A few months ago, word surfaced that HBO was working on remastering one of the best TV shows of all time, The Wire, for HD. It was a curious prospect because creator/showrunner David Simon eschewed HD widescreen framing for the entirety of the show’s run, noting that the SD 4×3 aspect ratio was more like real life, and The Wire was not intended to play as a movie. Alas, the report of HBO’s HD tinkering with the series has now officially been confirmed, as the network has announced that the remastered version of The Wire will be made available on HBO Go starting December 26th, followed by the HD edition of the series going up for digital purchase on January 5, 2015. However, the network also confirmed that this new version of The Wire has a wholly different aspect ratio. More after the jump.
HBO will be kicking off its launch of “The Wire Remastered” on December 26th, when the whole thing goes up on HBO Go and a marathon begins on HBO Signature, which will air a season a day. The series will then be available for digital purchase on January 5, 2015, and a Blu-ray release will follow next summer. Here’s HBO’s official announcement (via The Playlist):
The entire series has been beautifully re-mastered in 16×9 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 4×3 version.
So yes, there’s the confirmation that the aspect ratio of The Wire has been altered. Simon made a very conscious decision to shoot the series in 4×3, and he today revealed in a new blog post on his website that the fall release of The Wire in HD was halted when he told them he wanted to review the new versions of the episodes. He and his team were involved in the final stages of the remastering, and here’s how he sums up his thoughts on The Wire in HD:
At the last, I’m satisfied what while this new version of The Wire is not, in some specific ways, the film we first made, it has sufficient merit to exist as an alternate version. There are scenes that clearly improve in HD and in the widescreen format. But, there are things that are not improved. And even with our best resizing, touchups and maneuver , there are some things that are simply not as good. That’s the inevitability here: This new version, is, after all, is one that is presented in an aspect ratio that simply wasn’t intended or serviced by the filmmakers.
Still, being equally honest here, there can be no denying that an ever-greater portion of the television audience has HD widescreen televisions staring at them from across the living room, and that they feel notably oppressed if all of their entertainments do not advantage themselves of the new hardware. It vexes them in the same way that many with color television sets were long ago bothered by the anachronism of black-and-white films, even carefully conceived black-and-white films. For them, The Wire seems frustrating or inaccessible — even more so than we intended it. And, hey, we are always in it to tell people a story, first and foremost. If a new version brings a few more thirsty critters to the water’s edge, then so be it.
This process of returning to the 35mm negative to create a widescreen image isn’t a new notion. When Friends was remastered for HD, they had to go back and use the full wide frame of the camera for presentation, even though only the 4×3 area of the screen was intended for broadcast. Watch one of the HD reruns of Friends or Seinfeld on TBS and see if it drives you nuts that there’s so much empty space on the edges of the frame (which weren’t meant to be seen on TV when originally recorded).
Nevertheless, The Wire is undoubtedly one of the greatest TV shows ever produced, and I’m very happy to hear that Simon had a hand in this “upgrade”. Moreover, he makes a fine point that if putting The Wire out on Blu-ray in a more agreeable aspect ratio means bringing a wider audience to this incredible (and important) series, so be it. But if you want to still be able to watch The Wire as it was originally intended, I might suggest picking up one of the original DVD box sets while they’re still on shelves.