
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3D Blu-Ray 2017
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4:3 Pan and Scan Russian DVD

Here’s another example showing the clear colour difference between the trailer, laserdiscs, DVD and Blu-Ray releases:

T2_badcolour 1.png
Theatrical Trailer 2
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35mm trailer, frame scan
LD_sarahGlass
Laserdisc (PILF-2187)
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Laserdisc (PILF-1375)
T2_colour_correct 1.png
Blu-Ray
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3D Blu-Ray 2017
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4:3 Pan and Scan Russian DVD

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The scene where the Freightliner truck crashes through the wall and lands in the canal is featured in the trailer (00.21), but they chose to use a camera angle that is’t used in the final feature (bonus!). From the first image below you can see the trailer version shows a wider shot, and clearly shows the location of the street as being “Hayvenhurst Avenue” stencilled onto the cement (T2 fans will know the actual place to be “Hayvenhurst and Plummer”). Whereas the second image, taken from the film at exactly the same point where the truck breaches the wall, shows a closer angle, and also shows the blue “Plummer” street sign. For completion, the 6th image is the Russian 4:3 Pan and Scan version, which shows a lot more brick work;

Canal_crash 1
Theatrical Trailer 1
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35mm trailer, frame scan
ld_wallcrash3
Laserdisc (PILF-2187)
ld2_crash
Laserdisc (PILF-1375)
Hayvenhurst_crash 1
Blu-Ray
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3D Blu-Ray 2017
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4:3 Pan and Scan Russian DVD

A popular fact amongst fans is that the middle image is actually a Visual Effect. The shot gives the impression that the camera was set up on the right side of the canal shooting left, as if on the same side as the camera in the first image. However, this entire scene was “flipped”. The camera was actually on the left side of the canal shooting right.

In order to make the scene cut together better in the edit, the whole image was reversed to match the other shots. Click on the image for a bigger version and you can see the Freightliner badge on the front of the truck is backwards, due to the flip. The blue “Plummer” street sign was digitally reversed by a special effects company.

All of those reversed shots meant that when they were flipped the negative in the edit, it looked like Robert Patrick/T-1000 was sat in the drivers seat, and not in the passenger seat.

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In fact, most of the canal scene was flipped. There was a stunt person driving the truck, behind black cloth and hidden from the camera. The passenger side of the vehicle was fabricated with a steering wheel for the T-1000 (Robert Patrick) to operate. This allowed Patrick to concentrate on the acting and not actually have to drive the truck. Patrick even wore a reversed police badge on a reversed police shirt. Even Edward Furlong wore a reversed Public Enemy t-shirt whilst riding the motorbike.

The first image below shows the 1.85:1 trailer version (00.22) of the crash as it was shot, without the flop. Notice the shopping trolley in front as the truck crashes, and how much of the top and bottom of the image is visible thanks to the ratio. The other images are the exact same frame in the final feature, where the image has been flipped to correct on-set reversed gags. A lot of the scenes lose a lot of the image due to the 2.35:1 crop. The 6th image is the Russian 4:3 Pan and Scan DVD release showing a lot of the scene, followed by a frame scan from a 35mm trailer that I own;

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Theatrical Trailer 1 (as originally shot. i.e., not “flopped”)

 

LD_crash
Laserdisc (PILF-2187)
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Laserdisc (PILF-1375)
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Blu-Ray
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3D Blu-Ray 2017
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4:3 Pan and Scan Russian DVD
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35mm Trailer 2, 4K scan (as originally shot)

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You can see in the image below, taken from the trailer (00.23), that Furlong’s world famous Public Enemy t-shirt is backwards (I also know from owning never before published costume department documents for T2 that twelve Public Enemy t-shirts were used during production, as well as two reversed Public Enemy t-shirts for the canal shoot and for the scene involving the chip removal at the mirror). Also note that this exact shot of Furlong being chased by the T-1000 in the truck isn’t actually in the final movie. The majority of Truck V John was re-shot against a projector;

Canal_john 1
Theatrical Trailer 1

There are also a handful of other scenes in the trailer that weren’t used in the final feature. Below you can see the Cryoco liquid nitrogen truck (01.05) as it begins to topple over, and the pick-up truck containing John and Sarah driving by. This was likely removed as the pick-up truck is actually speeding away in front of the toppling tanker and not over there.  Another shot in the theatrical trailer, immediately before the topple, shows the tanker veering off right-of-screen as Arnie (well, the stund double) yanks the steering wheel. These two shots weren’t used in the final film;

TankerFlip 1
Theatrical Trailer 1

The following image taken from the theatrical trailer (00.34) shows a police car exploding outside the Cyberdyne building, which isn’t in the final version of the movie.

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Theatrical Trailer 1

And this close-up shot of Arnie shooting to the left with the mini-gun from inside the Cyberdyne building (00.34) isn’t in the final film either, although a similar shot of the mini-gun pointing in the other direction is.

Cyberdyne_minigun 1
Theatrical Trailer 1

Lastly, likely shot as a joke for the trailer only, Arnie informs us that he won’t kill anyone (01.29). This front-on shot of Arnie isn’t in the final film, although the line was scripted. In the final feature the Terminator is instructed by John not to kill anyone whilst sat on the motorbike outside the Pescadero State Hospital;

 

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Theatrical Trailer 1
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Laserdisc (PILF-2187)
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Blu-Ray
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3D Blu-Ray 2017
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4:3 Pan and Scan Russian DVD

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Also, I noticed three alternative ‘takes’ in the trailer…

Firstly, when John looks back to see the tow truck crash through the wall and down into the canal. The  trailer version (00.20) shows John sitting upright. His right hand is gripping the throttle. It’s known that Director James Cameron took Edward Furlong off-set and made him do star jumps before the next take in order to tire him out. The feature version shows sweat on John’s forehead and he’s slumped over the bike, clearly worn out! You can actually see the time difference between the two takes by the position of shadows between the fence pillars and debris on the canal floor. Image six is the 4:3 version, much less cropped top and bottom;

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Theatrical Trailer 1 (different shadow lengths, alternative take)

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John_canal 1
Blu-Ray
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3D Blu-Ray
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Laserdisc (PILF-2187)
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Laserdisc (PILF-1375)
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4:3 Pan and Scan Russian DVD

Here is a side-by-side video comparison of these takes. Notice the final feature version looks to have lowered the camera, looking upward, instead of above Connor looking downwards;

Secondly, the Freightliner truck explosion in the canal was shot at least twice. The trailer version (00.59) has Furlongs stunt double, Bobby Porter, with his head completely down and face covered. The initial explosion is dark. Notice the fabricated central pillar as it first begins to crack open due to the explosion. Notice that the bike has passed in front of the pillar, though the pillar hasn’t blown apart yet. Also note the pattern of the water on the ground of the canal and the top-left fence shadow from the sun;

Canal_TJ_explo 1
Theatrical Trailer 1

 

Here is the explosion as it is in the final film. Stunt double looks up. The water marks are different. The sun position is also different, casting shadows of the fence along the wall to the right. You’ll also see that the fake central pillar cracks open and explodes before they pass across it in the shot, indicating they are closer to the explosion this time. The background is also filled with a fireball before the truck fully explodes, adding depth and size to the shot;

Canal_TJ_explo 1
Blu-Ray (with Peter Kent as stunt driver)
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3D Blu-Ray 2017 (with Arnie’s face composited over stunt driver Peter Kent)
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Laserdisc (PILF-2187)
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Laserdisc (PILF-1375)
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4:3 Pan and Scan Russian DVD

Here is a side-by-side video comparison of these takes;

I also noticed that the Press shot for this scene was photographed during the second explosion. Notice the shadows are the same on the pillar as they are in the movie. And going by the angle of the pillar and the trickle of water in the canal, we can see that the photographer was probably 10 feet or so to the right of the film camera that captured the scene. Here is the Press shot.

Terminator 2 canal explosion Press shot
Press Photo

Thirdly, the famous line “Asta la vista, baby” was also shot multiple times with a different version in the theatrical trailer to the final feature. The theatrical version appears less threatening (01.16) and much more robotic. Also the focus puller moves the focus from Arnie’s face onto the gun before he says “baby”. In the feature version Arnie appears more menacing with his head tilted forward a little, as if Cameron suggested “you’re more human, with attitude”.Also note the focus-puller waits for Arnie to finish delivering his line!;

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Theatrical Trailer 1
AstaLaVista 1
Blu-Ray

Here is a side-by-side video comparison of these takes;

And it’s not just the picture that’s different. Here’s a comparison video that shows the difference in sound. Terminator 2 fans will be aware that the T-1000 handgun, an M92F, in the movie sounds like it has a silencer attached. Albeit the sound is “cooler”, but technically incorrect. The gunfire in the trailer is more realistic;

I’d love to see the movie in the original “flat” 35mm format. In 2013 some smaller specialist cinemas in the US ran special screenings and they were very popular. I’m hoping a cinema in the UK will follow suit.

As a visual comparison, the image below shows the Blu-Ray 1080p widescreen version as the longer horizontal image, bordered in white. Composited underneath is the 4:3 Pan and Scan version, bordered in red. The outer blue border therefore shows the size of the original (and as-yet unseen) full 35mm print, with the chequered areas highlighting the missing sections:

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2.35:1 versus 4:3

With the actual video resolution of the Blu-Ray Ultimate Edition being 1904×808, the above image shows there is a potential for a 1full 1920×1080 version.

You can buy Terminator 2 – Judgment Day (Skynet Edition) by clicking this link.

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Update: After much research there was a glimpse of hope that accidental releases existed of Terminator 2 that were either a) not graded, and therefore the original colour, and b) a non-matted version which showed the entire 35mm with absolutely no cropping.

However. The Japanese laserdisc (PILF-2187), seen by some as the Holy Grail for being released without authorisation by James Cameron and therefore the only version released without a colour grade, turned out to just be slightly different. There ARE differences, but to my eye it does not look like the trailers. It’s still a sought after version of the movie. If you can find this version on laserdisc, snap it up!

And secondly, the rumoured non-matted version has so far turned out simply to be 4:3 Pan and Scan release on DVD, and only ever released in Russian.

Here is a wonderful example of what Pan and Scan versus widescreen looks like. This video clearly shows there is a much fuller version out there, that none of us have seen!