Five episodes of one of the UK’s most cherished TV shows are heading to Blu-ray for the first time – but how much of it can actually be remastered in high-definition?
When an older TV show gets a Blu-ray release I expect the majority of people automatically think it’ll be a fully restored, glistening high-definition affair – where the picture sparkles with detail and depth on a modern TV – the content fully justifying spending a little extra to upgrade those dusty old DVDs and VHS tapes.
But to achieve that sort of quality it needs to have been shot on film in the first place, so I’m always a little sceptical when older British classics arrive on Blu-ray. Why? Because a lot of them were filmed in the studio straight on to video – meaning standard definition (SD) is as good as the picture is ever going to get.
While that’s true for the majority of Only Fools & Horses, these five 1980s specials are different. I was pleased to see the new set carrying the following disclaimer:
“These episodes have been restored and remastered using the existing film where available, with any standard definition content upscaled during this process.”
John Sullivan’s south London sitcom remains one of the UK’s most loved and most popular TV shows of all time – more than 24 million people watched the 1996 special Time on Our Hands, which was expected to have been the finale at the time.
The Second Time Around
Given the show’s huge popularity it had always surprised me that the BBC hadn’t attempted a remaster of certain episodes. But now it has arrived, just how much of it will (or can) actually be in HD? And, as so many people will already own these episodes in one format or another, will it be worth spending another £34.99 on?
I asked BBC Studios what people could expect. A spokesperson told me:
“The Only Fools and Horses 80s specials included in the Blu-ray release were mostly shot on film and on location. In over six hours of material more than 50% is originated on 16mm film which has been carefully brought out of the archive, cleaned and rescanned to HD standards using the latest film scanning technology.
The studio filmed video elements have also been digitally reprocessed to create the best possible match for the restored film. This marks the first time fans will see Only Fools & Horses footage in such detail, with richness of resolution and colour providing the best possible viewing experience.”
With the set’s run time clocking in at 7 hours 31 minutes, that means people will still be looking at more than 3.5 hours of upscaled standard definition content – do you think that’s enough to make the upgrade worth it?
I’ve always felt strongly that when remasters of old films, TV shows and games are released as new products they need to have had the time, care and effort put into he restoration process that they deserve – especially as people are being asked to shell out more money for them.
I don’t think there’ll be any issues in this case as the original 16mm is being used, but I’ll always be inquisitive as to the source material after the Blu-ray release of Red Dwarf that we discussed in 2019.
And then there’s what went wrong with the HD transfer of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, while the video game series Grand Theft Auto has been in the news lately after remastering attempts of its early-2000s PlayStation 2 games appear to have been riddled with errors.
In some of these cases, the original versions of the show or game can then actually be removed from streaming services and digital media libraries – meaning the ‘new’ versions effectively replace the originals.
So unless you own those old DVDs or original game discs, you won’t be able to see or play what was originally intended.
How do you feel about older versions being replaced online by modern makeovers? For me, it represents quite a big problem if the product has been substantially altered from the original experience – should they let Sleeping Dogs Lie? Or what’s stopping both versions being made available, giving the consumer the freedom to choose?
But back to Fools & Horses – I’m glad this one’s happening. Even if just over half of the footage can actually be HD, I still think it’ll be brilliant to see it. As you can probably tell, I’m a pretty big fan having been brought up with the show. Restoring the film that’s available is something I’ve always wanted to see happen – it’ll be very interesting to see how it all gels together.
How do you feel about remastered releases of older shows? Do you think the remastered HD content will work well alongside the upscaled SD segments?
Let me know if this one will be on your Wanted list for Christmas or if, for you, it’s a case of Yesterday Never Comes.