When I put Criterion‘s recent release of The Red Shoes in my DVD player, I was instantly mesmerized by the quality of the transfer. It looked as if it had just been made. The quality of the transfer directly influenced my enjoyment of the film. I wondered if I had seen an older, damaged transfer, whether I could have fairly judged the film. The quality of the visuals, or how the filmmaker wants the film to look, is just as important as any aspect of the film.
While David Lynch was discussing watching films on a phone he said this, “you will never in a trillion years experience the film…you’ll be cheated”. I completely agree. It has become a recent trend with the influx of streaming video online, that people will watch moves on their computers. More often than not, this is not HD and the stream is often sub par quality, not to mention illegal.
It never really dawned on me until a friend of mine told me that “Avatar sucked”. However, when I asked how he saw it he told me, not only was it not in 3D but it was online and filmed from a camcorder. In my opinion, he had not seen the film. It is as if he saw the film out of focus or with no sound. It begs the question, can you really judge a film if it is not viewed in its intended quality? In this specific case I would say it is safe to assume most people would say no. However, not all films depend so heavily on their visuals as Avatar does and this is where the debate would begin.
No matter which film it is film is and always will be a medium built on visuals. When a film is taken so far from its original quality, it is in a sense corrupted. I am not saying it is impossible to enjoy a film in this state, but I do believe you cannot fairly judge it.
This is why Criterion’s work is so important, as its releases are restored beautifully to their original quality. Many casual viewers refuse to watch older films purely based on the visuals. The terrible quality prints and transfers are extremely unappealing at times, but Criterion fixes this problem. The damaged look of an older film is in a way the same as watching a newer film online where the quality is significantly lower than it should be.
When a film is produced, a visual look is crafted that works to create a mood and visual voice. If this aspect of the film is removed, the integrity is lost and the film is no longer as it was intended to be viewed. It is a sad fact that people continue to judge films that are unfairly viewed outside their original intended quality. Some will say they simply don’t care how it looks, which is all fine and good, however for them to judge it is wrong. Until a film is viewed within a respectable level of its original quality, it has not really been properly experienced.