Oh boy. The network that defined premium original content is bringing back The Wire, remastered in HD, launching on HBO Go on December 26 with a Blu-ray release next year.
What’s The Wire?
Say it ain’t so, you’ve never seen The Wire? If you’re any kind of fan of TV, you should love this classic from HBO, which originally aired from 2002-2008. It’s an amazing show beloved by critics and fans alike, and is often referred to as the Greatest TV Show of All Time. I’m not kidding.
The Wire was created and written (mostly) by former police reporter David Simon who is also known for creating Homicide: Life on the Street, also set in Baltimore. Although technically a crime drama, the show focused on various Baltimore institutions ranging from gangs, to the public school system, and even the media – and how these institutions affected individuals on a cultural and personal level. It continues to be praised for the style of the show which focused on authentic realism, which included not casting big name, well-known actors in favor of using lesser (or completely unknown) character actors that were able to seem completely natural. This is a stark contrast to most American crime dramas that feature improbably and uniformly attractive casts. The show also featured real Baltimore figures (mayors, governors, police chiefs and officers, reporters, etc.) in minor roles. All in all, it’s a show that has never been duplicated and created a completely unique and authentic experience.
OK, so what’s the problem? Remastering in HD is always good, right?
Part of Simon’s dedication to realism included framing the show for standard definition 4:3 aspect ratio, although The Wire came out when other shows were starting to make the switch to HD. He felt that the 4:3 ratio felt more like “real” life unlike the more cinematic feel of 16:9.
And therein lies the problem.
The Wire was never meant to be presented in 16:9 widescreen format, and this new remastered version will of course not be in line with the show creator’s original vision. That is a fact.
What Does the Show Creator Think?
Well, in a recent blog post, David Simon states that while this new version is not the same, it is a valid “alternative” version. Simon was involved in the process of remastering, so that does give the new version some degree of authenticity and he does go on to say that while some scenes benefit from the remastering to the widescreen HD format, other scenes suffer from the translation. He does point out that it’s a good thing if the new release introduces the show to people that have never seen it.
What Do the Fans Think?
Fans are slightly outspoken. Here’s a hilarious quote from a great article by Sam Adams at Criticwire:
HBO is reframing the entire show so that idiots won’t complain that it doesn’t fill up their flatscreens
The name of the piece is “It’s Official: HBO Is Remastering ‘The Wire’ in the Wrong Aspect Ratio” so you can guess what Sam thinks of the new version. Die hard purists will never accept a version that features an aspect ratio that was specifically rejected by the show’s creator. I get that. The whole thing reminds me of trying to explain to the average person why “Pan and Scan” was so horrible.
I can’t speak for everyone, but for me, I’m going to give it a shot and see what the new version is like. If nothing else, it’s a good reason to re-watch one of the greatest shows ever. Except season 2. That one wasn’t so great. I do hope that the eventual Blu-ray version will contain both the new HD master as well as the original 4:3 standard definition version.