From the Earth to a HD Moon

e2mbluThe new blu-ray edition of HBOs classic From the Earth to the Moon arrived today, and eager to see how good/bad it looks I gave it a quick spin. Specifically, I loaded up the two episodes I’d watched on DVD late last year– episode five; Spider,  and episode six; Mare Tranquilitas. 

I’ll get the negative out the way (and while its a biggie for some, it is pretty much the only negative I can see), and as widely expected, it’s the aspect ratio. Originally filmed in the 1990s when most everyone had a 4.3 television, and a cathode ray tube one at that, the show was filmed for a 4.3 (square) ratio (although thankfully on 35mm film I believe, certainly not on video). So purists baying at losing visual information on the top and bottom of the screen (HBO having expanded the whole image to fill a 16.9 widescreen ratio panel in the majority of homes today) will no doubt carry on their baying. The ideal solution would have been to preserve that original ratio as did HD remasters/presentations of the original Star Trek series and shows like The Prisoner and Space: 1999, but HBO no doubt had their eyes on HD presentations on HBO and worldwide sales to foreign networks, where Joe Public likely switches off aghast at black bars on the left and right of the image on their shiny big televisions. Die-hard fans buying shows on disc or download are the minority audience for shows like this, unfortunately (physical sales very much the minority, it’s the world we are living in, and I feel lucky to have the show on disc at all).

This aspect ratio issue was also true of the last DVD edition of the show, but at least this edition has a saving grace, of a sorts, and that’s the newly-executed visual effects, something I really hadn’t expected when news of this HD edition broke.

Possibly one of the deciding factors against preserving a 4.3 ratio is that the majority of the visual effects (and all of the original CGI shots) have been redone, in full HD to replace the original SD effects, and these have been formatted specifically for the wider frame, so couldn’t have been placed in the 4.3 original. I suppose they could have retained those old original effects shots for the 4.3 presentation but that would have negated any benefit from remastering the original negatives of the live-action material as the effects would have stuck out like a sore thumb (we are fortunate to have the option to keep the original effects shots for the 1960s Star Trek Blu-rays – it’s likely we wouldn’t even have that option were they released today, I doubt the studios would make the effort).

I’ve only seen sections of the episodes but on the whole the new effects shots, while certainly not typical of a modern blockbuster movie due to a no doubt limited budget, look very fine indeed. Much better, anyway, than the original effects shots looked, and definitely succeeding in HBOS intentions of giving the show a fresh update and leaving it more like what viewers expect today. They definitely look more cinematic in composition thanks to them being designed for a  widescreen image. When I watched that DVD last year, the visual effects looked horribly dated, particularly on my unforgiving OLED panel- they looked horrible, almost unwatchable, so I commend HBO making that effort. I appreciate some would have liked better CGI but you can hardly expect a remaster of an old tv show to be afforded hugely expensive and time-consuming effects. As it is, what I have seen looks pretty fine and certainly makes the show easier to watch.

The rest of the image has been remastered very well indeed. Colour, contrast etc have been boosted and adjusted brilliantly, and there is plenty of grain for the film purists- likely a result of the image being slightly ‘blown up’ to fill the widescreen frame. Regards this, I’ll have to reserve judgement until I can compare scenes from my DVD but I suspect some care has been given to the framing, I don’t expect it is a simple hack job. A remastering featurette on disc three suggests that considerable care has been given. Skin textures, clothing textures, lighting and colour range are all improved, certainly to my eye (albeit I guess my panel is upgrading the HD image to pseudo-4K anyway). There definitely is a great deal of added detail on the screen, and it definitely looks much better than that horrible DVD did last year- it’s a pretty great HD picture overall; the only real downside I suppose is for those fans who prefer the original 4.3 ratio image. I suppose they can keep (and rewatch) the original DVD edition that was in 4.3 but really, the new remaster is leaps and bounds superior in image quality and they’d be missing out on something here.

So anyway, on the basis of this quick spin I’m very happy and looking forward to really putting HBO to the test with a full rewatch of the series.

Now, if only La La Land can have some really good news for me tomorrow…

 

Back to the Moon 3: 2024 reality check

Well it was nice while the positivity lasted, but reading some more into the Orion/Lunar Gateway/Artemis situation, it’s clear that things are murkier than I’d hoped regards possibly returning to the moon in 2024, as this article indicates. I can’t say I was surprised, the manned space program since the days of Apollo has always been dictated to by the political establishment, its inevitable considering the funds involved but nonetheless as a keen enthusiast in stretching frontiers and exploration (hell, I was a Star Trek Original Series kid, it’s in our blood) I was pretty excited by the possibilities. You’d think I’d learn to curb my enthusiasm a little.

13 logoSo anyway, I’ve been spending my last several days listening to a great Apollo-related podcast, 13 Minutes to the Moon, which is really worth investigating if you are interested in Apollo and the upcoming anniversary. Its very similar to HBO’s From the Earth to the Moon series in approach, but there’s something nice and intimate at just listening to something, attentively considering what interviewees are telling us, it’s a different experience to just watching a documentary on television. Episode 8 has just been made available, so that’s what I’ll be listening to tomorrow.

The series has certainly been giving me the benefit of perspective each morning on the commute, before I suffer the pull of inevitability and return to my desk job, and conversations about the Women’s World Cup, the Cricket World Cup, or Wimbledon, or the Conservative leadership contest and Brexit. I tell you, it’s a warzone out there. Life wasn’t any simpler in the 1960s (1968 was proof of that, with two great similarly-focused episodes in both 13 Minutes to the Moon and From the Earth to the Moon will testify) but to a kid watching Star Trek back when Apollo was being put out to pasture, it seemed much simpler, and humanity sure seemed to just dream a little harder. The world just seems so strange now.

Whats coming in July

Hey, welcome to July- and it’s going to be an interesting month, so I thought I’d add a post that looks ahead.

armOf course, the big thing this month (other than my wife’s birthday, hey, I know what’s most important) is that we going to have the fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, and as something of a space nut, it should indeed be a pretty fascinating time. So expect to see me post another look at First Man on 4K UHD, and review the documentary Armstrong on Blu-ray that’s due in a few weeks. Unfortunately, the widely-praised documentary Apollo 11 recently released on disc in America is region-locked, and its limited run in cinemas currently doesn’t include one near me, so I have to wait for its November disc release over here (unless I get pleasantly surprised by an airing on tv, as you never know with these things). I’m really excited about HBO’s brilliant series From the Earth to the Moon getting a HD release shortly, and really, really excited that it appears to have been properly remastered with a Dolby Atmos track and new visual effects shots. As I remarked awhile ago, the old DVD I have looks pretty much unwatchable, especially on an unforgiving OLED panel, so having this show in a great release is more than I could have hoped for, really.  You never know, if whispers are to be believed, we might even be getting a proper soundtrack set too, something which I’ve been wishing for since, well, I first saw the show back in 1998 (if I remember correctly, the show’s original dvd release in old-fashioned 4:3 was also my very first international purchase on the internet). I also intend to dust off some of the Spacecraft Films DVDs that I have, particularly the Apollo 11 set.

The same day that Armstrong and From the Earth to the Moon land on disc, so too does Captain Marvel, which I missed during its theatrical release. I’m curious to see what I think of it, as I gather it got a mixed response from fans (something also apparently true of Spiderman: Far From Home, making me wonder if the bubble is finally bursting for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, considering I had such misgivings regards Avengers: Endgame). The following week we get Alita: Battle Angel, which I saw back in February– I enjoyed it enough to have ordered the 4K release, so maybe I’ll post a review of how it looks at home, and see if I’m still hoping for a sequel.

gloryBeyond that, July 29th sees the release of Glory in 4K UHD and Chernobyl, the HBO/Sky limited series that everyone at work has been raving about. I guess those will be reviews posted in August.

Now, anybody who had the curiosity to read my post summarizing June will have noticed that I have reached 83 in my tally of ‘new’ film/television experiences. I also have a fair few items already waiting to be watched- films like The Nun, Rampage, Zathura, Lady Bird, Unsane, all kinds of stuff piling up on the Tivo or on Netflix/Amazon, and I really want to catch up with the second seasons of Star Trek: Discovery and Stranger Things.

But I really do think it’s time to go back and rewatch some of the discs/films that I’ve seen before that I just, well, kind of miss. I’ve quite enjoyed my (albeit limited so far) series of posts rewatching films from 1989 that are currently getting anniversary releases, and I’d certainly like to continue with that more, to which end I’ve got the 4K UHD release of Field of Dreams on the way and Spielberg’s Always on Blu-ray sitting on the shelf. So if all goes to plan, I will likely refrain from watching too many ‘new’ films in favour of going back and revisiting some of those oldies over July and August. If only to maintain my sanity. Good lord I’ve been watching some rubbish lately.

Part of that of course will be my rewatch of From the Earth to the Moon, so yeah, I hope to relax with some od favourites over the summer.

Unfortunately, this month is also the month of Wimbledon, and anyone reading this blog over the years may remember Claire is a big fan of Wimbledon and commandeers the television for the tournament, usually relegating me to Wimbledon Widower status, so it’s anybody’s guess how much of this stuff I have planned that I’ll get to watch this month all this month… Possibly none of the above. Hey ho.

 

HBO’s From the Earth to the Moon > First Man

fe2m2It shouldn’t come as any surprise, really. In some respects, any comparison between a high-quality twelve-part mini series and a two hour-plus Hollywood movie is going to be rather unfair, if only because a twelve-hour series is going to have much wider scope to give the Space Program its proper due. In First Man‘s case, it is perhaps doubly unfair because, contrary to some of the marketing, in many ways the Space Program and moon landing are almost incidental to the main focus of that movie.

Having watched, and enjoyed  First Man (albeit with some reservations that I may come to later in another post), I went home and was unable to resist finding out my DVD of HBO’s glorious mini-series from 1998 (has it been so long?). I cued up my favourite episode, the wonderful ‘Spider’ (episode 5) and its subsequent episode ‘Mare Tranquilitatis’ which covers much of what First Man does. What a fantastic two hours it was- First Man paled by comparison, frankly.

The music. The cast. The sheer joy. Mind, it was a sobering experience- a 55″ OLED does no favours for DVD. The show looks quite utterly horrible. Here starts the campaign to get somebody at HBO to remaster the series for a HD release on Blu-ray (and okay the campaign probably ends here too, but I can dream). Some of the model-work holds up (just) but the CGI effects have aged as badly as a Babylon 5 episode, and could do with a fresh rework. It would be a shame to let the rest of the series suffer for this poor image quality and dated effects, because it could likely hold the series back from gaining a new appreciative audience. Strangely overlooked over the years since it first aired (its a series largely lost under the shadow of HBOs bigger hits like The Sopranos, Band of Brothers etc)  I still think it is a remarkable project and a largely definitive account of the Apollo program. Maybe HBO plan to so something with the show next year, as a freshly remastered broadcast to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the moon landing would seem a marketing man’s daydream.