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No BD for The Shield, 16mm Film Stock Blamed

Posted September 1, 2009 06:03 AM by Juan Calonge

Sony Pictures'The Shield: The Complete Series Collection' has recently been announced on DVD but not Blu-ray. Our friends at TV Shows on DVD looked further into the matter, and found confirmation from a Twitter post by show creator Shawn Ryan that the studio considers that the film stock the series was shot on is "of insufficient quality to put out on Blu-ray."

The TV-centric site elaborates, "it does make sense and seem appropriate, though, that the 16mm film stock wouldn't translate to a good-enough high-def picture. And, while we're sure that a number of tech-savvy fans of the series already knew that, it's still good to have it out there from the studio, for everyone else who may not be as clued-in on the technical front of things. There are a number of other shows that this would also apply to (the first two seasons of Buffy, for example), so it's certainly worth bringing up from time to time."

Far from us to proclaim ourselves tech-savvy or second-guess anyone, least of all the industry or the media, but in the face of the above some factual, objective clarifications need to be made: firstly, 16mm-sourced BDs exist already, both for movies and TV series; and secondly, many users and reviewers consider its picture more than deserving for high-definition.

'The Shield' was shot on the variant of 16mm called Super 16. The Super 16 frame has an exposed area of 0.493 by 0.292 inches, that is, less than half the surface of a 35mm film frame. Image resolution is thus lower and film grain more prevalent, especially when blown up to a big-size screen. Our older readers will remember the 110 photographic format so popular in the 1970s and 1980s and whose tiny negative size caused enlargements to often be grainy and fuzzy. This is roughly the same problem with 16mm cinema.

However, film experts consider that the resolution in a 16mm frame, even undoubtedly lower than that of 35mm, is far greater than standard definition and thus benefits from a high-definition transfer. This has been borne out by real-life examples of actual releases.

The closest example to 'The Shield' available in Blu-ray, as regards cinematography and general look, would be Darren Aronofsky's 'The Wrestler'. Like 'The Shield', it was shot on Super 16 (cropped further to 2.35:1), with a gritty documentary style, using natural light whenever possible and with handheld cameras. The movie's cinematographer, Maryse Alberti commented: “The decision to shoot The Wrestler in Super 16 mm format was partially based on a modest budget, but mainly it's a bit of an edgier look that we felt was right.”

So much so that when 'The Wrestler' opened theatrically, one of our fellow forum members deemed it fit to open a thread to warn others that the movie was "extremely grainy", in anticipation of the complaints when it came out on BD, insisting that was “how the movie was in the theater and that's how it's supposed to look.” Had the movie not been received critical accolades and multiple awards, maybe it wouldn't have been deemed worthy of a Blu-ray release.

However, when 'The Wrestler' came out on Blu-ray, our reviewer Martin Liebman gave it 4.5 stars for video, labeling it an “impressive” transfer and considered it “generally exceptional in the context of the film's intended visual presentation.” He praised the color and detail reproduction, and concluded that “overall, The Wrestler looks fantastic on Blu-ray, serving as yet another disc that isn't clean and clear but recreates the director-intended look of the film very well, making it a first-class presentation.”

Several other films shot wholly or partially on 16mm have been released on Blu-ray, often to positive reception, such as 'This Is Spinal Tap', 'U2: Rattle and Hum', '28 Weeks Later', 'Babel' (Morocco section), 'Hustle & Flow', 'The Texas Chain Saw Massacre' and 'Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace & Music'. More movies shot in that format are coming up, including 'Clerks' and 'Chasing Amy' in November.

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, the studio which is releasing 'The Shield' on DVD, is itself not totally averse to releasing 16mm content on BD: in August 2008 it released the movie 'The Counterfeiters', which was shot on Super 16.

Regarding television series, a fine example of how to treat 16mm right is 'Pride and Prejudice', which got 5 stars for video in its review by Svet Atanasov. HBO's 'Generation Kill' is another example. To be fair, another 16mm title, 'Burn Notice: Season 2', got a less than positive review, partly because of issues unrelated to the film stock. Also coming up in November is 'Scrubs: The Complete Eighth Season', which is shot on Super 16, albeit on a slower, more finely-grained film stock. 'Scrubs' cinematographer John Inwood recalled that initially “some people were claiming that the picture quality that you render on film in Super 16 format wasn't sufficient to air in HD format,” but, he adds, “Larry Fields and I tested the show in HD and found it not only held up, but it looked terrific.”

In summary, as we said at the beginning, there is quite a bit of 16mm content on BD, and by and large it is worthy of release on high-definition. And that's not even considering the improvement in sound quality from upgrading to a lossless audio track. Now, studios are totally free to decide what to release on Blu-ray for any reasons technical or commercial. But not because 16mm is not good enough.

Hopefully all of the above facts will sufficiently clarify the issue.

Update: Generation Kill added. Thanks to "mrbobtherubberrat".

Source: TV Shows on DVD | Permalink | United States [Country settings]

News comments (16 comments)

  Sep 01, 2009
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Excellent points, Juan. This should be a sticky, as a reference for whenever this issue crops up again.

  Sep 01, 2009
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was this show broadcast in HD?

  Sep 01, 2009
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I think cost is actually a big part of it as well. Releasing an entire TV series all at once seems to be very scary for studios right now because the current ones aren't selling that well. But I think that is more due to the fact that later seasons are being released while the first few seasons still have not seen a Blu release.

  Sep 01, 2009
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16mm shouldnt be an issue, as OP indicated... oh well i hope this won't be a excuse that studios make (to garner sales on dvd and hoping for double dips later on) in the future

  Sep 01, 2009
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I think it's hilarious if someone were to think 16 mm is less resolved than DVD. Good 16mm should be able to best 1080p I would guess, and at the very least, it can outstrip DVD's 480p EASILY.

And then there's the old addage: anything worth seeing is worth seeing in HD. Even if it's not highly resolved, super-pristine and clear, it'll still look better scanned at 1920x1080 than at 720x480.

I don't personally care about The Shield, but it would be nice if the studios got their act straight. Oh, and Scrubs? I thought the last season was shot on digital. Earlier seasons I know were 16mm, but I thought I heard they switched to digital for the last season. I suppose I was mistaken though.
  Sep 01, 2009
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I know Blu-ray fanboys won't agree but I think that a lot of these types of films look worse when they are "cleaned up". Texas Chainsaw looked horrible, not better. I would much rather watch it on VHS then Blu-ray. I don't need crystal clearl grain. People will be making technical excuses like this thread all day long but in the end most people who buy movies outside of HD junkies just don't care and in my case as a person with a Blu-ray player stay away from grainy fair.

  Sep 01, 2009
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I'm glad to hear Sony is not as much against this as the series creator. As long as its in its original aspect ratio and there's some improvement over the audio I could care less about a boost in PQ. If the PQ can indeed be improved in blu I'd buy every season they release no matter the price.

  Sep 01, 2009
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That's the worst excuse I've ever seen since "not today, honey, I've got a headache".
  Sep 01, 2009
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Another fine example would be Generation Kill which was shot completly on super 16mm film stock, so i dont see the problem really.

  Sep 01, 2009
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Well it least my bank account will be happy
  Sep 01, 2009
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I've personally had all of my own 16mm transferred to HDcam 1080p. Why? Because...

a.) 16mm is better than standard def video, perdiod.

b.) Anything that is not shown on an HDTV in an HD format looks BAD because you are forcing a 720x486 picture to cover a 1920 x 1080 picture.

c.) 1080 24p plays back at the same frame rate as 16mm, and no 3:2 pulldown is necessary.

d.) DVD will eventually be a dead format, so why not transfer all your legacy material to HD or 4k now to get a jump on things?

It is simply a no-brainer that for anything to look good on an HD monitor, it needs to exist on an HD format.

  Sep 01, 2009
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looks like i won't have to double dip now. the best series no one ever watched.
  Sep 01, 2009
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But a 1968 TV show shot on 16mm called The Prisoner is getting hi-def blu-ray treatment. So has Star Trek. Come on Sony, you really expect us to buy that lame excuse? Give me blu-ray or give me death.
  Sep 01, 2009
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Jeff Tweedy Redux...people need to realize that 16mm film stock IS roughly the same resolution as 1080p...this is lame. Fantastic series, 2nd only to The Wire as far as cop shows go!

Top contributor
  Sep 02, 2009
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This is definitely not scottish!

  Sep 03, 2009
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I respect the show creator for saying he doesn't think this is up to HD standards. As someone who loves The of the best shows I've ever watched...I agree. You would not gain that much in picture quality if they moved to Blu because of the original 'look' of the show.

That being said...they could use Blu's to release the entire series and put 1 season per disc - saving some room on my bookshelf.

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