I must admit that when it comes to HD I’m a late comer, at least where my private viewing pleasure is concerned. Which is nothing short of weird, given that in my professional life of course we are pointing out the advantages of higher res footage whenever we can to our clients and already the world is on a rampage towards 4K because HD doesn’t seem good enough anymore.
There’s some good reasons for my holding back, though. Long before anyone could ever dream of HD, I already had a sizable DVD collection and I’m not gonna buy all of that over again. It’s not just a matter of money, but ultimately I find I’m watching some films regularly and repeatedly while others catch dust on the shelf after their first screening, including my favorite series. Not much point in adding more relics to the pile. Furthermore, and that’s probably the more important reason, like everyone I have some favorite genres and kinds of movies, but amongst them is not necessarily much that would require HD. Okay, I can admit that I occasionally drag out The Matrix movies and even Star Wars and even enjoy them in an odd way, yet on some level I prefer stuff that has a "real story" and at least a hint of intelligence. A turd like Ironman will remain a turd despite explosions perhaps looking more impressive in XXL while on the other hand a brilliant movie like Schindler’s List will touch you even when compressed as the most crappy YouTube video at half the original DVD resolution.
All that being said, there is one thing that always has bothered me – how bad some of my favorite movies and series look. Not because they are just your normal PAL/ NTSC, but how they were produced on a budget and somewhere down the line they degraded so heavily, they missed their chance to really look great, whether it’s the CG stuff in Babylon 5 looking all a bit too simplistic and plastic-y or the extremely skewed colors in Star Trek – The Next Generation, which made the red uniforms look more like a dark purple/ lilac. Thankfully, and that’s another of those weird coincidences, the limitations of the time that prompted them to work on video to do effects digitally now turn into a saving grace. While the excitement about the video revolution in the late 80s and early 90s may have had them do all their post-production electronically, the original plates were shot on good old chemical film. This now allows this footage to be re-digitised, cleaned up and finally be presented in a manner like it was probably meant to be. That has now happened for a selection of episodes as an appetizer and I must say I’m more than pleased with the result.
I watched The Inner Light right away. Especially the richness of the colors is amazing and you do notice background details that you did not see before. However, you have to keep in mind that this is still a product aimed at the television market at the time. The framing is still 4:3 and the composition of most shots is molded to fit that. You couldn’t crop them to 16:9 no matter how much you wanted without destroying valuable scenery. Likewise, there is the occasional bit of defocus, which may not have been critical back then, but will only show up now. Conversely, the higher resolution will make some of the production design and make-up work look a bit crude and unsophisticated. Unlike in today’s series like Battlestar Galactica you won’t find microscopic stenciling and display readouts just to please fanboys with a "Please do not fart in the turbolift" somewhere. Still, TNG never looked that good and I’m already looking forward to the first full season…