Just what is it with the obsession with every DVD having to be remastered into 5.1 audio?

I wouldn’t mind so much if they at least included the original audio for old films and TV episodes, especially when the original audio is mono. In some cases I can at least understand a desire to go with a 5.1 mix given the nature of the material, for example the recent James Bond Ultimate Edition DVDs (though I would much prefer the mono tracks myself). However in others the decision to remix a mono track into 5.1 is baffling, such as with the recent special edition of Doctor Strangelove, which for a black & white very 60s British film that was shot with a mono soundtrack, features no less a DTS and DD5.1 remix !!

I’ve noticed too on some of the announced HD-DVD releases (such as Warner’s Kubrick releases), original audio is being ignored for instead a remastered surround mix. I guess the answer is it’s whatever the studio thinks will “wow” the punter with their super home cinema set up, and with HD formats they’re also trying to show off new formats like Dolby Digital Plus.

Same goes for remastering the video. The number of times now I’ve seen so called superior remasters that really are nothing of the sort. They seem to be obsessed especially about removing all traces of film grain (bearing in mind grain is often a natural part of the film and photographic process dependent on film used, available light and other factors, and often intended).

A classic example of this is the excellent Criterion version of Robocop with the print lovingly restored and original audio retained together with the approved aspect ratio and directors signed approval on the print, vs the MGM glossy remaster which wipes out the grain, jacks up the saturation and destroys the shadow detail all at the same time (and crops the picture). Whilst it makes it look like a shiny new film and more cinematic, it loses some of the weird style it had which defines the film.

Another similar example is again Dr. Strangelove SE. Just see the comparison to see what I mean. Now okay, some people initially think the SE is better for the reasons good old DVD Beaver says, namely the reduction of blown highlights, but I say… look at the shadow detail, i.e. what shadow detail? It’s all gone, too dark, and not to mention it’s not as sharp either. We can debate until the cows come home of course about what the late Mr. Kubrick would have wanted but I would get the feeling he wouldn’t have wanted half his film to dissapear by being too dark.

A similar thing is going on with the Bond films. The UEs not only don’t include the original mono audio but the video has been “remastered” too and it basically appears to involve messing about with the colour mostly in a way that looks like someones used the automatic adjustment settings in Photoshop and thought “that looks good”. Sadly though it looks okay in some scenes, in others it looks silly. Saturation again is the name of the game, same again with the DVD releases of the original (if you can call them that) Star Wars trilogy… over saturated. Half these DVDs are like going round to someone’s house where they’ve got the colour turned up way to high.

I can see why they do it. A lot of it is about contrast. Contrast is an optical trick that gives a perceived increase in detail when there isn’t one because the human eye notices contrasts more than other things, particular between certain colours. Edge sharpening is another such trick. Whilst both are tricks used widely and to great effect in photography and film, they are overused in DVD remasters to make old films more attractive to a modern audience that is used to bright coloured glossy CGI-fests. Forget quality, just go for “wow”.

It’s sad but preservation of film is lost now in the never ending quest to release an endless stream of Special Editions, Directors Cuts, Ultimate Editions, Versions you’ve Never Seen, Even better than the version you bough before releases. Hmm, and what does that do… makes you buy multiple copies of the same film and the studio lots of money.