More Invisible Than Ever

June 21, 2012

Invisible is right.

Word has it that the recent Blu-ray release of The Invisible Man, the 1975 series that starred David McCallum, is all fucked up.

The Blu-rays have cropped the episodes – which, like every TV show prior to the late nineties, were shot in the 4:3 aspect ratio – on the top and bottom to fit the standard widescreen television size of 16:9.  That means that poor David McCallum, who was already short enough to begin with, has been shorn of his hair and his legs in a lot of long shots.

There are apparently other problems with this Blu-ray – for one thing, all thirteen episodes are crammed onto a single disc – but obviously the Procrustean aspect ratio change is the dealbreaker.  It’s the same botch that afflicted one batch of Route 66 episodes (which were corrected) and the first season of Kung Fu (which weren’t).

(And the series pilot is actually stretched instead of cropped!)

VEI, which put out The Invisible Man discs, is one of several independent DVD labels that have sublicensed old TV series from Universal; it’s responsible for the absurdly overpriced McMillan and Wife box set, and for liberating the four episodes of The Snoop Sisters, a ninety-minute mystery wheel show that had been on a lot of collectors’ most wanted lists.

What’s particularly galling here is that VEI clearly knew better, because their simultaneous DVD release of The Invisible Man is in the original 4:3 aspect ratio.  I don’t pretend to understand the logic but it certainly appears that VEI has caved into imbecile pressure from the “I want it to fill my screen” crowd.

It’s not a total loss, since fans who know and care about this stuff can avail themselves of the DVDs instead of the Blu-rays.  But the state of classic TV on Blu-ray is so anemic – we have The Twilight Zone, The Prisoner, and … what else? – that a screw-up like this can have wider consequences.  It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy: fans will buy the DVDs instead, sales for the Blu-rays will suck, and VEI (and other industry watchers) will convince themselves that consumers in this niche don’t care about Blu-ray.  Well, some of us do – but you have to get them right.

This issue has received surprisingly indifferent coverage on the usual internet rant-podiums (maybe because the show, which I’ve never seen, is not highly regarded), but  you can read more about this disaster at my bête noire, the Home Theater Forum. Update: At “press time,” HTF posters are reporting that VEI has plans to issue a second pressing of the Invisible Man Blu-rays in the correct aspect ration.  We’ll see.

10 Responses to “More Invisible Than Ever”

  1. michael Says:

    I know how much improved the picture is with Blu-ray, but when we are watching a 1970s TV series and DVD recreates the picture we remember watching, how important is it to have the series on Blu-ray?

  2. Stephen Bowie Says:

    You mean, will Blu-ray be a real improvement in picture quality for a 70s Universal show? I think, potentially, yes. I’d love to see Uni go back to the negative for a Rockford Files Blu-ray. And it’s a shame Night Gallery wasn’t done on Blu.

  3. Russell M. Says:

    “Star Trek: TOS” is also on Blu-ray. :)

    I found out about this astonishing development yesterday. I feel bad for anyone who decided to hold out for the BD and wound up with this major mistake, which is as much of a debacle as the BD version of “The World at War.” (I’m glad I went with the DVD set. As for the show, it’s a lightweight affair, but McCallum delivers his usual good performance.)

    Any idea if the BD reformatting was done by VEI or by Universal? I’m thinking both may be culpable in differing capacities.

    • Neville Ross Says:

      The reformatting was done by VEI completely, since Universal didn’t want to do it themselves; they haven’t been able to sell classic TV like this to anybody (witness their not continuing Baretta past a season one box set because of low sales-sales that most likely have been caused by TV stations not showing older programs like Baretta or The Invisible Man.) It’s a tragedy that this has to happen, but unless we all launch a revolution to change hiring and employment practices at companies like Universal, this will continue.

      • Russell M. Says:

        True about “Baretta,” but the 2002 set was put out months after Robert Blake was charged with the murder of Bonnie Lee Bakely. The fact Universal released it under exploitative circumstances may have contributed to its poor sales, too.

  4. “you can read more about this disaster at my bête noire, the Home Theater Forum” … Provocative comment. Why is Home Theater Forum your bete noire?.

  5. Al Says:

    I’m in the process of watching the series on DVD (quite enjoying it) and I’m glad I didn’t get it on Blu-ray. Not just for the reasons stated (the cropping would have been a deal-breaker, though) but because the image quality isn’t that great. Any time invisible effects are done, the entire quality of the image changes – almost taking on a videotape chromakey (think 1970s Doctor Who) look. Short of completely remastering and redoing the effects (which I can’t imagine they’d invest money in for such an obscure show), I think this would look terrible on Blu-ray. I’m all for shows being issued to Blu-ray for the most part – roll on The Avengers and Danger Man and Mission Impossible – but this one’s SFX does it in for high-def. It’s still a fun show, though.

    • Neville Ross Says:

      May I ask, what is your home video set-up?

      • Stephen Bowie Says:

        The primary is a 46″ plasma (a Panasonic Viera) with a Sony Blu-ray player that I like, and a region-free LG that I use for imports (and which I’m not crazy about). No external audio set-up; my ears are untrained.

        But I watch a lot of vintage TV on an 36″ Sony CRT — 4:3 but with a flat rather than convex screen (which I think makes a big difference). I find that the tube TV sharpens 16mm transfers and DVDs mastered from 20 year-old tapes, whereas the plasma magnifies their flaws. I’ll be bummed with the old Sony finally kicks the bucket.

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