Hauling Like A Brooligan

Stephen Gallagher

Future Proof

In the comments to Television Q and A, Piers Beckley writes:

“Riffing off the technology point: Lew Grade’s ITC stuff from the 70s was shot in 35mm with a view to worldwide sales. And the thing about 35mm is that you can even now remaster it into blu-ray and other hi-def formats… (snip) Record your show in a sensible format and you’ve got an archive, something to build on. Sure, it costs more, but you make your money back five or ten or twenty years down the line.”

A term in vogue for a while – I forget exactly when – was ‘futureproofing’. The idea was that you aimed for the highest technical standard you could achieve, rather than the one that prevailed, in the certain knowledge that the prevailing standard will quickly date. Hardly a new idea – Richard Greene pressed for the 1950s Adventures of Robin Hood to be filmed in colour rather than black-and-white, which would have given them a broadcast life to this day. Within the past couple of weeks I heard that the all-colour Thunderbirds is to be remastered, repackaged and relaunched yet again.

But TV execs are like politicians. Less interested in long-term benefits than immediate ones. I can remember ITV huffing and grumbling about shooting a drama in widescreen even though 4X3 was patently on the way out. They cared only about next week’s ratings, not long-term value.

(In the end they compromised on the awful 14X9, which was no use to anyone even then.)

But couldn’t you weep to look at something like The Jewel in the Crown now? Such an enormous enterprise, and all that talent… all in a little square, and seen through a sock.

5 responses to “Future Proof”

  1. Not only that but Desi Arnaz had the foresight in the 1950s to put “I Love Lucy” on film, when TV companies never even heard of repeats or syndication. CBS were so uninterested, when Desi asked if he could own the films after they were made, CBS said yes. Some people don’t look beyond their noses.

  2. Thunderbirds was remastered a couple of years ago from the original 35mm negative, and this is the version currently available on the ITV DVD Blu-ray disc. It’s not strictly accurate, ratio-wise, because it was transferred 16:9 Full Frame, and as you know it was shot for the TV ratio of 4:3 Full Frame but, having said that, it’s framed well and looks excellent considering the age (only the dupe shots look poor). Much of the ATV stuff is on 35mm and holds up very well to HD Mastering – ‘Space:1999’ (the first series) and ‘UFO’ are other Anderson shows that have been transferred to HD and look stunning. ‘Space:1999’ fares a little better due to the fact that most of the special effects were done ‘in camera’ as opposed to dupes. It’s a shame other programme makers weren’t so forward thinking!

  3. From what I heard, one “downside” of the Thunderbirds remastering is that you can see the strings more clearly. But I mean, come on. They’re puppets! And the fact that they’re puppets and models is the glory of Thunderbirds!

    Only a couple of nights ago I watched an episode of The Champions on ITV4 — not HD, not even a high-quality example from amongst the digital channels — and thought it looked great. If only the show itself matched the memory…

    I have to say that the level of detail in my upscaled DVDs on a 44″ screen has blunted any inclination I may have had toward a Blu-Ray upgrade. Any greater sharpness on some scenes would be like razors in the eyes.

  4. The Champions was remastered in SD around 7 or 8 years ago – not a great series but some good guest stars and you do get a few laughs out of it!

    I was opposed to Blu-ray due to the fact that under a certain screen size you’re going to struggle to see any difference but I bought a new 37″ 1080p HD TV so thought that to get the most out of it, I should probably get a Blu-ray player. The detail is there, and I’ve been a right nerd and flicked between some upscaled DVDs and some duplicate Blu-rays the wife got me for Christmas, and there is a noticable difference but…I’m still not convinced many people would see it! Oh, and if you ever do get one, don’t buy any of these highly expensive HDMI cables – I got value ones from Tesco (about £6) and they give excellent picture quality.