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Buffy HD campaign a success… on 3 or 4 shots

Posted in Uncategorized by Will on Tuesday, July 14th, 2015 ~ 8pm

Our voices were heard! Fox has made quick fixes to the most egregious errors seen in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer HD / Blu-ray remastering process!

As you may recall, Fox hired a no-name company with no experience to do the remastering of Buffy from the original film elements, and fans campaigned to bring awareness to the ineptitude of the company’s effort so that Fox would take notice. And notice they have!

See sample image below.

I am hopeful they are continuing to fix the errors, but we really don’t know anything beyond the fact that this week’s airing of Buffy on ABC family included several corrected shots – shots that had been ruined by the original remastering team, now done perfectly by the (presumed) new remastering team.

About this campaign: As is my usual method of operation, I didn’t create the BuffyHD facebook page nor do any heavy lifting myself; I simply dashed off an action plan over on the forum where we were discussing the problem (a home video forum where I am known as willbfree) and presented it to a guy who was motivated to enact it. I don’t know his real name either, but he’s the hero in this story. Everyone was ready to do their part, and the effort was joined by super-talented folks who made videos illustrating the problems which got zillions of views on YouTube.

I am so very proud of everyone.

This fan-led effort has been wildly more successful than my iZombie petition, enacted by iZombieObsessed, which has thus far only received 23 votes.

UPDATE: THEY FIXED THOSE FEW SHOTS, AND THEN PROCEEDED TO COMPLETELY RUIN EVERYTHING AFTER THAT. Evidently they used an artificial intelligence to reframe everything, and they had it set incorrectly. The AI was erroneously set to center and crop on any figures in the frame. As such, even the later seasons WHICH WERE ALREADY IN WIDESCREEN were reframed AGAIN, turning wide shots into closeups, and turning medium shots into closeups, and turning closeups into even closer closeups. Fox could easily sue to recover their expenses and hire pros to redo it.

 
The green area shows the original shot – a close-up of Buffy. The remastering program was incorrectly set to zoom in even more. Nearly every shot is like this. By the way, the green part of the frame is courtesy of an earlier DVD release; that’s how we can see what is missing.   Here, the AI recognized a human figure in the frame and automatically centered & zoomed in on it. So instead of being a shot of people in hospital beds, it become a shot of the floor. (Why even build sets?) There are hundreds of shots like this in every episode.

Blu-Ray review: Highlander Endgame, Hong Kong release

Posted in Uncategorized by Will on Friday, June 12th, 2015 ~ 8pm

(My user review of the region free import of Highlander: Endgame)

The Story

Endgame is the first Highlander film to feature both Connor McLeod and Duncan McLeod, but it is not the first time these two highlanders have stood by each other’s sides – the pilot episode of the television series has that honor.

The producers of Endgame seem to have wanted to make up for Connor’s absence from the rest of the tv series by giving fans many flashbacks of Connor and Duncan together, even if it meant that the pace of the film would be a bit languid. The content of the flashbacks is solid though – we see Duncan and Connor both making mistakes across the centuries, which sets up the present day conflict.

When the inevitable super villain threatens impending doom, each of them must try to find forgiveness with those who they’d wronged before it is too late. It is a good, moral story. (The villain himself is suitably loathsome but not too original – a haughty religious figure who now taunts his adversaries with overtly homosexual taunts and exhibits hedonistic tendencies. His cliche is fortunately contrasted with the authentic love that Connor and Duncan express for one another).

It is a story that would have worked better as a season of the tv show rather than as a movie. But in the 1990s television did not have the kind of respect it has today; it is unlikely Christophe Lambert would have made himself available to be a recurring character alongside Adrian Paul in even one season of the tv series. If this had been possible it could have been an incredibly dramatic season.

Taken on its own merits as a single film, Highlander Endgame will remind fans of the tv series of the greatness the tv series sometimes achieved, while it fails to rise to that same level itself. As such it is a bit heartbreaking. And fans of the earlier film series will have their own cause for heartbreak – not only for the ultimate fate of a certain character, but also for the somberness with which that fate is foreshadowed.

Video Quality

This Hong Kong release is region free, with the menu (Play, Scenes, and Setup on a still image of the poster art) in English. Only the Chinese anti-piracy warning belies that this is from Hong Kong.

The encode is poorly done. Temporal noise reduction has been applied amateurishly, causing trails (moving objects smear and leave a trail behind them), especially noticeable in darker scenes. Smoothing (grain removal) has also been applied unprofessionally. Dark scenes should have a visible grain structure since low light shooting tends to be grainy, but someone attempted to eliminate the grain and wiped out all detail. Daytime scenes have also had been overly smoothed, and there is some edge ringing too. Blacks never get deeper than a dull grey, and sometimes break up into blocks.

The scan may also have been poorly done, or it may simply be that scans from 2001 were never expected to be used for anything higher quality than VHS and DVD. The print that was scanned has no obvious dirt or scratches, but the lack of detail and some picture unsteadiness calls for a rescan on modern equipment if this film is ever released on BluRay in the United States.

Additionally, the film suffers from many missing frames. The missing frames aren’t from damage per se – six editors worked on this film trying to make it gel, and I suspect we are seeing edit points that were reconsidered and patched back together.

Another longstanding problem with this film’s visuals is that a very prominent billboard seen throughout a rooftop fight sequence was blurred out after some controversy regarding non-payment for in-film advertising. Once you notice this you can never un-notice it, and this again is something which a restoration of the film should correct. Despite the amateurish blur placed over it, it is clearly an ad for “JVC”. Let it say “JVC” without the blur, please, if this film is ever restored.

Audio Quality

The soundscape is acceptable. Simple surround sounds, appropriate to the scenes, nothing distracting, just a nice wrapping around of the sound. Endgame actually had a rather good musical score, and it sounds fine here.

Dialogue is clear. It remains obvious that all the dialogue in the post-script scene (and one line early in the film) are spoken by someone other than Adrian Paul. The producers who edited this cut of the film must have worked on it after Paul had concluded his part.

Extras

The version of the film presented on this BluRay is what was known as The Producers Cut when it was originally released on DVD in 2001 as part of a 2-disc set. The second disc of that 2-DVD set contained an early rough cut of the film with different scenes. That early rough cut is not included in this BluRay release, indeed there are no extras of any kind. If you have the 2-DVD set, you will want to hang on to it as well. (I actually prefer many of the scenes in the rough cut, and hope that someday the remaining producer will commission a Final Cut of Endgame that will bring some of the best of those missing scenes over.)

Overall

Overall, this is a poor transfer of a film that admirably tried to bring the tv series universe to the big screen, but never achieved the greatness of the tv series. For many fans, this was the final story set in the tv series universe – a sequel shot several years later in the frigid Baltics on an extraordinarily low budget called The Source, which again follows Duncan McLeod, is essentially disowned by all involved.

As the final story told in the tv universe, fans of the tv series will no doubt want Highlander Endgame in their BluRay collection. However, it needs a new scan and a new encode for it to satisfy anyone.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer – Remastered in HD but with many errors!

Posted in Uncategorized by Will on Friday, October 10th, 2014 ~ 10am

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.

An editorial on the iCloud news

Posted in Personal,Uncategorized by Will on Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014 ~ 12pm

Some pundits are saying that the pilfering of photos of female celebrities from their iCloud accounts “all emerge from a culture that endorses the idea that women’s bodies exist for public consumption.” Possibly. But there is another layer, I think, and that layer is the natural attraction people have toward one another, coupled with (or in opposition with) new technology in which one can feel as if they are in a relationship with someone who they have never met. The new technology I speak of is of course films and television (and even stage theatre), which while not “new” to any of us, is very new in terms of our species evolution – a blip.

As we view actors on a screen, we are moved by their performances, and we experience a simulation of the kind of emotional intensity that we presumably only once had with actual familiars. An emotionally intense relationship with someone may lead to sexual intimacy; this is, I believe, what has kept our species alive. This natural possibility of sexual intimacy with familiars is a possibility that is not, under any likely circumstances, going to happen with any of the actors with whom we have experienced emotions. Nor should it, since we are not really “with” the actors. But the simulation is effective, indeed, if it were not there would be no theatre, at least none with the emotional intensity of which we are accustomed, and there would be little interest in the publicity-related appearances of actors either, where we get to notice how multi-faceted the actors are. The simulation of being familiar with these actors is compelling.

Most people have the sense to realize it isn’t real; we are being given a performance, even when an actor appears for publicity-related activities such as talk shows.

It may be that the effort to get intimate photos of actors is done by people who cannot reconcile the emotional intensity they have had “with” these actors with the fact that their “relationship” cannot ever advance to sexual intimacy as it may have if their emotional experiences had occurred in real life with people who they really knew. The absence of the natural possibility may seem strange and unnatural – because it _is_ strange and unnatural – it’s art.

So, some people try to find a way around the impasse, hacking their way into elements that our culture equates with sexual intimacy – nudity.

Logic surely informs them of their error – they know full-well that they are committing a crime by stealing private nude photos, and that their feelings do not a relationship make. Intellect outweighs emotion in our species. It outweighs any natural desires. There is no justifying the crime; no amount of self-delusion could possibly excuse the hacking in anyone except the mentally ill.

But as pundits weigh in on how the motives of the hackers must surely be “vile”, I’d suggest that we not overlook how much natural, indeed “good” emotions may also be a motivation, albeit a motivation that should be undercut by any rational mind on examination of the facts.

Perhaps all of that is obvious, and that is why it hasn’t been discussed much. But in case it wasn’t, I thought I’d jot that down.

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