Thursday 4 August 2016

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER released in HD on Netflix USA...and it looks terrible

Netflix have abruptly replaced their version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer with the high definition remasters that Fox have been working on for the last couple of years. Rather infamously, these remasters are full of massive goofs, incorrect colour grading, crewmembers standing in shot and wildly inconsistent cropping. Fox had been airing this version of Pivot in the US and been getting feedback, it was assumed in preparation for a properly-remastered version of the show which would eliminate this problems.

Instead, Fox have simply dropped the existing Pivot HD version of the series on Netflix. Although a small number of problems have been fixed (mostly in the first season) all of the other issues remain extant.

There is a current trend for 1990s and early 2000s TV shows to be updated to modern HD standards and turned from their original square-framed 4:3 aspect ratio into 16:9 widescreen presentations. The X-Files has had this done quite well and The Wire has had it done brilliantly (despite some creator concerns over what it might do to the effect of the show). Both shows were filmed and protected for widescreen, so it was possible to do this. The gold standard for such presentations is Star Trek: The Next Generation, the very first episode of which (now twenty-nine years old) literally looks like it was filmed yesterday. The only issue was that due to a large number of goofs around the edges of the screen (actors waiting for cues, light stands, crewmembers in show), the show had to remain in 4:3 ratio, as it was simply never filmed with widescreen in mind.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer had the same limitation when it was originally shot from 1996 to 2003. Joss Whedon did not film the show with widescreen in mind, and in many shots extras, equipment and crewmembers can be seen lurking at the edges of the frame. For the HD remaster Fox have occasionally used CG to paint out such issues, but far more often they've simply left them in or - unforgivably - cropped the shot by zooming in slightly to remove such elements fom the screen. Insanely, this has also occasionally resulted in actors losing the tops of their heads from the screen. Even more inexplicably, there are many cases where cropping has taken place for no apparent reason: several shots rendered in widescreen in full in the various title sequences are cropped when they appear in-situ in the episodes themselves.

Whilst profoundly annoying, this is perhaps understandable given the pathological belief that audiences need to have everything now in widescreen. What is not even remotely acceptable is that the show has not been edited back together in accordance with the original presentation. The biggest problem is colour grading, which has led to scenes filmed during the day but filtered to make it look like night now taking place during the day (even if vampires are in the scene), warm summer beach scenes looking like the chilly autumn days they were filmed on and characters vanishing into shadows or invisible characters suddenly being discernible in the background of scenes. There is also rampant DNR (Digital Noise Reduction) which, if not handled properly makes skin look unnaturally smooth, and a mish-mash approach to special effects, with some totally new CG effects included, and some old effects upscaled, to varying degrees of effectiveness.

What makes this more annoying is that some scenes show the potential of a HD Buffy, as the film has clearly survived well and some individual scenes look absolutely brilliant. A remaster was in fact desperately required for Seasons 1 and 2, which were shot on a lower grade of film stock to the rest of the series and look quite hazy, especially on modern televisions. As it stands, however, the HD Buffy remaster is an utter fiasco which borders on the unwatchable.

The reason for the mess is of course cost. Remastering Star Trek: The Next Generation cost $20 million. The cost of The Wire and The X-Files, although logistically not as complex (both shows being a lot newer and having far less effects-driven footage) was apparently not far off from that ballpark. Fox clearly did not want to spend that kind of money on a Buffy remaster and have done it slapdash and on the cheap, with no respect for the source material, the original artistic intention or the fans.

Buffy HD is a Facebook group which has been cataloguing the problems with the HD remaster of the series for some time now, and is worth a read for a full list of all the problems.


Unknown said...

Hi, thanks for this great article again!
I think you meant 'goofs' and not 'goods' right? Haha.

Jamie said...

I assume you mean the first episode of Next Generation is twenty-nine years old! (God that makes me feel ancient...)

Unknown said...

This HD remaster is a total embarrassment for Fox Studios and they have no shame at all in continuing to send out this copy for broadcast and now streaming. I've checked it out in detail and I've come to the conclusion it is unwatchable, and it is sad because there are brief moments where the show does look great but it is counterbalanced by all of the bad. This HD mess is offensive and pressure should be put on Fox to take it down, a lot of people worked their butts off for 7 long years to create Buffy and their work is being trashed. If Fox will not start over and remaster Buffy in HD properly then the original standard definition version of Buffy is the only way it should be presented. This is a 4:3 show and it always will be.

Incipitation said...

"massive goods"? I think you mean "goofs"

Unknown said...

The show is unwatchable, really? We're talking maybe 60 Seconds of flaws spread over hundreds of hours of television. Most you don't even notice unless you pause the video and know exactly where to look. You know what's really unwatchable? The original version of the show. It looks awful and couldn't even tell what was happening in the fights scenes half the time. I watched the whole show it the remastered Edition. It had few flaws but looked beautiful over all. Saying this is 4:3 show and should only stay original just for the sake of it is ridiculous. It's even selfish. I like this way so it's the only way people should available watch it. You can find the original version every where and I bet you own the DVDs so what's it to you if people like myself don't want to watch like a cave man. Yes the remastered has flaws and needs to be done again some day but the good out ways the bad and looks beautiful. To say it's unwatchable and only should be watched in its original forum is being nothing but a selfish fan that blows things out of proportion to keep things original just for the sake of it

Adam Whitehead said...

There's no reason a HD version of Buffy couldn't be excellent. It could even be in widescreen: most of Seasons 5-7 were protected for widescreen and in fact the UK DVDs are in widescreen for those seasons anyway. Making Seasons 1-4 widescreen-compatible would be tricky (there's a lot of scenes with light stands, extras, the edges of set in shot etc) but it's certainly not impossible as it was for ST:TNG.

However, this requires Fox to sit down and redo the show from scratch again. The colour grading in almost every single scene is wrong, the DNR is completely out of control in many scenes and they need to either decide to upgrade the CG effects or they need to leave them and up-res them, rather than this half-and-half approach they've taken which is rather inconsistent.

The original SD version of the show is actually becoming harder to find. It's only reliably available on DVD. Most of the streaming and international broadcast versions have been replaced with the HD version, goofs and all.

Anonymous said...

You're response is ridiculous. How can you even ridicule the previous poster for wanting to maintain the integrity of the show? Buffy has a vision. It was made with a certain style, and to degrade that is to remove the original vision of the show. Most of us know Buffy. We can watch it and know what expect, but it's not like that for people who haven't seen it. The HD version looks nothing like its original presentation the scenes are so soft, the brightness levels are super high, the tone is way off. Nobody here is asking for the impossible. Do it right. Serve it justice. That HD version looks like total crap.

Unknown said...

I agree with Lucy %1000. Awful in original, great in HD. I'm 42,saw it in original back in the day. TV wasn't that good back then, HD makes everything much better.

Anonymous said...

I wish they would also shadow or fuzzy out the stunt double's face. It's so easy to see her now that it ruins the entire feel/magic.

Also yes, the brightness levels are insane. I keep sitting here going "if a vampire was in that light they would be dead!" I feel like that dark and gritty feel has just been tossed out the window.