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Fox is remastering Buffy in HD — and now there are crew members in shots

Emily St. James was a senior correspondent for Vox, covering American identities. Before she joined Vox in 2014, she was the first TV editor of the A.V. Club.

20th Century Fox is ruining the seminal TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. There's no other way to put it.

The studio is putting out a widescreen edition of the show, but it has bungled the job so badly that some scenes show crew members standing around on the side of the screen. The remastered episodes have been airing since August 2014, but as more episodes get added to the package, more and more people are noticing the awful changes.

None of this is new. In 2014, HBO announced a version of The Wire remastered for high-definition televisions. This caused much consternation among some, because the network changed the show's aspect ratio (basically, the shape of its image) from a more squarish image to a more wide-screen format. (For a thorough explanation of what this means, see our earlier explainer on aspect ratios.)

That project, however, at least brought the series' creator, David Simon, on board as a consultant. He wrote at length about the agonies of changing aspect ratios, and how doing so can make a work of art lesser, even with the utmost of care.

But the Buffy remaster is much, much worse. The company doesn't seem to be consulting the series' creator, Joss Whedon, or any of its original technical personnel. Episodes remastered for HD have been popping up in reruns on the cable channel Pivot, and the company appears to be finished with remastering the first three seasons (of seven).

The problem is that the HD Buffy seems to have simply chosen at random how to change the program's aspect ratio. Some shots have added visual information at the edges, while others crop out visual information at the top and bottom, making the shot wider, sure, but also removing crucial context here and there. Some shots have even had effects and other important visual cues removed entirely.

Fans of the program have been tracking the changes, and this Facebook note is the best repository of them so far. Here are some additional examples.

Yes, that's a crew member in the shot. The new, wider image now includes things that were cropped out of the original broadcast, including the guy standing just off-camera.

A filter was originally applied to this shot to make it appear that the scene was taking place at night. That filter has apparently been removed, rendering this scene a little nonsensical.

Here you get a good sense of how zooming in on a portion of the shot to make it fill an entire 16:9 screen ruins the composition and removes some of the grandeur of a moment.

There's so much more at the link, including video comparisons and talk about how the visual effects work has been affected by the switch.

Whedon has spoken about this issue before. He said:

Adding space to the sides simply for the sake of trying to look more cinematic would betray the very exact mise-en-scene I was trying to create. I am a purist, and this is the purest way to watch BUFFY. I have resisted the effort to letterbox BUFFY from the start and always will, because that is not the show we shot.

Whedon also made brief mention of this issue on Twitter, calling widescreen Buffy "nonsense."

20th Century Fox TV declined to comment.

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