Buffy, Angel, and the Big Picture

Buffy, Angel, and the Big Picture

Buffy the Vampire Slayer premiered as a TV show 22 years ago this week, on March 10th, 1997. In the years between then and now, Buffy has become a huge cultural touchstone. On a personal level, a subset of the Buffy fandom community has somewhat recently become a hugely important part of my life.

As one can imagine, across the span of 7 seasons for the main show, 5 for the spin-off, about 12 seasons for the comic extension, as well as a recently launched comic reboot, there have been both hits and misses in the Buffy-verse. So some of what’s found in the history of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is somewhat questionable. But one of the lesser known debacles was the HD remastering that the series went through. That remaster is an utter mess, and it may be the version that you’re watching.

The remaster happened back in 2014. I found out about it because at the time Buffy and Angel were available on Netflix and I was doing (another) watch-through of the show. Back then I had seasons one through three on DVD, and simply jumped to the streaming versions once I finished my disks.

One of the parts of the remaster was that color toning was done to make the scenes look like they had more natural lighting. The problem with that is much of the show was, again, not filmed with that in mind. Many scenes that took place at night were filmed in brighter lights and then darkened in editing. The result is that there are many, many, many scenes where Angel is clearly standing in direct sunlight with no ill effect.

It’s worth noting, at this point, that the original run of Buffy was all broadcast in 4:3 aspect ratio. That’s the nearly square screen shape of older TVs. Angel was broadcast the same way for the first two season, and then made the jump to the 16:9 aspect ratio of current TVs that we’ve all become accustomed to1. For the remaster, the entirety of both shows are presented in the widescreen format, which leads to some issues. Some of the time the remaster chooses to simply crop off the top and bottom of the frame, creating some awkwardly headless embraces and closeups. Other times they use the original footage, which leads to even more hilarity.

So both of these options destroy the original framing of the scenes, effectively adding a layer of terrible direction to the show. Things aren’t centered or pushed aside as they should be. But the problem with that second method is the directors and camera operators were shooting with the knowledge that certain parts of the footage would not appear on screen. And suddenly those things are appearing on screen. Crew members suddenly show up, unfinished special effects are left in, and, well, in later seasons when there’s implied nudity that’s cut off due to framing, that creates some… complications.

I had mostly forgotten about this entry into Buffy history when an episode of the amazing Buffering the Vampire Slayer podcast mentioned a visible crew member in on of the scenes. I remembered that they are doing their watch-through on Hulu and so I logged in to check it out. Sure enough, there’s Buffy season 4 in the widescreen format god didn’t intend.

So if you’re watching through on Hulu and things seem a bit wonky, now you know why. And if you have the DVDs but want to treat yourself to one hellmouth of a mess, pop over to Buffy on Hulu to see a bit more than you were supposed to.

And now a gallery of some of the best “What do you mean we’re in widescreen?” moments from the shows. Click for larger versions, and feel free to share your favorite remaster debacles if you have any.

Spoiler Warning: screenshots below are from Angel season 2, and Buffy seasons 4-7.


1 BONUS TRIVIA: While broadcast in 16:9 for seasons 3-5, only season 5 was actually broadcast in HD.

About Adam

Adam is a Jewish American who's sick of the white Christian male being America's "default" setting. For money he works in a public library because free books and information access are wonderful things. For love he writes here for his pet project, The Chaotic Neutral, which is always looking for more writers. You can follow him on Instagram, Goodreads, and at his oft neglected Twitter where he will try to post more, and probably live-tweet the Eurovision Song Contest.

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