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The Wire in widescreen HD

Posted December 3, 2014 into Telly by John Birmingham

HBO is releasing the series remastered for widescreenHD. Really interesting bit here at David Simon's blog, or interesting for those of us who make our quids by telling stories, about the power of story telling form. I would have thought that reframing a show like The Wire for wide screen was purely a matter of making it awesomer. But no. There are compromises:

... Over the past several months, looking at some of what the widescreen format offered, three things became entirely clear: First, there were many scenes in which the shot composition is not impaired by the transfer to 16:9, and there are a notable number of scenes that acquire real benefit from playing wide. An example of a scene that benefits would be, say, from the final episode of season two, when an apostolic semicircle of longshoremen forms around the body of Frank Sobotka. Fine as far as it goes, but the dockworkers are all that much more vulnerable, and that much more isolated by the death of their leader when we have the ability to go wider in that rare crane shot.

But there are other scenes, composed for 4:3, that lose some of their purpose and power, to be sure. An early example that caught my eye is a scene from the pilot episode, carefully composed by Bob, in which Wee Bey delivers to D’Angelo a homily on established Barksdale crew tactics. “Don’t talk in the car,” D’Angelo reluctantly offers to Wee Bey, who stands below a neon sign that declares, “burgers” while D’Angelo, less certain in his standing and performance within the gang, stands beneath a neon label of “chicken.”

That shot composition was purposed, and clever, and it works better in the 4:3 version than when the screen is suddenly widened to pick up additional neon to the left of Bey. In such a case, the new aspect ratio’s ability to acquire more of the world actually detracts from the intention of the scene and the composition of the shot. For that reason, we elected in the new version to go tighter on the shot in order to maintain some of the previous composition, albeit while coming closer to our backlit characters than the scene requires. It is, indeed, an arguable trade-off, but one that reveals the cost of taking something made in one construct and recasting it for another format. And this scene isn’t unique; there are a good number of similar losses in the transfer, as could be expected.

8 Responses to ‘The Wire in widescreen HD’

Lobes asserts...

Posted December 3, 2014
I havnt seen the wire, does this extract have spoilers?

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Spanner mutters...

Posted December 4, 2014
Yeah it does have spoilers. The Wire is such a slow burn that you probably won't notice the spoilers but best not read any further. It is defiantly worth a watch.


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puma ducks in to say...

Posted December 4, 2014
I tried to get into it but couldn't. Maybe try again. I did enjoy Generation Kill immensely. Shame they didn't make more of that.

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Lobes would have you know...

Posted December 4, 2014
Thanks Spanner. Yeah have heard good reports on it. I watched about half the pilot then got bored and flicked over. But being re-released in HD might be a reason to try again.

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Lulu is gonna tell you...

Posted December 4, 2014
I watched the first episode or so when it was finally shown on ABC2 (I think?), and I was strangely reminded of the old series Hill Street Blues. Didn't get into The Wire, but I have very fond memories of the other David Simon/ Baltimore series, Homicide.

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Aaron ducks in to say...

Posted December 4, 2014
For those interested there is a good interview with the actor who plays the junkie (can't remember the name - Latino American guy) on Marc marons WTF podcast. A good listen all the interviews are long form

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Spanner mutters...

Posted December 4, 2014
The Wire is about building the case slowly and methodically a "police procedural" before the event rather than the forensics TV shows we see after the event. It's also about the dealers side of the equation and how they set up their own procedures not to get caught.

I will admit that watching the box set in 4:3 did give me the irrits.

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Crocko reckons...

Posted December 4, 2014
I started on the Wire when it was on abc 2, and then drifted away from it. When I got sick of being told it was "the greatest show ever" I went back and watched it on box set. I was hooked, and it pretty much chewed up 2 weeks of a January holiday. Stick with it as the pay off is worth it, but as others have said, it is a slow burn.

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