X-Files fans around the world can believe all over again as Netflix begins to add remastered episodes of the famous Sci-Fi series.
The show, which originally aired from 1993-2002, became one of the most popular Sci-Fi shows of all time, and continues to remain popular among Sci-Fi fans. The show follows FBI agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny), a believer in the paranormal; and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson), a skeptic, as they investigate unsolved paranormal cases.
Although the show’s original broadcast run took place at a time before HDTV was mainstream, the show’s creators were planning ahead, even in 1992, when the show’s filming began. In a 2014 interview, the show’s creator, Chris Carter, said:
“When we began filming the show in 1992, we actually (except for maybe the pilot) considered HD (widescreen) all along, and so there was image and opportunity to expand and modify the aspect ratio.”
For those unfamiliar with video production, aspect ratio refers to the relationship between the width and height of the video. The most common aspect ratios are 4:3, 16:9, and 21:9. For most of television’s history until recently, the aspect ratio used was 4:3, also called “fullscreen”. This was because this was the shape of everyone’s TVs: roughly, a square. The aspect ratio that is used widely today is 16:9, commonly referred to as “widescreen”. Most TVs sold today have a 16:9 aspect ratio, and most video content has changed accordingly. The 21:9 aspect ratio is what most films are presented at in theaters, sometimes called “anamorphic widescreen”. Some DVDs and Blu-Rays preserve this aspect ratio, which is made obvious by the black bars at the top and bottom of the screen (called letterboxing). (Example)
Although HDTV wasn’t around in 1993 when the show started, The X-Files was able to be remastered in HD because it was shot on film, the same as other popular TV shows of the era, such as Seinfeld and Friends, both of which have been released in HD in recent years. One of the Directors of Photography for the show, John Bartley, said:
“We shot The X-Files in Super 35 format and framed for 4:3. We protected for 16:9, because we knew it was coming.”
This means that they set up each shot for 4:3 broadcast (since that’s the ratio that everyone’s TVs were at the time) but “protected” each shot for a 16:9 widescreen ratio. This means that they made sure equipment, crew members, and props didn’t appear in the widescreen frame, since they knew that the show would someday be released in a widescreen format. An example of a show that was not protected for 16:9 was Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003), which was released in widescreen HD format against the wishes of the show’s creator, Joss Whedon. In the widescreen re-release, lights, equipment, and crew members can all be seen in many episodes, ruining the illusion that the show creates. (More info)
Although (as of the time of writing this article) only the first two seasons of The X-Files have been remastered in HD on Netflix, it is assumed that the entire series has been remastered, and will be added to Netflix over time, as it seems like more episodes are being added every few weeks. Below is a comparison of the original (4:3 standard definition) and remastered (16:9 high definition) image qualities of a scene from The X-Files: