HBO announced yesterday that it has finished remastering The Wire in HD, a project that was initially supposed to be finished several months ago. It also said it will broadcast every episode in order beginning December 26, something that was also promised in September. This will be the first time the show has aired on a linear TV channel (as opposed to on demand) since the series finale in 2008, and the first time it has been available in 16:9 full-frame HD.
About that 16:9 part: when The Wire’s pilot was filmed, back in the stone age of 2001, 4:3 standard definition was, well, standard for TV. In the meantime, the technology has shifted to 16:9 HD—in layman’s terms, from square, deep TVs to rectangular, flat TVs—rendering shows like The Wire prematurely archaic. By remastering the show in 16:9, HBO is actually altering the shape of the frame, and thus the composition and content of the shots contained within. This isn’t a big deal for the first three seasons of the show, which according to DP Dave Insley were framed to work in 16:9 in anticipation of an eventual HD transfer. But, as Insley says, before shooting began on season four of the show, a meeting was held and series creator David Simon decided they would stick with 4:3, which he thinks “feels more like real life and real television and not like a movie.”
HBO did consult Simon about the transfer, and Simon says he’s mostly happy with the results. In a lengthy post on his blog, Simon says he has mixed feelings about the transfer itself, since executive producer Bob Colesberry, who died during pre-production on the third season, took great pains to adapt the look of the show to the 4:3 format. But, Simon says, not all the scenes have been changed for the worse (“there are a notable number of scenes that acquire real benefit from playing wide,” he says). Plus, if an HD version will allow The Wire to reach a wider audience—people he says “feel notably oppressed if all of their entertainments do not advantage themselves of the new hardware”—he’s okay with it. As he says on his blog:
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: This new version, after all, exists in an aspect ratio that simply wasn’t intended or serviced by the filmmakers.
The Wire in HD will be available to purchase digitally beginning January 5, with a Blu-ray release expected next summer.
UPDATE: Simon (via HBO) has since uploaded clips of two scenes—one he feels was improved by the 16:9 transfer, and one he feels wasn’t—so you, the viewer, can decide. Please note there is a 9-year-old SPOILER ALERT on the first pair of clips if you haven’t seen The Wire and are reading this because you like to keep current on aspect-ratio news.
First, a scene from the second season Simon says was improved by the HD remaster:
And now, a scene from the pilot that wasn’t: