It’s been more than two years since the high-definition version of the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer aired for the first time in the US. It’s now available on Netflix US and was broadcasted in France earlier this year on the 6ter channel and in other countries. Some of you might already know that this HD conversion is the most controversial of all that’s been done for TV shows in the past years. We’ll be brief but, if you want to know more about the topic, we advise you to go to the Facebook page called Buffy HD. You’ll find two articles, some videos and personal edits, a list of ‘goofs’, the original team’s reactions and much more.
One of the worst issues to mention is the overuse of Digital Noise Reduction (DNR) which is used to reduce the presence of the film’s natural grain. In this case, it causes a plastic/waxy look to the point where the HD quality of the 16mm and 35mm films look almost non-existent.
One of the major changes is the original aspect ratio alteration. Joss Whedon, creator of the series and most recently director of the two Avengers movies, said that “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 [the 4:3 aspect ratio] is the purest way to watch Buffy.” However, Fox seems to think that the 16:9 format is more appropriate for the current market. Unlike The X-Files’s remastering, internationally released on Blu-Ray last December, Buffy’s framing is all over the place. These exemples show some severe cropping of picture (green areas) and the extra information gained by the HD version’s wide format (red areas). There are many different cases. The shot can be fully opened (meaning: the original height isn’t cropped at all), or opened on one side but cropped on the other, or with more/less headroom but less/more picture at the bottom, and the worst of all: cropped on all four sides (for no reason at all most of time)! Unfortunately, the last case is the most recurring one, especially in seasons 4, 6 and 7.
The first 7 episodes from season 1 are cropped inside the 4:3 frame, with the exception of some shots. It means that we are losing the top and bottom of each frame to fill the screen. These framing differences will affect the impact of the scene, like the shot on the new high school in season 7 which is a lot less impressive in HD. Moreover, zooming-in like this means that the picture’s resolution is much lower than the native High Definition, as the negatives were probably scanned at 2K resolution! So, a huge amount of shots are, in fact, upscaled from something close to standard definition.
As for the widescreen ‘goofs’, the Facebook page has found about 80 of them in the first three seasons! There aren’t many mistakes in seasons 4-7 since they have been cropped.
Other than the format, the picture is also affected by many issues. Firstly, the colors aren’t faithfully re-rendered at all. Of course, the limits of technology back in the 90’s and early 00’s probably gave a more yellowish look than what was desired at the time. That is a problem that the Illuminate company dealt with during the remastering of The X-Files, which is also a 20th Century Fox show. Now, the colors are more vivid but still faithful to the original version. This is clearly not Buffy’s case. The HD version suffers from terrible differences: a real lack of saturation (season 4 is badly desaturated for example), the gamma is almost never adjusted, it’s too high or too low, many color filters are missing, a real lack of yellow for almost the whole show (season 6 is pinkish!) and so on.
Some shots are also upscaled from the SD version. There are a couple of reasons: the original negatives were lost or there is a CGI effect in the shot. Sometimes, it happens for no reason since the shots are in HD in the episode but are upscaled later in the recaps. The way those shots are upscaled is often dreadful as well. Many of the upscaled shots suffer from heavy edge enhancement. That makes those shots look even worse in quality compared to the HD shots. Many of the insert exterior shots (the Summers’ house, the church in The Prom…) also suffer from terrible edge enhancement. On top of that, the Digital Noise is also heavily used.
In conclusion, we can say that this HD version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is pretty much a disaster, as it is clear that Fox studios tried to remaster the show in the cheapest way possible, and it really shows. Several original team members have agreed to comment on the subject through social media. None of them have been contacted to participate in the remastering process of the show.
It’s a shame to have all of my work thrown in the garbage. I tried to give Buffy a texture that would turn a teeny bopper show into a serious dramatic presentation. Alas, once any piece of art leaves the artists hands, control is lost. Sorry everyone can’t see the work in it’s original incarnation.» – Michael Gershman (Director of Photography and Director of 10 episodes including « Passion » and « This Year’s Girl »)
After we delivered the 4:3 air master I would sit down and watch the 16:9 version and take notes and do blowups and repos where necessary to avoid crew, equipment and ends of sets in shots. We called these the “16X9 safe masters” and archived them with everything else. I thought these were pretty cool to watch, the problem is when they went back to negative for the HD rexfer in this latest release it looks like they did not consult the original for either color timing or re-framing reference. – Brian Wankum (Post-production supervisor)
Mike Gershman (our Director of Photography) worked extremely hard to create a dark look for the show and the people who did this transfer really ruined that. Not only did the darkness help to hide stunt doubles, but it gave the show a creepy feel that was needed to carry the stories forward. They should have consulted him about this. I’m not trying to put anyone down here. I’m only saying that turning over color correction to a gang of spider monkeys is not the way I would go. They don’t seem to care about the look of anything and they leave the room smelling like monkey urine. Just sayin’. 🙂 – Jeff Pruitt (Buffy’s stunt coordinator during seasons 2, 3 and 4)
People are angry about the piss poor widescreen transfer of BTVS that airs on Pivot. It’s an embarrassing mess. – David Fury (Writer/Producer)
At this time, many fans are puzzled by the lack of reaction from Joss Whedon who recently said that Buffy was still the project of him he was the proudest of. Several showrunners have been invested in the remastering process of their TV shows, like David Simon for The Wire, who helped converting his show to 16:9 when it was like Buffy originally framed for 4:3 only. Fox has declined to comment two years ago, and continues to spread the HD version worldwide despite the growing number of complaints.