Are our expectations for DVD transfers unrealistic?

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Thomas T, Dec 21, 2005.

  1. Thomas T

    Thomas T Cinematographer

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    Now I'm not talking about abominations like Fox's recent Oklahoma (the Todd AO version) or their previous edge enhanced to death Sound Of Music which are poor transfers and deserve to be nailed.

    I'm talking about perfectly decent acceptable transfers that are attacked because they have -gasp- a few visible scratches, flecks, reel change marks, "excessive" grain etc. I found the recent King Kong quite nice but was surprised to see some complaints about the transfer and I thought the Matt Helm films looked fine. Just my two cents but I find it unrealistic to expect EVERY classic (newer films rarely have such complaints) DVD to be airbrushed, digitized and generally worked over until they no longer resemble the movie they once were. The Matt Helm films are a case in point. They're pretty cheesy looking on DVD but honestly to those of us old enough to have seen them in theatres originally they looked pretty cheesy then, too! I won't even go to complaints about transfers like McCabe And Mrs. Miller that say it's too grainy and too dark when that's what Altman delivered in the first place!

    It will be interesting to see the complaints when some of these films hit the HD format. If a film has a dark and grainy look, the HD format isn't going to make it disappear.

    Just throwing it out for discussion.
     
  2. Jake Yenor

    Jake Yenor Stunt Coordinator

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    Agreed. Just because Revenge of the Sith has perfect picture quality does not mean it is possible for films 50+ older than it to have such quality.
     
  3. Russell G

    Russell G Fake Shemp

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    I think it's unrealistic as well. This is the main reason that I'm not all that excited for HD. I find that I prefer older films, and as such, if one of the leading film restorers considers a DVD transfer to be representitive of the film image, than how is HD going to improve that, other than add artificial sharpness?

    HD-DVD is deffinately the wave of the future for many current and upcoming films, particularly ones shot in the format, but I'm generally pleased with what we have.
     
  4. Patrick McCart

    Patrick McCart Lead Actor

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    I think a lot of people are just too unreasonable about measuring the quality of a DVD.

    There's no logical reason to rate everything in an absolute way. Revenge of the Sith and Attack of the Clones were shot in HD video.

    My hope is for reviewers (and consumers) to rate every film on its own. For example, Oklahoma! (Todd-AO version) has no relation with how it should look. It's out of focus, DVNR'ed to death, and has poor color timing. THAT is something that needs an F. On the other hand, you have Rear Window (shot a year earlier) that looks nearly exactly the way it should. It has a grain texture and slight thickness that has always been there due to the Eastmancolor stock of the time. Yet, on the Masterpiece Collection version... it's sharp as a tack. Loads of detail, excellent color, no digital artifacts, no messing around with the grain. So what if it doesn't look like video? Only HD video is going to look like HD video, so there's NO comparison.

    I'm even more shocked at how some of the most flawless DVD transfers have unjustified criticsm. Gone with the Wind (SE) and The Wizard of Oz (2/3-disc) look stunning and have an incredible level of sharpness. The color timing on both make the films have real depth. The older DVD's looked flat and dull.

    This is what you have to consider about measuring the true quality of a DVD:

    - Is the film unnecessarily grainy?

    Paramount's DVD of To Catch a Thief looks nothing like VistaVision. Even if the negative is useless, there ARE alternatives. Warner Bros. had to restore High Society from VistaVision B&W separations... while it does have a hint of grain, it's nowhere near as grainy and it's sharp as a tack. It's also important to keep in mind how the film should look. John Cassevetes's Shadows was shot in B&W 16mm, so it will always look grainy. However, if one looks at Criterion's DVD, you'll notice how sharp the image is, with the grain. The new 16x9 Psycho (in the Hitch Masterpiece set) was too grainy. Well, look at the sharpness. For example, the shot of the cop looking into Marion Crane's car is so sharp, you can see every pore on his face. Grain remains sharp instead of clumpy. I have no idea on the background of the film elements, but Columbia's The Gods Must Be Crazy looks like a duplicate negative. Perhaps it has to do with being a South African film, but I honestly don't know why a 1980 film would look that bad.

    - Is there unnecessary digital enhancement?

    It's annoying to see DVNR and edge enhancement applied to films that don't need it. Is there really a reason why a 65mm film like Lawrence of Arabia needs two layers of edge enhancement? There are shots in the Superbit version with none of this enhancement and they look like flawless. Gangs of New York, a 2002 film, has a huge amount of edge enhancement. Why was this needed? Sort of a combination of both this and the above question... apparently, Disney had Lowry Digital Images clean up Mary Poppins (for the SE) from a duplicate negative made from color separations. You can see how awful the contrast is. Even worse, the grain reduction was so severe, in fast-moving scenes, faces literally smear to nothing. One shot of Michael Banks shows him moving his head to the side quickly... his cheeks turn into a mass of smears!

    - Are there avoidable authoring/mastering problems?

    Two things that annoy me greatly are the use of interlaced or PAL-converted masters when they're not even needed. Also, poor compression that's not needed. Metropolis, given a 2K digital restoration, comes to Region 1 in the form of a single-disc, PAL-converted, interlaced DVD. Honestly, what's the point? Same thing for the MK2/Warner Chaplin DVD's. MK2 restored Modern Times and The Great Dictator at 2K digital. The rest at HD resolution. They supply Warner Home Video with NTSC masters made from PAL. Budget isn't an excuse. Kino rarely encodes progressive (the only two I've seen are Seven Chances and The Old Dark House). Film Preservation Associates was able to encode a large amount of shorts on the Slapstick Encyclopedia as progressive. David Shepard did the same for all the Chaplins he worked on in 1992 (later adapted for DVD in 2000) that didn't require speed changes. Even Koch Lorber was able to interpolate the PAL version of La Dolce Vita into 24fps progressive for their DVD.

    More about compression.. I love it when studios will spread out films. All 25 discs of Warner's and Universal's Hitchcock sets are dual-layered and high bitrate. Psycho has an avg. bitrate of around 8 mbs! However, I really think any films hovering around 3 hours need to be split across two discs. Even if they don't have intermissions. Warner Bros. did this with Around the World in 80 Days, Ben-Hur: SE, Gone with the Wind: SE... Columbia with the Lawrence of Arabia: Superbit. However, Kino put nearly 4 hours of video on both The Birth of a Nation (2-disc) and Intolerance (SE)! The BOAN 2nd disc is only single-layered, so they could have split the film across the two discs. Intolerance should have been 2-disc, as well. Apocalypse Now Redux has nearly 3 1/2 hours on the disc! On the other hand... Criterion used two DVD-9's for their Stan Brakhage set... which has only about 5 hours of video. The Walt Disney Treasures sets have at the most 5 hours and 45 minutes (Mickey in Color II) across two DVD-9's. Warner's Looney Tunes collections are on all DVD-9's.. even when only about 8 hours of video are spread across the four discs. Even Criterion had made foul-ups. The Passion of Joan of Arc features about two hours of video... but because of the high amount of grain and damage on the film, the avg. bitrate is only about 4.5 mbs!

    - Know what is built-in on a film element

    A lot of people just don't understand why films will have imperfections. For examples, opticals are almost always going to be grainier and dirtier. It's built in. Even a film transfered from the original negative (or a new positive made from it) will have variances. For example, the new "M" Special Edition which was largely restored from the original camera negative. A lot of transfers get criticized for being too soft. For example, films like M*A*S*H and Superman: The Movie were shot largely with filters and soft focus for artistic purposes. This carries on to TV... there was outcry over an episode of The X-Files that had a seemingly awful transfer. It turns out that it was an artifact of the filming style (it was filmed in 4 takes, which probably means it was shot on video). A lot of 1930's/1940's films have soft focus on the beautiful female leads (i.e. Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca). That's how it looks. You wouldn't all pores and wrinkles visible.

    - Consideration for limits of film restoration

    A lot of films will never look perfect. Most camera negatives to the Paramount 1929-1949 films are lost (minus most of the Technicolor films). However, it's important to understand that something is the best it can look. For example, Universal fully restored Duck Soup (Marx Brothers) from an original fine-grain positive. As a result, the box set remaster looks amazing... sharp, excellent grayscale, and a good amount of grain. Universal obviously applied a large amount of manual dirt/scratch removal. The Cocoanuts, also in the set, contains a mix of fine-grain positive, dupe negative, and 16mm. Yeah, it's variable in quality... but the detail is there. No matter how flawed a transfer is, if you can see fine detail, it's a good indicator of how much attention was given to a film. Even Sunrise, which survives only as a 4th generation positive, has sharp grain and great details. For example, check out the scene in the photographer's studio. The ridges on the lampshade in his studio are sharp and defined. Anyone can do that with an HD-sourced movie.


    I know this is long-winded, but the only way to enjoy movies is to realize they are historical artifacts. The Mona Lisa has crackles due to the wood it was painted on being warped. But those brushstrokes and details can be seen.

    These HD origin movies are going to look pretty average once 4K comes, though. At the same time, we'll have large format films shot in VistaVision and 65mm that will cause much drooling during viewing... something that the soft, detail-free HD movies won't offer. [​IMG]
     
  5. Travis Brashear

    Travis Brashear Screenwriter

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    Patrick, I only have two issues with your otherwise authoritative post; one, APOCALYPSE NOW REDUX looks, to my eye, extraordinary, so who cares about the single/double disc issue for lengthy films if the mastering is done as carefully as it was in that case? Secondly, the issue with the episode of THE X-FILES ("Triangle") is that it was proven by disappointed fans to have looked substantially better during its original broadcast than the sketchy, low-res version featured on the DVD, so the studio's claim that the DVD represented the creators' intentions didn't, and still doesn't, seem to pass muster.
     
  6. TravisR

    TravisR Studio Mogul

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    Plus, the opening credit sequence looks as bad as the episode and that wasn't shot the same way as the episode was shot. If the episode was intended to have that (horrible) look, the opening and end credit sequences would still have the same look as it always does and the episode would have its own look. As it stands, both the episode and the credit sequences look terrible.
     
  7. Larry Sutliff

    Larry Sutliff Cinematographer

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    I agree with the title of this thread. Believe me, this forum is a paradise compared to some others, where I've seen constant complaining about the KONG DVD. A lot of people just don't want to take into consideration the fact that original elements don't exist for this film anymore, and expect miracles. You can't get blood from a stone, and the new KONG DVD is probably as good as the film is ever going to look. That's just one example, there are several others I could comment on.

    Excellent post, Patrick.
     
  8. Patrick McCart

    Patrick McCart Lead Actor

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    It looks very good, but it's crawling with compression artifacts. Look at the opening shot more closely and you'll see that the grain is really blocky.


    About "Triangle": I'm not familiar with the series at all, so I'll take that as a correction. Although, it's hard to judge how quality is on the original broadcast, since cable or satellite hides a lot of artifacts. Once you put something like that on DVD, without the bandwidth restrictions of those, everything is visible.
     
  9. Doug Otte

    Doug Otte Supporting Actor

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    Russell, I think the restoration experts sometimes say that the HD master used for a DVD is representative of the film, but transfering it to DVD requires that the resolution be reduced. Because film has a much higher resolution than DVD or even HD-DVD, and because the HD master used to make the DVD has a higher resolution than a DVD, I'm sure we'll see much higher resolution on an HD-DVD than a DVD (caveats being that the restoration and mastering were done properly).

    Regards,
    Doug
     
  10. Randy Korstick

    Randy Korstick Producer

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    Great point about the Matt Helm films. After the early reviews I was expecting the worst but after seeing them I have to say I'm very pleased with the release and they look by far the best I have ever seen them. I have had them on VHS, TV recordings and Laserdisc and they looked far worse on all those formats. And they are in Widescreen for the 1st time.
     
  11. Shane Martin

    Shane Martin Producer

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    I don't know that folks are unrealistic as much as they are spoiled with how good some newer movies look and how some older movies have been restored to look.
     
  12. Eric Huffstutler

    Eric Huffstutler Screenwriter

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    I also agree that some (not all) people have too high of expectation for films, especially older ones. High Definition filming is only a recent development and not every studio or producer used the same film stock or grain so... you have varied quality. It is unrealistic to expect a 50 year old movie to look like it was shot in HD and it will never look that way because it was shot on film. I must admit though that some more recent releases of older films (Columbia-Tristar comes to mind) that have been released as "Remastered in High Definition" to have a striking picture even on non HD televisions. But blow the picture up and you will still see grain.
     
  13. Jack Briggs

    Jack Briggs Executive Producer

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    In my opinion, this is the best current thread happening at HTF. Nice. Carry on.
     
  14. David James

    David James Stunt Coordinator

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    DVD transfers, IMO, should accurately reflect what was presented in the theaters, warts and all. It seems that many reviewers base their opinions solely on what they perceive to be a quality picture. I can't say I blame them, however, because I seriously doubt many (if any) can accurately remember what they saw in the theater (although I'm sure many will say they can. Add in the technology and environmental differences in theaters and it becomes almost impossible to know what the picture was "supposed" look like so....

    We end up where we are. Which for me is, I pay little attention to reviewers comments on picture and sound.
     
  15. Russell G

    Russell G Fake Shemp

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    is what concerns me. With all the things added to the current DVDs to make them look better : DVNR, Edge Enhancement, etc, I'm really concerned with what's going to happen with HD, especially on older pictures that have looked soft to begin with. As such, I really can't see myself upgrading most of my DVD's. Of course, I hope I'm wrong and HD actually does look as great as it has the potential to, I'm just not completely sold on it.
     
  16. MarkHastings

    MarkHastings Executive Producer

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    That what's AWESOME about the restoration feature on the Looney Tunes (vol. 3) DVD set.

    They talk about how they restored the color and got rid of the artifacts that appeared through the aging of the film, but they left in all of the 'defects' that were originally scanned in when they shot the cells. [​IMG]
     
  17. David (C)

    David (C) Stunt Coordinator

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    Iā€™m not interested in every title being new penny pristine. However a timerā€™s responsibility is to continue the visual artistic integrity of the source feature.
     
  18. MarkHastings

    MarkHastings Executive Producer

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    Devils Advocate: and that's when unrealistic expectations come into play. Who says that DVD is supposed to mimick the theatrical presentation?
     
  19. Nils Luehrmann

    Nils Luehrmann Producer

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    Most industry experts suggest that you are part of the majority, which is why most are predicting that high definition video will remain a niche product for many more years until both equipment and content are priced near enough to their standard definition counterparts thus adding a much needed incentive for those like yourself who are pleased by the quality of standard definition and perhaps feel it is good enough.
     
  20. JeremyErwin

    JeremyErwin Producer

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    Care to criticize North by Northwest? For a 1959 film, I think it looks pretty damn good, although perhaps I'm not looking at it with a critical eye.
     

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