Cool Tech

How Can Classic Films be 4k?

When you see a rerelease of one of your favorite movies in 4k, you have to wonder how. How can they take a classic film and turn it into 4k? They didn’t have digital cameras back then! Everything was shot on film! So how can they take an older film and rerelease it in a 4k format? Let’s discuss!

What Does it Mean to Remaster?

The basic idea behind rereleasing a classic film is that they are remastered. Remastering is when you take the original source and reprocess it. If a movie was originally shot of film, those originals would be scanned into a computer and then re-processed. Color correction, edge enhancement, error correction, and more would all be applied. This would have happened for the original movie as well. As the film has aged, it is even more important. It also allows the remaster to have updated features like HDR and Dolby Atmos soundtracks.

Resolution of Film

Of course, this begs the question about the resolution of film. A movie that was originally on film would be remastered for VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, and now UltraHD Blu-ray. Surely at some point the digital resolution will exceed the native resolution of the film?

There is very little consensus on what is the native resolution of filmstock. This is because there are so many variables that can affect the clarity of the original image. The quality of the film, the ability of the cinematographer, and the degradation of the film can all make a big difference. In general, however, most well-shot films can be considered 4k or higher resolution. This means that they can be scanned into a computer and processed into a clean image.

Which Brings Us to Scanners

The real issue with rereleasing movies is the development of higher-quality scanners. To remaster a movie, you need to be able to get it into a computer. A scanner is needed. A scanner, like a digital camera, has a native pixel resolution. They also have differing abilities to detect color gradations and differences. A more capable scanner not only gives you a movie with higher resolution, but more colors.

Are Rereleases of Classic Films Worth It?

Just because a classic film has been scanned in 4k doesn’t necessarily mean the remaster is somehow superior to other versions. The remaster is more than just a higher-resolution scan. The quality of the remaster will depend heavily on the ability of the person(s) working on the film. We’ve seen some remasters that were amazing and others that were heavily flawed. Just creating a higher-resolution copy of a movie is step one. There are many more steps that will determine the quality of that remaster.

It is important to remember that some classic films can’t be remastered into 4k. Any movie that was shot with digital cameras is limited by the resolution of the digital camera used. Upconverting a movie that was shot on in 2k to 4k does very little. The remaster may use AI or other techniques to extrapolate additional colors and pixels, there aren’t any additional pixels or colors in the original movie to “uncover.” Film remastering can reveal resolution and details that haven’t been seen in other releases. That isn’t possible with movies shot with a digital camera.

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