In a move even more controversial than their decision to launch a standalone streaming subscription service, HBO has decided to remaster classic television series The Wire in high-definition widescreen. The show, as directed by showrunner David Simon, was intended to be show in the 4:3 aspect ratio of standard-definition television sets. In the process of extending that image to 16:9, this remaster makes significant edits to the cinematography of the original series – and that doesn't sit well with many people.
We've previously touched on the big difference that aspect ratio can make, so this certainly isn't a minor change that's going unnoticed by filmmakers. The Wire is often considered the greatest television series of all time, and to many, this type of creative tampering borderline heresy.
Simon seems to feel ambivalent about the remastering, mentioning that some scenes work better in widescreen while others don't. That's inevitable for such a sweeping change to the original format. But we think you, the discerning film enthusiast, deserve to be the judge of that. (Hit the jump for the clips...)
Below are series of videos provided by HBO showing two scenes in both 4:3 and 16:9. One, according to Simon, works better, while another does not. We won't tell you which is which. See what you think.
This first scene is from Season 2, Episode 12, "Port in a Storm."
The next clip is from Season 1, Episode 1, "The Target."
It doesn't seem like a lot on the surface, but there's huge differences between these clips in terms of cinematography and mise-en-scène. It's remarkable how a tweak like this can affect the final product in such substantive ways.
No promise that we'll ever buy the Blu-ray series, but these clips alone are a fascinating case study of the transition between formats.