Destruction of the picture is ever evolving

Back in the day when we only had square screens and movies were wider than they were taller, home media releases tended to butcher the image. Not only were wider images often just cropped to fit the more square screen, but pan and scan was applied to showcase and focus more on certain parts of the picture. Take a look at the comparison video how pan and scan was made with Ghostbusters and how much the intended picture was lost, or how extra editing had to be done.

This isn’t just something that was done throughout the existence of mainstream home media. Even Laserdisc, the format that was touted as the film fanatic’s choice, suffered greatly for many releases being pan and scan. The reason is the same why older media that was produced before the HD media hit around the corner is being cropped and slapped with some effect on top. The resulting ruination removes information on the screen, causing actors’ and surroundings to go unseen. In comedic media, you often see jokes and even scene important elements lost to pan and scan as the focus has to be on the speaker. To use Ghostbusters as an example, Spookcentral has a good three-point comparison what’s the core issue.

At the top, we have the original picture, with a cropped version to fit a different aspect ratio, and then at the bottom a pan and scan. The pan and scan version would have to move the image left and right to cover the whole scene to show all of the picture. Sometimes it simply doesn’t, which results in static cropping. This results large areas of information being lost to the viewer, in this case, we either lose Winston, or both Egon and Winston. This isn’t a single case; almost every single movie released on VHS, Laserdisc and DVD have pan and scan version out there well into the mid-00’s before HD screens took over. You would think this issue would be solved. After all, all modern screens are wider than they are taller by standard, but that’s not the case. The pendulum has swung to the opposite direction.

As older televisions programs use older standards for the screen size, they don’t fit modern screens without empty space. Hence, shows like The Simpsons are being cropped to fit the new standards, losing large amounts of information and destroying the scenes’ layout. Bart and Lisa on the above shot lose all of their torsoes and the luxurious house is almost completely gone. The scene has become too cramped, there’s less room to breath. Here’s an example how cropping removes whole jokes from scenes.

Nabbed from Tristan Cooper’s Twitter

The whole joke about Duff Classic, Duff Lite and Duff Dry all coming from the same pipeline got axed. This repeats throughout the whole show on Disney+, and worse all, Fox has been selling these versions to overseas markets to be rerun on television. This means the only way to see The Simpsons as it was meant to be seen is on DVD or VHS. In one of the DVD commentaries Matt Groening mentioned that there will never be Bluray realease of the show, because the DVD is already at the resolution the show was made in. However, as you can see on the cropped version, they’ve upscaled the image and applied some smoothening effect to it. Recently I watched half an episode of the show on local television, and witnessed how a classic episode was effectively ruined by cropping and by this smoothening effect, destroying detail and sharpness of the picture. This was made in order to make the show look like modern contemporaries or newer episodes, as no line ended in a sharp stroke but to a round end. Colour variation and balance had been destroyed in an attempt to move any sort of grain or scratch off the screen and making things higher in contrast. Tristan also pointed out how in certain scenes you don’t only get cropping, but stretching too.

The Simpsons is the most cited example of this, but it is far from the only show that experiences this. The He-Man Official Youtube channel has a long history of stretching and cropping full episodes they upload, with all episode of The New Adventures of He-Man being cropped. Originally, their He-Man and the Masters of the Universe episodes were both stretched and cropped, but after someone kept bitching at them episode after episode they slowly began to upload episodes in proper aspect ratio, only return to stretching and cropping. Take a look at how Castle Grayskull looks between their normal and stretched videos.

As you can see, the image was simply stretched to fit the new standard’s width without any consideration what it does to the image. Everything is simply wider with no reason behind it. There’s no lost information in this way, but it’s not how it should look like. At least there isn’t information lost. There is also no rhyme or reason how or when Filmation’s cartoons get what treatment, as an episode of Bravestarr that was uploaded a month ago still has its proper aspect ratio, but every upload after that suddenly begun to be cropped or stretched, starting from this episode, from 25th of July onward.

There are massive amounts of shows in streaming services and on home media that does these exact same things, cropping and stretching. In effect, it is the same fear of the empty screen space that was driving cropping and pan and scan. Both the game and film industry, television included, are too fearful of those black bars. This may be because some of the home consumers think the picture has been cut off or their screen is broken. Sony even has a support article explaining that there are media in a different aspect ratio, and even recommend zooming or widening the picture via TVs own settings, something now self-respecting consumer would do. The results would be as you see above; lost information and screwed-up picture. I’m not sure if it’s just inbred stupidity or lack of education that makes people think something is wrong with the picture if they don’t have their whole screen filled, or if it’s simply sheer ignorance.

The consumer, ultimately, is not responsible for these despite there being a group that doesn’t apparently understand aspect ratios. However, we have all the information we could hope for at the tip of our fingers, this information is readily available for anyone who wants to see what’s with their picture. Then again, almost all home media, at least physical media, lists the aspect ratio at the back of the box. This, of course, would mean the consumer would need to learn something about aspect ratio. Not everyone is interested in that, but really, it’s one of those little things everybody should learn about as part of their normal media education.

After all, film and television are considered a form of art. Consuming both in their proper, intended format is necessary in order to fully experience the effects and intentions the creators have used the screen for. Be it Jurassic Park‘s higher than standard screen or TV’s square-ish format, it’s all about what it has been designed and intended to be in. We should not hammer a square peg into a round hole, like so many studios and services are at the moment.

 

Rules for me, rules for you

Have you ever noticed a thing that happens sometimes, where people apply rules to someone else but never follow through them themselves? As if the rules that bind others do not concern themselves. You may see this while driving, people ignoring the rules and doing whatever they want while cursing someone doing the same thing or something else that break the rules. It’s no hard either, human mind being so easily bent to believe two or more opposite things to the point of mental breakdown. We’re natural beings like that in mind, we don’t have binary in our brains. Chromosomes, sure. This is why it isn’t hard to believe James L. Brooks came out few days ago that he doesn’t believe in any kind of book burning, but is burning his own book by removing the episode Stark Raving Dad from The Simpsons. Not just from syndication, it will not be present in any future re-release or digital service. It’ll be gone, poof, burned from history.

This coincides with the documentary Leaving Neverland from HBO, which once more covers sexual assault allegations made against the late Michael Jackson in 1993, who played a major voice role in the episode. At the time, the episode was a big deal. Nobody truly knew if it was Jackson or someone else, but this episode opened a whole new door for The Simpsons with guest voice actors, for better or worse. Usually for the worse. Hopefully this won’t lead into anything other similar actions, especially considering the role The King of Pop had on music and culture at large. He was an icon, an important one more ways than one, but this ain’t the blog for that.

The question is; Does Brooks have the right to burn a chapter from his book? Almost thirty years after the fact, legally yes. Culturally and ethically, no. The same question that followed Star Wars’ Special Editions should apply here. If we count television series like The Simpsons as a form of art, this is willful destruction of art, something that most would argue against. Except if its art portraying opposite political ideology or people, then there are a lot of people who would rather destroy art just to forget the past and repeat it in the future. At what point does art belongs to the audience, the culture at large? Nowadays it seems never, as big corporations and people like Brooks seems to considering things in terms of fame and money only. Then again, that’s what matters to them, who cares if one episode of a long running series is removed, right? It’ll still make money.

But if we’re really going follow Brook’s mindset, why just stop with Stark Raving Dad? Back in 1995 Kelsey Grammer was charged for sexual assault on a 15-years old girl, but the jury refused to indict him based on lacking evidence. Larry King was accused of groping Terry Richard’s. Dustin Hoffman has allegations on him for harassing a 17-years old intern. Aerosmith as a band probably can gather more stuff together than most visiting actors, seeing how Steven Tyler once had a 14-years old girlfriend, whom of he had guardianship over. Wade Boggs was accused of being a racist. Jose Canseco was accused of sexual assault in Las Vegas. Probably most of the sports stars visiting the show have some baggage. Not even the series creator Matt Groening has escaped some kind of mud, as he was sued for discrimination. In future, there will be more cases that allege something towards someone in the cast.

Does it matter that some of these are confirmed, some just allegations and some deemed untrue? Doesn’t matter if we go Brook’s rules. The case against Jackson was settled, and the agreement specifically stated that there was no wrongdoing. There was never enough solid evidence to charge Jackson, and the only person who had a word stopped cooperating with the police after the settlement. You can’t bribe people not to testify, so if he had been sitting in the stand based on the charges, he would’ve had to tell what he knew. According to the grand juries, none of the witnesses had seen enough proof to implicate Jackson on anything. Even in the further cases in 2003, he was found to be guiltless to all charges in 2005. However, despite him being freed of all charges, Jackson’s name was pulled through the mud, his career damaged, Sega stopped working with him (this affected production of Sonic the Hedgehog 3), franchise agreements were cancelled and the man never really recovered.

Is one of the best episodes of The Simpsons so little worth, that a documentary, a defaming one at that against a dead man, is enough to have it pulled from the show? If so, then for what reason? Political correctness? All in all, it seems because he feels convinced by the HBO documentary of Jackson’s guilt. That is his call. Documentaries are always with a perspective, usually that of the maker. Very rarely you see an objective documentary that makes balanced arguments on all sides. It’s easier and more profitable to make something sensational. Watching a documentary is like reading a news article in that the viewer needs to analyse what’s been show and in what way, what is not shown and why, how things are shot and what sort of manipulative elements are presented e.g. in background music selection and colour hues used.

But the deed is done. We’re going to lose one of the best animated episodes of television to date, saved only by previous releases. However, I did hear a familiar face musing that this might’ve been Brooks just having a good time to pull out the episode, that they wouldn’t need to pay the Jackson estate any further, but no reports of this has come out.

Maybe this would be time to ask the usual question if we are able, or if we should, separate art from the artist. After all, the content itself is not the creator. Can we diminish the value of pieces of art and products if their creator, any of them, suddenly is found to have done something objectionable? Roman Polanski might be the best known case, where court found him guilty of sexual child abuse. Perhaps this is one of those times where we find ourselves making use of that human duality, allotting rule breaks for others while expecting rest to follow them perfectly.

It’s a shame, that’s all I can personally say. Such a waste.

A local question

Astro Boy, Gigantor and Eight Man are classic shows that have a place in American pop culture, even thou Eight Man is probably the most forgotten piece of the bunch. This was the 60’s, and a cartoon with robots flying in the sky, high-speed androids and robot boys fit the era fine. From what I’ve gathered from what people who grew up with these shows, nobody questioned their origin. They were entertaining shows on the telly and that’s all that mattered. I’d throw Speed Racer into the mix as well, thou it arrived just a tad later to the mix, but met with the same treatment.

Video and computer games have a similar history, all things considered. Nobody really cared where from arcade games came from, they just rocked the place. Not even the name Nintendo raised some eyebrows, it was just some exotic name cocked up in a meeting. Pretty much what Herb Powell did in The Simpsons.

Games had a shorter gestation period than robot cartoons when it comes to finding the source to some extent. US saw the mid-1970’s Shogun Warriors, a toyline that used wide variety of toys based on Toei’s show with some changed names to fit better the American market. The NES era is relatively infamous of its localised games, and much like how American reception of these Japanese cartoons ultimately was felt back in Japan, so was the localisations and changed made to games. Perhaps the best example of this would how Salamander became Life Force in its arcade re-release and effectively became its own spin-off from the base game.

This, of course, has been largely in America. Europe is a bit of a different thing, with France, Italy and Spain having their own imported animation culture to the point of Spain having a statue for Mazinger Z. I remember reading about a tennis comic that a French publisher continued after its end in Japan. This was done by hiring an illustrator who could replicate the original style and saw healthy sales for a time. Something that like probably could never happen in modern world, unless the original author has died and has made it clear that continuing his work is allowed. Somehow I can see titles like Mazinger  and Dragon Ball still gaining new entries to the franchise long after Go Nagai and Akira Toriyama have left for Mangahalla.

Sadly, I am not as well versed in pan-European phenomena when it comes to Japanese animation in the Old World, but there are numerous resources in both online and book format, often in native tongue. Perhaps worth investing time into for future entries.

While things like Robotech and Voltron made their names around the American landscape, the 1980’s saw a growing appreciation for the original, unaltered footage. This was the era of Laserdisc, and people were mail ordering cartoons solely based on the covers. Can’t blame them, LDs tend to have absolutely awesome covers. Whenever these shows were shown in a convention, a leaflet explaining the overall premise and the story would be spread among the visitors or a separate person would enter the stage and give a synopsis of the events on the screen. There were those who felt, and still feel, that localisation demeans the original work.

Similarly, game importing became a thing in the latter part of the 1980’s and in the early 1990’s with NES’ success, though it should be mentioned that Europe saw PC game importing across regions far more. The Nordic countries began importing NES games anywhere they could and specialised mail service stores popped up just to service this part of the population. It wasn’t uncommon to see Genesis and Mega Drive titles sold side by side in-game stores. Appreciation for the original game saw a rise, either because of it was simply cool to have shit in Japanese or from America, or because some level of censorship was present. However, more often it was because Europe was largely ignored when it came to releasing certain games. Importing unavailable games to a region is still relevant, perhaps even more so than previously now that companies are investing in English releases in Asian versions and region free consoles are becoming an industry standard.

The question I’ve been asking myself for a long time now, longer than I’ve been writing this blog, is that whether or not wholesome localisation like Space Battleship Yamato and Starblazers was a necessary evil of the time that we can be do without now, that we are grown culturally to accept the original work as a whole, or whether it’s just hubris of the people who are too close to their sub-culture and co-fans. A person who is tightly knit with music’s sub-culture doesn’t exactly understand the sub-culture of pinball or golf.

By that I mean that pop-culture in general doesn’t give jackshit whether or not panties are censored in a video game, it’s irrelevant in macro-scale. Even in a localised form a product can impact pop-culture in ways that the original couldn’t, the aforementioned Speed Racer and Robotech being highly impacting examples in American pop-culture. I guarantee that these shows would not have their impact without the localisation effort.

Is it a necessary evil then? Perhaps this is the subjective part with no answer. Those who value original, unaltered product without a doubt will always prefer the “purest” form of the product, whereas someone who doesn’t have the same priorities will most likely enjoy the localised version just as fine. It would be infantile to assume that people who don’t know better can’t appreciate the original piece or lack in intelligence somehow. It is merely a matter preference, and like assholes, everyone has one.

If it matters, I personally vouch for unaltered products whenever applicable for the sake of keeping the integrity of the product and the intentions of the creators intact. However, also see complete localisations having their valid place in e.g. children’s cartoons. While it would be nice to have two or more versions of everything for the sake of options, that’s not always an option for budgetary, marketing or some other reasons.

Perhaps that’s what could be argued; when it comes to Western culture, we are more acceptable to unlocalised products more than previously, but total localisations still have their place. Even without knowing much about the source, we can appreciate the intentions and look past the cultural difference.

Or at least we should be able to, and appreciate the differences and intentions without resorting to raising a hell for nothing.

Self-made burden

I have a horrible memory, this is no surprise. I’m also a fan of certain series that I might have written about.

As such, I do have an excuse not to remember Hayase’s birthday on the 27th of last month. To be honest, I don’t really remember or know these, but seeing how much the series means to me kinda makes me want to step up with the nerd factor. I was reading the Visual Novel, so…

As such, happy (late) birthday Mitsuki Hayase.

I’m going to talk about being a fan from a personal point of view as talking about fans takes a lot more.

I do not personally see my status as a fan obligating me to do anything. I might be a fan of certain TV-shows, but I very rarely feel any obligation of purchasing anything related to the show, including the home releases. One example would be the Simpsons,of which I’ve seen pretty much every episode on TV. I never feltany obligations to buy the comics, figures, games or anything. Eventually I did purchase the first three season DVD sets, but mostly because those seasons won’t ever come out of TV again. Similar situation with Star Trek, but I don’t have any seasons, just the movies.

As such anything I feel I “must” do comes from completely from inside. Thus, whatever burden I have towards any franchise comes from my own wants. Needs as such have nothing to do with it.

Still, who whendo fans say that they need something? On logical level I know that all the merch I have isn’t as important as my love towards the series. Personally I can say that it’s about showing support. I may not be able to tell scriptwriters that I love their work or shake their hands and thank them, so the next best option is to buy some of their products. It’s a political reason, kind of.

But why do I feel a need to wish a fictional character happy birthday? Isn’t that crossing the line a bit? To be completely honest, it is. However, it’s also an excellent excuse to post pretty pictures for me and have some fun with the blog.

I’d like to ask my readers to ponder for a minute why are they fans of certain franchises, and why do they feel to follow those franchises to the extent you do?

Next time will be a meta-post where we’ll discuss about little things that’ll change. Perhaps.