Earlier this year, Fox decided to remaster Buffy the Vampire Slayer in high definition.
They’ve been getting excellent quality out of the original film elements. But there have been problems.
Remastering tv shows that had been shot on film but edited on videotape in standard definition is a laborious and expensive process that requires finding the original high-quality film elements, scanning them in high-definition, and then editing the shots together in exactly the same way as they’d been edited years before. The result is the show as it was, except now in high-definition. Sometimes studios will opt to recompose the show in widescreen while they are at it.
This process was perfected a couple years ago by Les Dittert’s company Illuminate; their iConform software pours through countless reels of original camera negatives until it finds every strip of film that is needed to rebuild the show. Illuminate was hired to rebuild The X-Files and 24, and they’ve proven themselves to be exceptionally talented at what they do. And when they are asked to reframe a show into widescreen they make careful decisions about how to reframe each and every shot.
But for Buffy, Fox hired some other company. No one knows who exactly; all that is known is that they have no experience. It might have been outsourced to India.
Regretfully, the team doing Buffy – or some amateur on the team – doesn’t like wide and medium shots, and has been turning them into close-ups.
Naturally, the top and bottom of the image must be shorn in order to make the image widescreen, but the left and right sides are also being cut off for no reason at all!
Here is an example from an episode directed by James Whitmore Jr.:
The shots they’ve turned into close-ups can sometimes be seen as medium or wide shots in the “Previously on Buffy…” segments, so we know that it is purely a fetish on the part of someone on the team to discard the full width of the shots – there is no technical reason why the sides of the image are being discarded!
Some samples: On the left, the original show so you can see how much image exists on the sides – area that should have been used in the remastered version. On the right, the remastered version in which the sides have been needlessly cut off. These are the same moment, or within a split-second:
Other frequent errors include the team not noticing when scenes are meant to appear as if they are occurring at night. This scene in Buffy’s bedroom is set at night, but the remastering team didn’t notice and left the color temp and levels at daylight settings:
And sometimes they’re just making bad decisions about framing. Here, they weren’t paying attention to the action, and as a result all the comedy of the moment is gone. They gave Darla too much headroom, and as a result they cut out her playful lifting of her skirt:
Hundreds more examples of the amateur work are being catalogued on BuffyHD on Facebook. There is no question that Fox needs to start again, with a new remastering team – an experienced team, not the unnamed newbies who have been remastering Buffy.
Fans are hoping that some of the various directors and cinematographers who worked on Buffy will contact Fox and ask to be brought in as consultants.