The Wire Blu-ray Review

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I wonder if we will ever see its like again

by Simon Crust Jun 18, 2015 at 8:20 AM

  • Movies review


    The Wire Blu-ray Review

    The Wire Blu-ray Review

    You follow the drugs, you get drug dealers. You follow the money, who knows where it leads you.

    In the annals of TV, few shows command as much respect as that of tonight’s feature. Hailed not only as a spectacular drama, but also as a game changer in terms of dramatic representation. A near warts and all story telling of the seedy underbelly of drugs told not only by the dealers, but by the police trying to bring them to justice. There is not one point of view, there are multiple – meaning the landscape becomes one big grey blur of misdirection and understanding. David Simon created a monster, a monster that is unrelenting in its pursuit of truth and merciless in its depiction of grime and unpleasantness. With authenticity being the driving factor, the creative team took their lead from the real world and when viewed microscopically, as we do through the TV lens, there is nothing but ugliness therein.
    The single story, told over five seasons of the show, tells the story of drugs in Baltimore and the tactics used by the police to catch the perpetrators as well as the story behind the drug dealers and their methods used to continue supply. By taking a raw look at such dealings through the eyes of both sides the show transcends to become something like a drug itself. Much like Breaking Bad would, in 2008 the show becomes essential viewing, once seen, never forgotten, and if you have never taken the plunge then I envy you so much; to see this show for the first time is like nothing else; whilst Game of Thrones is the current champion, it lives in fantasy, The Wire is real, it lives just outside your door forever gnawing to get back in. As powerful as it is engaging the show is unforgettable.

    Picture Quality

    The Wire Picture Quality
    The discs present a widescreen 1.78:1 1080p transfer using the AVC codec and are Region free.

    Anyone that knows The Wire will already be aware of this – but for the uninitiated, when originally made and broadcast by HBO in 2002, the show was in the ‘old’ TV aspect ratio of 1.33:1 (4:3) even though during its production cinematographer and creator was aware of the widescreen change coming into effect. Being filmed on 35mm film the decision was made to frame the series for 1.33:1 but take into account the wider aspect, at least for the first two seasons, by season 3, however, widescreen had been adopted and the creators decided to continue with their 1.33:1 aspect and indeed completed the series in the format they had adopted to give coherence and continuity to this powerful show.

    Fast forward to 2015 and HBO, understandably, wish to make full use of high definition and have re-mastered the show and adopted the 1.78:1 aspect, but (thankfully) have had the creative team involved due to the intricate nature and set up of the framing of the series. Thus, unlike shows that have been masked (Thunderbirds) or open matte, The Wire has been altered, re-framed, enhanced and cleaned to make the best use of the widescreen format and has been termed an ‘alternate cut’ by David Simon. For the full story I suggest a read through his own blog where he expresses the merits and caveats of these changes, though this quote is a good summation:

    At the last, I’m satisfied what while this new version of The Wire is not, in some specific ways, the film we first made, it has sufficient merit to exist as an alternate version. There are scenes that clearly improve in HD and in the widescreen format. But there are things that are not improved. And even with our best resizing, touchups and maneuver, there are some things that are simply not as good. That’s the inevitability: This new version, after all, exists in an aspect ratio that simply wasn’t intended or serviced by the filmmakers when the camera was rolling and the shot was framed.”

    However, after all that, this new print is quite astonishing and if you didn’t already know you would swear it’s always been in a widescreen aspect.

    if you didn’t already know you would swear it’s always been widescreen

    Detail is stunning, from skin texture (check out the addict’s scabs and drug scarred face) to clothing weaves, from the pit’s grubby centre couch to the Judges book cases, from the boarded up warehouses to the clouds in the sky, there is an incredible amount to see. It shows too how the re-framing is not a case of simply ‘zooming’ the picture as there is no trace of reduced clarity and spread grain, indeed some facial close-ups are microscopically clinical in their clarity. Terrific stuff.

    Colours are bold and strong, but not particularly vivid, this is a stylistic choice, but all the primaries come across with plenty of verve. Reds and greens fair very well on clothing and the inner city grass verges (respectively) while the blue skies grade with consummate ease. Flesh tones are very natural.

    Contrast and brightness are set to give some impenetrable blacks, for the first season this is especially true where there are a few instances of crush in the deeper parts of the inner city, or police cells. However, instances are rarer as the series progresses, and the black level adds significant depth to the frame. There is no hint of white clip though, even in the brightly lit areas such a clouds or white clothing.

    Digitally there are no compression issues, nor any edge enhancement, spotted no posterization or banding either. The grain structure is well intact and only in the very darkest regions does a bit of noise creep in; otherwise this too gets a clean bill of health. A terrific make-over and one the purists wanting an HD 1.33:1 release should still be able to get behind and enjoy.

    Sound Quality

    The Wire Sound Quality
    I went with the English DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround track. What impresses most is how open the outside space feels; even in the oppressive nature of the show – the street noises, cars, wind, general chatter etc. help to envelop you, making you feel dirty and grubby as if you are in the centre of the Pit scoring dope with those on screen. Office noise reacts the same, and when you are in the clubs with R&B music pounding away, you could be there too. Dialogue is well maintained within the mix and sounds very natural mainly held towards the frontal array though there is a little directionality when needed. Effects are well separated with gunshots, cars, helicopters, crowds and weather adding more realism to the proceedings. Ambience is well taken care of by the surrounds. Bass is occasionally thunderous and tremendously well heard – the dealers tend to turn their music up while driving and I found myself looking outside to see who was making that noise on more than one occasion, before the car drove into the picture. Excellent stuff.


    The Wire Extras
    Audio Commentaries – No less than twenty two spread across all seasons with contributions from both cast and crew , including (but not limited to) David Simon, Clark Johnson, Dominic West, Michael K. Williams, Thom Zimny, Nina K. Noble, George P. Pelecanos, Robert Chew, Jermaine Crawford, Karen Thorson, Seith Mann and Kate Sanford. Now, I have only dipped in and out of these, most are quite engaging, particularly the latter seasons and talk about the story, the nature of the show being both technical and anecdotal in format. All were previously available on DVD sets.
    Making of Documentary – Split into two parts entitled: "It's All Connected" and "The Game Is Real”, this hour long feature looks as all aspects of making the show as authentic as possible with contributions from cast and crew. Previously on DVD sets.
    The Last Word – Short thirty minute feature looking at journalism, the effects of ‘modern media’ and how ‘honest journalism’ is being replaced by shock, tabloid driven stories as explored by the show – hails from 2008 DVD release but still relevant to today.
    The Wire Odyssey –Thirty minute feature as the cast reflect on the four seasons (thus far), their characters, stories and complex narratives. Previously on DVD sets.
    Prequels – Six minutes of shorts presented as set ups before the show’s first season.
    The Wire Reunion – New for this release and recorded at PaleyFest in October 2014, thirteen cast and crew members are reunited and discuss their time on the show – this is excellent stuff with plenty to get your teeth into in the eighty five minute runtime.

    Is The Wire Blu-ray Worth Buying

    The Wire Is The Wire Blu-ray Worth Buying
    To the uninitiated it is The Sopranos that made HBO’s fortunes in the ‘original series’ stakes. And whist that incredible series certainly put them on the map, it is The Wire that grabbed the audience’s attention and refused to let go, fundamentally changing the TV landscape forever – if only there were more shows like it. By shining a microscope on the drug addled streets of Baltimore (an allegory for the world) and telling the story through those living on both sides of the law; there is a helplessness to their situation that cannot be ignored. The characters are real, their plights tangible, their actions inevitable – the audience is dragged kicking and screaming into a world they wish they could escape, but like the addicts the show highlights there simply is no escape.

    Starting so innocently with a suspect escaping justice due to corruption, a case is opened up that no one wanted and everyone becomes embroiled in; including the audience. The show is uncompromising in its attitude, demanding much for the viewer in both loyalty and commitment – and whist the same can be said of Game of Thrones, that stellar show exists in fantasy, The Wire lives just outside your door and refuses to go away. In a world where TV shows are redefining entertainment, The Wire, still stands alone as the godfather of them all. I wonder if we will ever see its like again.

    The Wire, on Blu-ray, that’s all the recommendation you need

    As a Blu-ray package this set from HBO is on the one hand outstanding, but on the other frustrating depending on your stance with regard to aspect ratios. The discs are master in HD and in 1.78:1 aspect, a change from the original broadcast ratio of 1.33:1 and whist the picture itself is stunning; bright, detailed, well coloured with incredible frame depth due to the excessive black levels, there are some, justifiably so, who will baulk at this change – but I must say the sympathetic alteration which was done with the consent, co-operation and overseen by creator David Simon, looks so good you would swear it has always been in widescreen. The sound too is just as fine, being all encompassing and bass heavy. The extras have mostly been seen before with audio commentaries and short features; but the eighty five minute brand new reunion feature is well worth your time. Still, The Wire, on Blu-ray, that’s all the recommendation you need.

    You can buy The Wire on Blu-ray here

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