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I put off watching David Simon’s The Wire for years – first because I didn’t have access to it and then because I was intimidated. I wasn’t so much intimidated by its status as The Best Television Series of All Time®, but by the fact that everyone I knew seemed to believe that it was The Best Television Series of All Time®. I finally got around to seeing the show just last year and was pleasantly surprised. Of course I had assumed it would be good, but I expected it to match my expectations of other critically beloved TV shows. It’s so even-keeled, stylistically impassive, and unpredictable. It’s mythically dramatic, yet painfully intimate. The characters aren’t treated preciously and there are no leading roles; just an interlocking mesh of (mostly) realistic people, surviving a depressingly realistic situation. It’s truthful in its seeping melancholy without overwhelming the audience with despair. Most importantly, it may even have made a difference in the way millions of people view crime, poverty, governmental gridlock/corruption, and inner city police forces with its honest portrayal.

 Wire: The Complete Series
 Wire: The Complete Series

Video


Many of HBO’s most celebrated post- The Sopranos shows were shot for 1.78:1 and have been easily converted to HD standards for Blu-ray releases. The Wire fell on the cusp of the divide between the 4:3 and 16:9 standards and the decision was made to stick to the 1.33:1 aspect ratio. It saved both time and money. The show was then distinctly designed around the more cramped and vertically integrated ratio format for the remaining seasons. Despite the fact that the show’s minimal digital effects were designed in SD for SD broadcasts, every episode was shot on 35mm film, which made the HD conversion for this new Blu-ray collection pretty cut and dry. However, HBO also decided to widen the frame to 1.78:1, which meant open-matte images. The immediate risk is that this exposes ‘errors,’ like crewmembers, actors, or filming equipment that were otherwise hidden by the right and left mattes. In addition, the reframing fundamentally changes the specifically crafted images that define The Wire *.

According to creator/producer/writer David Simon, HBO informed him and producer Nina Kostroff-Noble that they were ‘experimenting’ with converting The Wire to HD and 16:9, but that was the extent of the interaction. Eventually, they were brought on for quality control, but there wasn’t enough time to check every single episode in time for the release. The final product is a mix of straight, un-matted widescreen shots and shots adjusted using pan & scan techniques to retrofit the compositions without revealing ‘mistakes’ or completely altering the original intent. Some viewers have reported crewmembers and equipment drifting into the edges of the shot. I didn’t notice any during my quick run-through, but it was a comparatively small sampling. It’s easy to believe that mistakes were made. The zoom of the pan & scan doesn’t create any clarity problems as far as I can see.

Outside of framing issues, the clarity upgrade is extensive, especially within wide-angle images. In SD, these shots are muddled with compression noise and sloppy edge enhancement haloes. Now, the hard edges are crisp, background details are discernible, and gradations are smooth. There is 35mm film grain, but very little compression artefacting. The differences in close-up detail is somewhat negligible, often because the show’s cinematographers were shooting with relatively soft focus (also note how clean the softly-lit edges are in HD). Gradations are more even and black levels are more homogenized, no longer absorbing the hues around them. The colour palette is usually unchanged, but there have been some adjustments made, either to warm-up or cool down a particular sequence. Overall vibrancy has been punched up a hair as well, particularly in the darker scenes lit by neon signage.

* I’ve heard some people reason that The Wire was ‘supposed’ to be presented in 4:3/SD because it was meant to evoke the lower resolution image of a surveillance camera. As far as I’m concerned, there’s no evidence to support this theory.

 Wire: The Complete Series
 Wire: The Complete Series

Audio


The Wire’s original, low-key 5.1 soundtracks don’t seem to have been extensively revamped to my ears, but they are presented in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio for the first time. These tracks are rarely aggressive or flashy, which matches the show’s down-to-earth, hyper-real aesthetic. Dialogue and incidental effects are usually centered. The roughness of the production can lead to occasional clarity problems, but this is part of the product, not a shortfall with the tracks. The stereo and surround channels mostly create ambient depth (the hum of the streets, the buzz of the classroom, et cetera) and have a more punchy presence during shoot-outs and other ‘cinematic’ action. Music plays a passive role, outside of the opening credit songs, but is consistently well-placed and warm.

Extras


Season One:
  • Episode one ( The Target) commentary with creator David Simon
  • Episode two ( The Detail) commentary with director Clark Johnson
  • Episode thirteen ( Cleaning Up) commentary with Simon and writer George P. Pelecanos

Season Two:
  • Episode six ( All Prologue) commentary with actors Dominic West and Michael K. Williams
  • Episode twelve ( Port in a Storm) commentary with co-producer Karen L. Thorson and editor Thom Zimny

Season Three:
  • Episode one ( Time After Time) commentary with Simon and producer Nina K. Noble
  • Episode two ( All Due Respect) commentary with writer Richard Price
  • Episode three ( Dad Soldiers) commentary with Simon
  • Episode eleven ( Middle Ground) commentary with producers George Pelecanos and Joe Chappelle
  • Episode twelve ( Mission Accomplished) commentary with Simon and Thorson

Season Four:
  • Episode one ( Boys of Summer) commentary with Simon and producer Ed Burns
  • Episode four ( Refugees) commentary with editor Kate Sanford, Thorson, and actor Jim True-Frost
  • Episode six ( Margin of Error) commentary with director Dan Attias and story editor William F. Zorzi
  • Episode eleven ( A New Day) commentary with cast members Robert Chew, Jermaine Crawford, Maestro Harrell, Julito McCallum, and Tristan Wilds
  • Episode twelve ( That’s Got His Own) commentary with director Chappelle and writer Pelecanos
  • Episode thirteen ( Final Grades) commentary with Simon and Noble
  • It’s All Connected (28:50, SD) – A look at the show’s reality and its connections to (sadly ongoing) hardships in the city of Baltimore.
  • The Game is Real (30:00, SD) – A further exploration of the thematic content of the show and the real-world specialists that informed the scripts.

Season Five:
  • Episode one ( More with Less) commentary with Chappelle and actor Wendell Pierce
  • Episode two ( Unconfirmed Reports) commentary with Zorzi and director/actor Clark Johnson
  • Episode four ( Transitions) commentary with Burns and Thorson
  • Episode six ( The Dickensian Aspect) commentary with Pelecanos and director Seith Mann
  • Episode seven ( Took) commentary with director/actor Dominic West and Sanford
  • Episode ten ( -30-) commentary with Simon and Noble
  • The Last Word (26:40, SD) – A look at the final season’s newspaper subplots.
  • The Wire Odyssey (28:40, SD) – The cast and crew discusses the production and ongoing themes of the final season.
  • The Wire prequels – Flashback sequences:
    • Young Prop Joe: 1962, Baltimore, Maryland (1:40, HD)
    • Young Omar: 1985, Baltimore, Maryland (1:40, HD)
    • Bunk and McNulty: 2000, Baltimore, Maryland (2:40, HD)
  • The Wire Reunion (1:25:30, HD) – This ‘Paley Center for Media Event’ is the only new extra in the set. It begins with Skype messages from stars Dominic West and Idris Elba, who regret that they can’t join the rest of the major cast for this roundtable discussion.


 Wire: The Complete Series
 Wire: The Complete Series

Overall


The Wire looks very nice in HD and is, generally speaking, the upgrade that fans have been waiting for. That said, I’m still not convinced that the 16:9 re-framing was either a good or bad idea. I suppose leaving it alone would be the ideal option, but I don’t think that the results are at all catastrophic. It’s possible that the wider aspect ratio helps the scope of some sequences. The DTS-HD MA sound is definitely an improvement and all previous special features are included here – some are even converted to HD. The one new extra, The Wire Reunion, is a little disappointing (I’d prefer a full-on retrospective documentary), but still has plenty to offer long-term fans.

 Wire: The Complete Series
 Wire: The Complete Series

 Wire: The Complete Series
 Wire: The Complete Series

 Wire: The Complete Series
 Wire: The Complete Series

 Wire: The Complete Series
 Wire: The Complete Series

 Wire: The Complete Series
 Wire: The Complete Series

 Wire: The Complete Series
 Wire: The Complete Series

 Wire: The Complete Series
 Wire: The Complete Series

 Wire: The Complete Series
 Wire: The Complete Series

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and the original DVD collection, then resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.

Thanks to Tyler Foster from DVDTalk for the DVD caps.


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