kottke.org posts about HBO
Back in September, I posted that HBO was remastering The Wire in HD. The company announced they've completed the process; it'll be on HBO Go this month at full-frame 16x9 HD.
HBO announced today that they had completed the high-definition re-mastering of all five seasons of "The Wire," which will debut in December on HBO Signature and HBO Go, be sold in digital HD (through iTunes, Google Play, etc.) starting January 5, and on Blu-ray starting next summer. As the press release notes, "The entire series has been beautifully re-mastered in 16x9 Full-Frame HD from more than 8,000 reels of original 35mm camera negative, allowing for a tighter fit on widescreen TVs and computer/tablet screens. The original negatives were scanned, edited, dust-busted and color-corrected with great care and attention taken to stay true to the look and feel of the original Standard-Definition 4x3 version."
Well, well. That's a welcome change from what I heard about how the show was shot and how they were going to remaster it (chop the top and bottom off the 4x3 frame). David Simon wrote extensively on how he became involved in the remastering process and came up with something to everyone's satisfaction.
To their great credit, once we alerted HBO production executives to our absolute interest in the matter, they halted the fall HD release and allowed us to engage in detail. And over the past several months, looking at some of what the widescreen format offered, three things became entirely clear: First, there were many scenes in which the shot composition is not impaired by the transfer to 16:9, and there are a notable number of scenes that acquire real benefit from playing wide. An example of a scene that benefits would be, say, from the final episode of season two, when an apostolic semicircle of longshoremen forms around the body of Frank Sobotka. Fine as far as it goes, but the dockworkers are all that much more vulnerable, and that much more isolated by the death of their leader when we have the ability to go wider in that rare crane shot.
But there are other scenes, composed for 4:3, that lose some of their purpose and power, to be sure. An early example that caught my eye is a scene from the pilot episode, carefully composed by Bob, in which Wee Bey delivers to D'Angelo a homily on established Barksdale crew tactics. "Don't talk in the car," D'Angelo reluctantly offers to Wee Bey, who stands below a neon sign that declares, "burgers" while D'Angelo, less certain in his standing and performance within the gang, stands beneath a neon label of "chicken."
That shot composition was purposed, and clever, and it works better in the 4:3 version than when the screen is suddenly widened to pick up additional neon to the left of Bey. In such a case, the new aspect ratio's ability to acquire more of the world actually detracts from the intention of the scene and the composition of the shot. For that reason, we elected in the new version to go tighter on the shot in order to maintain some of the previous composition, albeit while coming closer to our backlit characters than the scene requires. It is, indeed, an arguable trade-off, but one that reveals the cost of taking something made in one construct and recasting it for another format. And this scene isn't unique; there are a good number of similar losses in the transfer, as could be expected.
(thx jeff & @jasonsantamaria/)
Update: HBO Signature is currently running a marathon of all the HD episodes. They're also available on HBO Go.
David Simon added some before-and-after video clips to his piece about the HD remastering process showing instances where the wider aspect was beneficial and not-so-beneficial.
Good morning, good morning. Welcome back from your beach vacation. Settling in? Good, good. Let's get right to it then: HBO is remastering The Wire in 16x9 HD and rebroadcasting what looks like every episode on HBO Signature starting this Thursday (Sept 4). Here's a teaser:
We haven't had news to report on HBO's The Wire in a long, long time but this tidbit caught our ear. HBO will be rebroadcasting one of its iconic series: The Wire in never-before-broadcast HD glory! The marathon will begin weeknights at 8PM starting on September 4th. You'll find the episodes on HBO Signature, a channel most, if not all HBO subscribers should have access to.
No idea if these new HD versions will make it to HBO Go or Amazon Instant or even into the mythical The Wire Blu-ray. Hopefully?
Update: A reader writes in:
My friend who works at HBO says they are chopping the top and bottom off the 4 x 3 frame for the early seasons to "fit" 16 x 9. We saw this with FX's Simpsons Marathon and I really wish companies would stop doing this. It wasn't cool to chop the sides off Lawrence of Arabia and it is likewise not cool to chop the head and neck off of Stringer Bell.
Boo. Boo-urns. According to IMDB, only season 5 was shot at 16x9. They should just leave seasons 1-4 at 4x3 and make the picture better. (thx, john)
Update: From an extensive piece on how The Wire was filmed:
And perhaps the final contrast to the rest of high-end episodic television, The Wire for each of its five seasons has been produced in good old fashioned 4 x 3 standard definition. DP Dave Insley recalled, "The reason the show has stayed 4x3 is because David Simon thinks that 4x3 feels more like real life and real television and not like a movie. The show's never been HD, even 4x3 HD and that (SD) is how it is on the DVDs. There is no 16x9 version anywhere." As a viewer with an HD set I will point out that like much of SD television that makes its way to HD channels, it appears that HBO utilizes state-of-the-art line doubling technology. It may still be standard definition, but line doubled it looks considerably better on a high definition set than it would on a standard definition set.
Insley explained, "When the show started 2001 / 2002 they framed it for 16 x 9 as a way of future-proofing. Then a couple of seasons ago, right before Season 4 began shooting, there was a big discussion about it and after much discussion -- David, Nina, Joe Chappelle, the Producers, the DPs -- and we discussed what should be the style of the show. David made the decision that we would stay with 4x3. The DPs pretty much defined the look to be what it is now. And it's been consistent for the past two seasons."
If the chopping down to 16x9 rumors are true, David Simon cannot be happy about that. I wonder how much creative control he maintains over decisions like that? I am guessing very little. (via @tubofguts)
Update: HBO has confirmed the remastering to EW, but says the timeline for airing has not been set yet.
A promo claiming that a "replay marathon" of the series would start September 4 on HBO Signature ran prematurely, HBO said, and the series will not be airing this month.
Today's the day the Amazon/HBO deal kicks in, whereby Prime subscribers can stream huge swaths of HBO's back catalog of shows for free. Currently available shows include Deadwood, The Wire, The Sopranos, and Boardwalk Empire.
HBO is licensing some of their shows exclusively to Amazon for streaming on their Prime Instant Video service. Here's the scoop:
Beginning May 21, Amazon Prime members will have unlimited streaming access to:
- All seasons of revered classics such as The Sopranos, The Wire, Deadwood, Rome and Six Feet Under, and of recent favorites such as Eastbound & Down, Enlightened and Flight of the Conchords
- Epic miniseries, including Angels in America, Band of Brothers, John Adams, The Pacific and Parade's End
- Select seasons of current series such as Boardwalk Empire, Treme and True Blood
Game of Thrones and True Detective are notably absent from the deal. But Amazon Prime subscribers will be able to stream all of the shows above for free. (via deadline)
Mike Judge has a new series coming to HBO in April. It's called Silicon Valley and is about startup culture. Here's a preview:
Girls. Trailer. Third season. HBO. January 12. Lena Dunham. Watch:
I am so excited for this show to return. I don't think I can hide it. It's like I'm about to lose control. Maybe I like that feeling?
Here's the entire first episode of Aaron Sorkin's The Newsroom. You can also watch it on HBO.com but you have to register first. I doubt non-US residents can watch it in either place. Why isn't this embeddable? I don't understand...they don't want more people to watch it? Does the internet girl know?
The first episode of Girls, an eagerly awaited HBO series by executive producer Judd Apatow and writer/director Lena Dunham, is available for free on YouTube (HBO disabled embedding for some dumb reason). HBO plans to do this with Veep next week as well.
HBO is doing a show (or is it a movie?) based on Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections.
With 2 Oscar winners, Chris Cooper and Diane Wiest, already cast as the leads, this was a no-brainer, but it's now official: HBO's drama pilot The Corrections is proceeding to production.
John Hodgman is filming a pilot for an HBO show called Good Evening, My Name is John Hodgman. Jonathan Coulton and Spike Jonze are involved.
THE THEME OF THIS PARTICULAR PROGRAM is "JOCKS vs. NERDS," the culture war of our time, and a subject that you know I have been thinking about for some time now, and also talking about with the PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES.
IN THIS CASE, the "NERD" shall be played by me, John Hodgman, and the "JOCK" shall be played by the New York Jet, NICK MANGOLD, as I confront all of my deepest fears (humiliation/being punched/Nick Mangold) and attempted to learn from him the virtues of jock culture and the rules of football.
And YOU are invited: September 28th in NYC. Tickets are free and they have an unlimited supply because they are filming it in some sort of massive rocket ship hanger. All you Little Hobos (that's what Hodgman calls all his fans) click through for details on how to get your tickets.
HBO is developing a series set 25-40 years in the future when Americans are fleeing the country en masse and settling elsewhere in the world.
In his research for "Americatown," Winters had explored possible nightmare scenarios that could bring the U.S. to a collapse decades down the road, like the price of oil skyrocketing and natural disasters reaching catastrophic proportions. Then suddenly oil hovered near $150 a barrel this summer, floods hit the Midwest and the South and Wall Street crashed under the weight of the mortgage crisis.
(via bygone bureau)
As rumored yesterday, the iTunes Store has added some HBO shows to their lineup. The initial offerings are the first seasons of The Wire, Flight of the Conchords, Rome, and Deadwood, as well as seasons 1 and 6 of the Sopranos and all of Sex in the City. Prices are between $2-3 per episode. (thx, dhrumil)
Found while browsing HBO OnDemand last night: the first 4 episodes of The Sopranos and the entire season 3 of The Wire. Go nuts.
Big Screen Little Screen has some info of the upcoming season of The Wire. It begins Jan 6th and the episodes will appear OnDemand a week early (they did this last year, yes?). The post also contains 5 promos for season 5. Almost here!
Generation Kill is the newest project for HBO from David Simon and Ed Burns, creators of The Wire. It's a 7-hour miniseries based on Marines fighting in the Iraq war. "Gritty mini will look at the early movements of the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion and depict the complex challenges faced by the U.S.-led mission even in the war's early stages." (via crazymonk)
A few years ago, I wrote about the potential hazards of watching time-shifted entertainment. Meg and I were watching a Red Sox-Yankees playoff game on TiVo and were about 20 minutes behind realtime events when Meg's phone rang:
She picked it up and looked at it, distracted by the game and unsure of what to do with it. I immediately realized it was her parents, calling with word of the completed game.
"No, no, don't answer it!" I yelled. "It's your parents! They're calling from the future!"
In promoting season four of The Wire, HBO sent out screener DVDs of the entire season to reviewers. By mid-October, some enterprising person ripped those DVDs and made all season 4 episodes available online, more than a month before the final episode was to be shown on TV. Unfortunately, those early viewers did some Googling about upcoming plot points which ended up in the referer logs of Heaven and Here, a popular blog about The Wire. (Note: if you haven't watched all of season 4, DON'T CLICK THROUGH to Heaven and Here...major spoilers!!) A spoiler-free excerpt:
Finally, I would like to say a few words on spoilers, On-Demand, and the concept of the collective. My big spoiler moment came about halfway through the season, which is rather a lucky break for me considering how much material I have been traversing each week related to the show. It was in the search terms for this very site, and it came in just three words: "[redacted]" It's the image you see for a second, recognize that you don't want to see, and quickly turn away from but can never even hope to forget. [...] I was able to avoid other spoilers, which again is kind of miraculous, but that note rang in my head all season, and it also had to be this ugly secret i kept while discussing the show here and with friends.
Who says time travel hasn't been invented yet?