Monthly Three: Which is the true version; remaster or original?

When Predator: Ultimate Hunter Edition was released, it was largely panned by the fans due to its remastering. The original Predator has a lot of film grain and dust in its image due to the film stock used. The aforementioned BD release had gone through a heavy digital remastering, as for whatever reason the amount of grain and dust was deemed unacceptable by the higher powers whoever decided on these matters. The removal of dust and grain can have an impact on the film, and at times characters look like wax figures of themselves due to the smoothing. Another thing that’s usually done with remasters is colour correcting and brightening the scenes for further clarity. The AVS Forums has a rather expanded comparison with few selected screencaps.

The question is, is this the “real” version of Predator? The remastered one, or the original grainy one? The intention of the remastered version was to upgrade the movie to new generation and definition, and it can be argued that Predator has never looked so slick, but at the same time, the remaster is largely panned by the fans due to the remastering itself. To many, simply digitally remastering from the original film reels, i.e. basically post-process it again with modern techniques. The size of the film, the quality of the stock and how degraded it is affects the final quality quite a lot. Digital remastering didn’t become common until sometime mid-2000’s, and most of original release DVDs before that either had a second grade LD or VHS transfer on them. It’s not uncommon to find VHS and Beta tapes that look better than some of their DVD counterparts, and LD largely had better sound quality than DVDs due to the compression methods. One could argue that it wasn’t until LD’s quality became completely obsoleted, but neither LD or VHS are completely obsolete, as not even half of the movies that are on those two formats have seen digital conversion for either DVD or BD.

Similar applies to music. Original masters are taken and modernised for whatever chosen format. Loudness War began with the advent of CD, and this has impacted how your music sounds. The same applies to mp3, but mp3 in itself is a lossy format that music enthusiasts want to avoid. The louder the music, the less definition each individual element in the song becomes, with dynamics reduced. Rather than trying to explain it further myself, I’d better let higher authority to explain all this.

Like with films, enthusiasts look for older versions of released albums because they have better mastering, and modern remasters are too loud. If you have followed ARG podcasts I do occasionally with Alternative Projects’ people, you should notice that they are ultimately a little low on volume, as I do not turn up the volume for loudness.

Does a remaster look better with its visuals against the original is up to an opinion, but at the same time we should consider the age pieces have been made in.

Visual and sound technology advances constantly, sound less so. If you want to keep up with the best pictures, you’d need to purchase a new screen once in five years at least. With sound, you can run with a good set for a good decade and then some. Star Trek is a good example of remastering, as the BD versions comes with both original version and ones that have been retouched with newly recorded sound and CG to replace old effects as well as add new elements to the screen. Star Trek is old and was made to be seen on 1960’s television, not on 2016’s 4k screens. While the BD’s remasters look great after their proper remastering, you can see every single seam, scratch and crack on the sets and costumes.

Whether or not you regard the changes depicted in the video above to be valid or something to be desired, that’s completely up to one’s own devices.

With video games, old PC porting could be regarded as remastering the original code for a new platform, as a new platform always required a new level of coding. For example, the visuals, sound and controls between ZX Spectrum, Atari ST and NES versions of Double Dragon all differ largely due to the platforms themselves and the code in them.

Unlike with audio and films, porting a game usually required some sort of reworking, sometimes from the ground up, down- or upgrading, or completely reworking sprites and other assets from original version, be it arcade or whatever else. In modern era, most games are developed porting in mind for multiple platforms and everything from design and visuals mirror this, with PC version often getting shafted because of the cross-contamination of platforms.

HD Collection are the game equivalent of film and music remastering, as the original elements have been taken and given a sleeker look to them. Nevertheless, the code underneath the new visuals has been reworked in every HD re-release, for better or worse. Zone of the Enders HD Collection is a good example of a long-awaited port, which fares worse than its PS2 original. While the games between platforms are essentially the same game, the HD port suffers from constant slowdowns and framedrops, with some particle effects and the like losing to the visuals of the PS2 originals. With video and audio, one doesn’t need to concern themselves on the action of the consumer, as there is no interaction between the consumer and the piece, unlike with games.

In order for any HD port to make their original versions obsolete, it has three core criteria; it has to run at least as well as the original with no drops in FPS count that did not occur in the original, the visuals need to be clearer and in higher definition and the sound mixing needs to be on the same level. Some HD remasters simple don’t do it, running worse than the original, and very few get a chance, like ZOE did. Konami essentially reworked ZOE HD Collection‘s code to run the game better, which is a rarity.

With remasters there comes the question what is the definitive version of each works? Is the original, untouched version of Predator the one true version over the BD digital remaster? Remasters rarely try to actively change the product, but with the likes of Star Trek you have sound, backgrounds and visual effects changed completely. Is the original, unaltered footage the true version of the series, or is the new reworked footage that contain alterations? Furthermore, Metropolis‘ BD release didn’t simply see a remaster, but almost complete restoration of missing footage that was edited out due to how badly the original cut of the film was received.

While Star Trek’s footage was tweaked, the episodes themselves have not altered in story or pace, and whichever version is the definitive one is up to opinions. However, with Metropolis this is not the case. Because of Channing Pollock’s cut altered the story and the pace of the movie to a large degree to the point of altering Fritz Lang’s original vision, some argue that it is not the definitive version over the restored one, despite Pollock’s cut being the one that defined the film in history. Rather than calling on cut more definitive over the other, I would call the restored one being more in-line with Lang’s vision of the movie, in all good and bad, and Pollock’s cut being the more iconic one. SF Debris reviewed Metropolis recently, and goes over some of these elements in more depth.

Whatever one’s personal view is on remasters, they have their place due to the constant advance in technology and formats. Remastering in itself is not the thing to be worried about, but the methods, intentions and goals that remastering has. At times, remasters will see something like with the Predator, trying to fix and upgrade the original to new standards with rather lacklustre results. Other times, the remaster is simply stays true to the original look and intention of the piece without mucking around with it, like with the recent Fight! Iczer-1 release.

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