So back in 1999 I saw the Sixth Sense in the theater and thought it was great except for the boom mic popping in at the top. Later when I saw it on vhs the boom mic was gone. I never gave it much thought. At most I thought when movie had been cropped into the full screen version they had cropped those scenes in a little more.
Last night I was listening to episode #289 of My Brother, My Brother, and Me, in which one of the brothers talks about how he saw one of the Night at the Museum movies and the boom mics where clearly visible. The other brothers mock him for suggesting such a high budget movie would allow boom mics to appear in the frame. In the next episode they mention they got some emails explaining that movies don’t come pre-framed and it’s up to the theater to “letterbox” the movie correctly.
This practice is also the result of many movie mistakes wherein something that should be just offscreen is made visible by bad framing either in the theater or when transferred to vhs or dvd. For instance, in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure the gag of him pulling out an absurdly long chain is ruined by bad framing showing the chain entering the bottom of the container.
It boggles my mind that filmmakers would leave it up to thousands random people to make sure their movies were shown correctly. Like I wouldn’t publish a book and tell the readers, “Don’t read the paragraphs at the top and the bottom of the pages. They’re not part of the text.” I would guess there are mechanical reasons that the physical frame of film has to be a certain height and width to work with existing projectors but I don’t understand why the “letterboxing” wouldn’t be applied to the film before copying it and sending it out to the theaters.