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This article will have the difficult task of identifying the main issues (framing, brightness/color, editing mistakes...) present in the HD version of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" aired on the Pivot TV channel. For starters, Fox Studios seems to have decided to convert the series to 16:9, which brings many problems. The show was never protected for 16:9, and Joss Whedon, the show creator, made it clear that he wishes for every season to stay in 4:3 (except for "Once more with feeling").
"Adding space to the sides simply for the sake of trying to look more cinematic would betray the very exact mise-en-scene I was trying to create. I am a purist, and this is the purest way to watch Buffy. I have resisted the effort to letterbox Buffy from the start and always will, because that is not the show we shot." - Joss Whedon.
We will not dwell on this issue, as many fans want the show to stay 4:3, while many others prefer 16:9. But it is important to remember that many errors listed below are a consequence of this change of aspect ratio. Making a show widescreen when it wasn't supposed to be is a very complex task (see "The Wire"), it should involve a lot of talent and care, and the original filmmakers should be consulted.
David Simon (creator of "The Wire") talks about his show, also meant for 4:3, but remastered in 16:9 (more on his blog: http://davidsimon.com/the-wire-hd-with-videos/):
"At the last, I’m satisfied what while this new version of The Wire is not, in some specific ways, the film we first made, it has sufficient merit to exist as an alternate version. There are scenes that clearly improve in HD and in the widescreen format. But there are things that are not improved. And even with our best resizing, touchups and maneuver, there are some things that are simply not as good. That’s the inevitability: This new version, after all, exists in an aspect ratio that simply wasn’t intended or serviced by the filmmakers when the camera was rolling and the shot was framed." - David Simon.
This could apply to "Buffy" as well. A proper widescreen release could exist as an alternate version (perhaps for iTunes, and reruns), as long as the original 4:3 version is also made available in HD. But the remastering team should constantly be looking at the original framing of each scene, as they work on altering the show for widescreen, but that doesn't seem to be the case here. The same applies to a 4:3 HD master, which should match the original framing. We can only hope that a potential Blu-Ray release will offer the 4:3 format as the definitive version, with an option for 16:9, like Battlestar Galactica (The Original Series), released by Universal.
For some unknown reason, episodes 1x01 to 1x07 are almost entirely cropped (losing about 25% of the original image), while episodes 1x08 to 1x12 have a 16:9 frame fully opened-up on the sides (with some occasional cropping). One would argue that if the original film negatives of season 1 aren't available in 16:9 for every episode, the entire season should only be presented in the original 4:3.
The frame in season 2 is rarely fully opened-up, being slightly zoomed-in most of the time, gaining new information in width, but losing some of the original 4:3 height.
Season 3 is the best looking of the three in terms of framing. It is mostly fully opened-up on the sides, and doesn't move the frame up and down as much as in season 2. But the unnecessary zooming and occasional cropping is still an issue.
One big concern with the reframing of this new version is how inconsistent it is, and often appears to be very random, without much logic. As a result, the composition is ruined and the director's intention completely ignored.
1x01 Welcome to the Hellmouth
In the HD version, Xander loses his head. The team behind this remastering has strangely chosen to show us more of the sidewalk.
1x02 The Harvest
Here is one of the most mysterious shots in the new version. In the episode, the shot is severely zoomed in. Yet in the opening credits, the same shot is presented fully open. It is difficult to understand the logic in this decision. Zooming means lowering the picture quality, and losing important information, like the cross, a strong symbol for a dramatic shot. The same problem occurs again and again in the first 7 episodes.
1x03 The Witch
Because of the cropping, we can only assume what happens, as Buffy's feet disappear from the frame.
1x06 The Pack
This shot is experiencing a major problem. The new framing is far too high. We gain space above the head, but we lose more important information at the bottom. A few seconds earlier, Buffy's close-up is particularly bad. This kind of reframing occurs many times in both season 1 and season 2.
We lose a lot of height in the first seven episodes, but what happens here is inexplicable. The width of the 4:3 image is not even used in its entirety. The shot is zoomed far more than it needs to be. This happens during the entire scene.
As in the episode "The Witch", the character's actions are lost by the cropping. We don't even see Darla playing with her skirt.
1x12 Prophecy Girl
Another strange way of reframing a shot. Not only we lose information at the bottom, but we get to see more of the ceiling, instead of Xander. Very occasional cropping might be acceptable, but only if the new framing tries to match the original shot as much as possible. That isn't the case here.
2x10 What's My Line II
How to destroy the whole impact of a scene. The width is not fully used, and we lose a lot of the scenery and mise-en-scene. We can imagine that the team behind the remastering could have created black borders to keep the original shot in its entirety.
In Innocence, we lose Angelus' grip on Willow's neck, the whole scene is almost entirely cropped. But in Passion, the "previously" segment has the same shot (and others) without cropping. The shots are only a few seconds long, and it is very unlikely that they were cropped to hide a "goof".
2x18 Killed by Death
The "previously" of The Gift (widescreen version) has the fully opened-up 16:9 shot. However, in the HD version, the shot is severely zoomed in.
2x19 I Only Have Eyes for You
In this last example, like Angel, the 4:3 width is not used in its entirety. The zoom is ridiculously strong. We go from a wide shot to a close-up. You will find a comparative video of the scene on the BuffyHD Facebook page.
3x22 Graduation Day II
Another terrible example of unnecessary zooming. The width of the original 4:3 frame is once again not used in its entirety. This has been a recurring problem in the first 3 seasons. The region 2 dvds have proven (from the recaps) that most of these scenes can be widescreen without cropping, and the 'goofs' should be painted out digitally.
The classic night bedroom scene from Angel now seems to take place during the day. A special filter was most likely used in 1997 to make the scene look like night time, but wasn't used again for the new HD master. These kinds of mistakes suggest that no one from the original team (cinematographer, editor...) was consulted during the remastering process.
Many fans think that the gothic feel and scary atmosphere of season 1 is lost in the HD version. This scene in the master's lair is a good example, where the brightness would need to be strongly adjusted. The absence of shadows is generally a big problem in the first season, as they were often used to make the use of make-up (vamps, demons) less obvious. The excessive brightness in HD changes the entire tone of many scenes, giving them a very fake appearance.
3x09 The Wish
The dvd version is too dark (crushed blacks), but it is safe to think that the filmmakers did not intend for this dark and disturbing sequence to look so bright.
In the original version, the drowning scene is at night, that is not the case in the remastered episode. The light is very bright while under water, but it is obviously night when Buffy comes out. The scene makes little sense in HD. Also note that the widescreen format reveals that the person drowning Buffy was not Eliza Dushku but SMG's stunt double.
The saturation is all gone, and the image looks very dull. The spell looks a lot less impressive as a result.
1x01 Welcome to the Hellmouth
One example of the severe pink hue from the first episode.
As in Angel (bedroom scene), we can assume that a blue filter was added in the editing room to give a dream-like quality to the scene. But once again, the remastering team failed to use the same filter in HD, and the filmmaker's original intention is lost.
2x04 Inca Mummy Girl
We can only make assumptions, but again, it looks like a bright yellow filter was originally used for this scene, but was neglected in HD. The warm light (almost sun like) that made the scene visually quite unique is now replaced by a greenish tint.
2x08 The Dark Age
It is unclear how much of the yellowish tint was desired at the time, it is in part a consequence of the transfer from film to tape (SD) in the 90s. What is certain is that the change is drastic. The walls of Giles' apartment now appear to be blue instead of green.
The color balance in the dvds might not always be optimal, but at least we know that a black and white film should be... black and white.
One of the worst examples of the color balance being completely wrong. The sunset scene no longer has a sunset.
3x02 Dead Man's Party
A new example of a night scene looking more like daylight, another forgotten filter by the remastering team.
3x04 Beauty and the Beasts
That scene is looking awfully bright (and sunny) for a vampire.
3x12 Bad Girls
The presence of an orange looking filter is a recurring problem in the remastered season 3, especially in this episode, and in Anne and Helpless.
3x13 The Zeppo
Another odd color change, the purple look of several scenes, very striking in this one.
3x20 The Prom
Even the sunlight is now purple.
Yes, that is a crew member in the shot! It was no big deal at the time, the show was not being protected for widescreen. But if Fox is so determined to make it 16:9, the least they can do is fix these kinds of "mistakes". A slight zoom would easily make the crew member disappear from the frame. This is one of the most obvious mistakes, but the widescreen version is full of little ones, which we hope will be fixed in the potential Blu-Ray version.
1x12 Prophecy Girl
Perhaps one of the worst 16:9 mistakes so far. We can see the Master speak on the left of the screen when he's supposed to have disappeared. A second later, Buffy looks in all directions looking for him, looking a bit silly in widescreen HD.
1x12 Prophecy Girl
The fluorescent green pillar is pretty distracting. But what about the light projector just above it?
2x19 I Only Have Eyes for You
We prefer to ignore why Buffy has a lighting equipment in her bedroom.
3x21 Graduation Day I
Let's be honest, you can already spot the white t-shirt of the crew member in the dvd version (for a fraction of a second), but he wasn't visible in the original broadcast because of the overscan of CRT TVs. Having the whole camera and crew filming the scene, that is less difficult to miss!
The new editor even used the wrong takes in "Prophecy Girl" (1x12), see the video comparison: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wrMACuwzIwA
These are just a few examples, there are many more. All the widescreen 'goofs' (C-stands, sync problems etc...) should either be fixed by a slight zoom-in or be painted out digitally (the way HBO did for The Wire's HD). Severe cropping should be avoided at all costs.
SPECIAL EFFECTS ISSUES:
Some special effects (CGI) have been redone. Will they all be in the future? Hard to say. But what we have seen so far is problematic. If we can be grateful that Fox is spending the money to remake some of the effects, it's a shame they are not trying to match the original style. The vampire dusting effect looks far different from the original one, some say the vamps now seem to turn to smoke rather than dust. We can't expect the new effect to look identical, it is being remade from scratch, but there doesn't seem to be a real intention to match what was done at the time. The effect is being reinvented, rather than re-rendered. You can have a look at this gif for one of the most striking examples:
Yes, they did stretch that shot. The box is completely flattened. The same thing happens later in the episode and again in the season finale.
3x21 Graduation Day I
And yes, the truck in which Faith falls into is gone from this shot. This is probably a case of a composite-shot that the remastering team didn't bother to recreate.
While the new dusting effect remains very disappointing, Fox did a good job with most of the other CGI effects, which are fairly close to the originals. Here's an example of some nicely re-rendered special effects from episode 2x08: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mVRWohuppEM
It would also seem that the team found the original CGI files starting episode 2x06, as the dusting effect finally looks like it should in HD. The issue is with episode 1x01 to 2x05. Note also that a good portion of the special effects (including dusting) have been upscaled from SD (sometimes very poorly).
You can watch the video comparisons for more new special effects, some good, some bad:
Note that one special effect from episode 2x04 (Ampata's hand) is missing in HD.
VIDEO COMPARISONS LINKS:
So you can get a better idea of most issues in this new HD version.
PART THREE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=moIbkDDKwYE
PART FOUR: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Qq9rxms1I4
We prefer not to linger on the DNR-aspect of the image. Remember, DNR stands for Digital Noise Reduction. It is used to reduce the presence of the film's natural grain. In excess, it can lead to a plastic appearance. From what we have seen of this remastering, the first two seasons of "Buffy" suffers from a severe lack of grain.
We can only hope that the HD version aired on Pivot is a very rough draft, and that a potential Blu-Ray release will fix all of the issues. Some episodes show a real potential for "Buffy" to look very good in high definition. We shouldn't dismiss the HD transfer entirely, it gets some things right: most of the new CGI effects look very good (see episode 1x08 or 2x08) and some of the dusting effects are properly re-rendered starting episode 2x06, a few technical goofs from the 4:3 version have been fixed/cropped (episode 1x11 and 2x02), and several scenes do look much better in terms of color (mostly in the first half of season 2). We couldn't find a single episode free of issues (mostly cropping), but episodes 1x08, 1x11 and 2x11 are probably the best in the first 2 seasons, as the cropping was minimal and the framing fairly close to the original.
But the ridiculous amount of issues in this new version is still very worrying, especially when it comes to reframing shots. Joss Whedon and other members of the original team (David Fury, Steven DeKnight...) have expressed their outrage through their Twitter accounts. But Fox Studios declined to comment.
ORIGINAL TEAM'S TWEETS:
STEVEN DEKNIGHT: https://twitter.com/stevendeknight/status/546819765994799104
That's why you still need to get the word out, share this article as much as you can, and the show might get the royal HD treatment it deserves.
Non-exhaustive list of articles published in the media:
French translation of the article: