Five Wrongos

The Guardian‘s Shane Danielson took issue today with a sentiment I posted on 8.13 about the extraordinary clarity in the forthcoming Psycho Bluray (which has already been released in England).

I said I “love being able to see stuff that you weren’t intended to see” — like the pancake makeup on Martin Balsam’s face in a certain closeup — “but which Blu-ray has now revealed.” Danielson says he’d prefer it if Bluray transfers looked less exacting and more celluloid-y. Okay, but he gets too many things wrong in the piece.

One, he says my article appeared “last week.” Today is Tuesday, 8.31, so it actually appeared not last week nor the week before but 19 days or two and a half weeks ago.

Two, Danielson gives Balsam a new first name — “Robert.”

Three, he claims that “the Blu-ray edition of Paramount’s 1953 War of the Worlds has given fans much anguish, with the wires holding up the Martian spaceships now clearly visible in almost every shot.” Except there’s no Bluray of George Pal’s 1953 classic. The wires are, however, clearly visible on the 2005 DVD.

Four, Danielson complains that while watching Robert Harris‘s Bluray restoration of The Godfather trilogy two years ago in a Times Square Virgin Megastore that it had “a precision to the images, a sort of hyperreal clarity, that didn’t jibe with my memory of having watched the film, either in the cinema or at home.” In fact Harris worked on the trilogy with dp Gordon Willis and produced one of the most celluloidy-looking Blurays in history. And two, as Harris said this afternoon, “He was probably looking at it on a crappy monitor with the color and contrast pumped to the hilt…don’t watch these films at electronic consumer superstores.”

And five, he asks what the difference is between Warner Home Video technicians digitally erasing the wires holding up the Cowardly Lion’s tail in The Wizard of Oz and George Lucas‘s much-maligned ‘fix-ups’ to the original Star Wars trilogy? The standard, says Harris, is original viewing standards. “if 1939 audiences didn’t see the wires when they saw The Wizard of Oz in theatres, then present-day audiences shouldn’t see them on the Blu-ray.” The line isn’t as clear with Star Wars, but if Greedo didn’t shoot first in the original 1977 version then he shouldn’t shoot first (or simultaneously) in the digitally revised version. Simple.

22 thoughts on “Five Wrongos

  1. What should Blu-Ray do – replicate the theatrical experience (with a pristine film copy, with a fully-lit projector), or use technical means to tweak the image to digital perfection (sharper / less-grainy / more saturated). This question has yet to be settled in my mind, despite how strongly our resident expert may feel about it.

    I am firmly behind the former case, except when the artists responsible for the original film [director / cinematographer] decide that their vision was somehow limited by the available film stock and that they have the ability to make it better match their intent. And yet, even that can go wrong [though is any one really arguing that the work on the Blu-Ray for The French Connection was done to correct for film stock limitations?].

  2. Those are some pretty significant wrongos for anyone considering himself a journalist, most damningly the one about the BluRay of War of the Worlds. It’s astounding that this guy can’t even be bothered to put in the footwork to check the most basic of facts.

  3. Equating erasure of wires with George Lucas’ Star Wars tampering? Really? Had George just cleaned up the image and erased matte lines, etc., I’d have been on board 100% But that’s in no way, shape, or form what he did. Making this kind of comparison pretty much kills his whole argument.

  4. “Those are some pretty significant wrongos for anyone considering himself a journalist, most damningly the one about the BluRay of War of the Worlds. It’s astounding that this guy can’t even be bothered to put in the footwork to check the most basic of facts.”

    Sums up the Guardian’s film coverage in general. Utterly useless. I swear they just get random staffers from other departments to file articles during their lunch break.

  5. What Rich says. To borrow a phrase, those Lucas vs. standard tweaking comparisons don’t park in the same garage.

    Hell, they don’t park in the same state.

  6. The man sounds like a royal tool.

    And I have endless problems with crap like this “”a precision to the images, a sort of hyperreal clarity, that didn’t jibe with my memory of having watched the film, either in the cinema or at home.” Sorry your fuzzy memories that were informed by god knows how many shitty viewing experiences weren’t validated while you strolled trough Virgin Megastore, the pinnacle of a/v presentations.

  7. Wells, I’m curious, how does Harris’s belief that “if 1939 audiences didn’t see the wires when they saw The Wizard of Oz in theatres, then present-day audiences shouldn’t see them on the Blu-ray,” jibe with you loving seeing things like the pancake makeup on an actor’s face? Doesn’t that fall into the same category? Or am I missing something?

  8. I don’t care. I just love my pancake, any way I can get it. No logic to it. Well, actually there is. I love super-sharp clarity. if it reveals a little pancake, fine. If it doesn;t reveal pancake, fine.

  9. But if you really love the pancake, then you gotta love the wires too.

    Erase the wires, soften the shot just enough to hide the pancake, and stop Greedo from shooting first!

  10. Personally, I’m for every format’s tagline – “see them the way they were meant to be seen”. Which, to me, is how the director intended – sans wires, pancakes, etc. The Holy Trilogy is another league, but I don’t want to see the special effects; I want to see the movie.

    Now, it would be cool if on the Blu-Ray there could be a “naked” version of the movie, with all of the wires, but that would be too logical for the studios to do. Because then everyone would be satisfied, and these arguments wouldn’t exist.

  11. I was really surprised by this piece. Danielson was an entertaining host during his stint at the Edinburgh Film Festival and generally clued up. This article was bordering on the moronic though.

  12. Who wants Blu-ray, when the studios are already preparing to sell us movies at an even higher definition? 2K and 4K masters and monitors are routine in the SFX business, plus they’re already available to consumers in Japan.

  13. How about a version where you get to see the “full frame” of the negative, which is normally cropped on the top and bottom in the projector? I’ve read stories where things that were not meant to be in the frame (boom mics above, exposed pubic hair (!) below) make it onto a theater screen when the projectionist set things up wrong.

    No, I’m not actually advocating that this be done in general, but I’d be curious to see it demonstrated in an extra feature. Perhaps our resident aspect ratio experts can weigh in how often this needs to be done – every film, or just certain ones?

  14. “Who wants Blu-ray, when the studios are already preparing to sell us movies at an even higher definition? 2K and 4K masters and monitors are routine in the SFX business, plus they’re already available to consumers in Japan.”

    2K is 2048×1152. Compare that to Blu-ray, which delivers 1920×1080. I don’t think you could launch a new format based on a difference that slight. :)

    I don’t think we’ll be seeing a 4K format anytime soon. Look at the staggering incompetence of the launch of 3D Blu-ray discs. Almost every title out there is available exclusively through a single TV manufacturer. If you buy a new TV, you’ll get a shiny new disc like Coraline, but if you want watch, say, How to Train Your Dragon in 3D, you’re S.O.L. You either have to buy a new ‘starter pack’ for a few hundred bucks or get a copy off eBay for a several hundred percentage markup.

    When Blu-ray launched, there were already oodles of HDTVs in the market, and the studios had been mastering in HD for ages anyway. With 4K, they’re starting pretty much from scratch. No TVs. Not that many 4K masters to use as a source. Very, very far into diminishing returns for most consumers, I’d imagine. Even if they decided to greenlight it now, it’d take at least a few years to finalize the format, prepare it for launch, etc.

    When you can get a Blu-ray player now for under a hundred bucks, why wait?

  15. Another example this brings to mind is the Blu-Ray discs for the original “Star Trek” TV series. In some episodes you can now see that some uniforms are made of different material. On TV, they appear as identical, but Blu-Ray now allows us to see the detail present in the original film stock. It wasn’t sloppy work on their part, they were just dressing the set for how it would look on standard definition TV. Just look at the makeup from old silent movies – ridiculous and not remotely realistic! Imagine if we could see Nosferatu in color, and in HD, it would look absolutely ridiculous, and I wouldn’t consider such a release to be faithful to the original artists.

  16. A (partial) mea culpa: the Blu-ray ‘War of the Worlds’ thing came from a friend in NY who first alerted me to your original article, and complained to me about his blu-ray WotW disc, knowing the excessive clarity of the medium’s been something of a bugbear of mine.

    I emailed him when I saw the comments above yesterday, and he just got back to me with a sheepish (and I quote): “ah shit, it IS just a regular disc/not b-r. sorry!!!” Thanks a lot, Jim.

    Doesn’t excuse me not checking it for myself, though. And fuck knows why I wrote Robert Balsam. I’m clearly just an idiot. (Though Robert is a nicer name than Martin.)

    As for the ‘yesterday’ comment, I wrote my piece the day after yours appeared; the Guardian just didn’t run it for almost two weeks. Not much I can do about that. I assumed their subs would change the time reference, but no.

    4 and 5 are a matter of opinion and experience, not errors of fact. Accordingly, I stand by both.

    But I’d take your criticisms a little more seriously, Jeff, if you hadn’t made a rather glaring ‘wrongo’ of your own: my surname is spelled Danielsen, not Danielson. As you’ll see from the original Guardian article.

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