Were movies meant to be this sharp?

Posted on: October 14, 2017

costco tv


It started with a friendly email from a customer with a 60” 4K TV asking about “vertical interlacing” he noticed on the VCI release of “One Million B.C.”, which we are selling on Amazon.


I decided to be scientific and went to a Phoenix Costco to look at the entire line-up of big screen TVs, not just 4K.   There they were — monumentally sharp and bright, featuring sports, travelogues of the Great Wall of China, swimming with dolphins, a “Transformer” movie and “Minions.”


I’d seen these razor sharp monitors before, but only in passing on my way to the DVD/Blu-ray aisles.


For the first 30 years of my career, I QC’d thousands of 16mm and 35mm prints. If they weren’t good, back to the laboratory, they went. The labs accused me of rejecting more prints than other distributors. Probably true. Sure, I couldn’t hold a 1940 independently produced B movie to the same standards as a studio classic. If I did, a good many worthwhile films just wouldn’t be seen.


Holds true today, but now there are all kinds of digital tricks to eliminate or which we used to have to do solely “photochemically” (i.e. on film), not always with satisfactory results.


Digital video noise reduction (DVNR) is the catch-all name for fixing “video noise” such as black or white dirt specs and light scratches, but it can be like walking a tightrope: Too little DVNR and some imperfections remain – too much DVNR and the image looks more like a video game than a movie-movie. Years ago, I got my first taste of DVNR run amok. It was a DVD of the 1933 Boris Karloff thriller, “The Ghoul,” and after five minutes, I was reaching for the X-box controller.


Independent producers usually needed money in hurry, and often used the original negative to make prints – a bad idea — instead of creating elements made for the express purpose of protecting the original negative.   Further, indie productions often changed owners – each interested in making a quick buck — kicking the can down the road inasmuch as preserving film elements was concerned.


The Hal Roach library is a prime example, especially the Laurel and Hardy films — which fortunately are being given gold standard restorations. “One Million B.C.” is a Roach production that changed hands many times, and desperately needed a full restoration, which fortunately it received some years ago by the UCLA Film and Television Archive. This is the version VCI transferred to digital and subsequently made fix-ups to make the movie look even better than the photochemical restoration. This digital master was used to replicate DVDs and Blu-rays.


I QC Sprocket Vault releases at home using a 50” 1080 LED with a 10’ CTS “couch to screen” – according to the minimum setback distance should be at least 6’.


VCI QC’s theirs using a 43” Sony LCD from both 5’ and 11’ (no “couch”!) – minimum setback should be at least 5.5’.


Both my home and VCI’s screening rooms were designed to replicate small media or living rooms where imperfections would be more noticeable because pixels and digital anomalies are more visible the closer you sit to a TV. The average TV is 55” (7.5’ min. recommended setback), but most people watch them in larger rooms. As a result, both VCI and I have received very few complaints about digital issues through the years. BTW, Bob Blair, president of VCI, told me he is going to start QC-ing on a larger, sharper TV.


VCI has released hundreds of movies over the past 40 years, and doesn’t always bat a thousand, but close to it.


However, some forum members were out for VCI’s blood, savaging them to the point of suggesting they be drummed out of business.


VCI informed me they tried to recreate that vertical interlacing but were unable to figure out how it was originally introduced to the digitally restored master. They suspect their previous video noise reduction software, which had been subsequently upgraded, may have caused it.

My policy is to refund a customer’s money – sorry, no blood — if they aren’t satisfied with their purchase. Bob Blair, president of VCI, agrees, but he still financed an expensive re-do of “One Million B.C.” and will send copies to any dissatisfied customers.


“Were movies made to be this sharp?” If you’re talking about those produced on film, by and large NO; classics and older films, definitely NO. Certainly, the pre-digital filmmakers, and certainly the old masters, never intended the viewer to see every pore in Judy Garland’s face, or the Creature from the Black Lagoon’s zipper.   Today, of course, they airbrush on makeup.


The beauty of a good movie is you can project yourself into it, not the other way around. Some filmmakers (Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo” comes to mind) have been able to give you both experiences at the same time.


I may be living in the past, but to me super sharp TVs are more geared for sports, travelogues, reality shows, and science fiction/action films that are low on script and high on CGI.


Oh, ultimately, my Costco experience was extremely disappointing, and it had nothing to do with my tour of those state of the art TV’s. It was their DVD/Blu-ray aisles. Did I say “aisles”? Maybe one “aisle”? No…just one carton.


costco box


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1 Response to "Were movies meant to be this sharp?"

Coming a bit late to this party, but I heartily concur. Some of these tech-obsessives can’t see the forest for the trees and in their pixel-obsessed passion totally miss the experience a movie is intended to provide—which is by and large an emotional experience. The fact of the matter is that a Buster Keaton film from 1925 will never have the level of clarity or detail as a fight scene in the latest Avengers film. Which is not meant as a dig on Avengers films at all, it’s just meant to say that the movies were filmed with entirely different equipment with entirely different capabilities.


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