Monday, 25 November 2013

Warner Brothers considering HD update for BABYLON 5

George Feltenstein, Senior Vice-President for Theatrical Catalogue Marketing at Warner Brothers (translation: he's one of the guys in charge of the DVD and Blu-Ray department) has recently confirmed that the company are actively looking into the possibility of re-releasing Babylon 5 on Blu-Ray. Feltenstein acknowledged that this would be expensive and possibly impractical, but that the B5 fanbase is large enough to warrant making the effort.


"Babylon 5 is an extraordinarily important franchise to all of Warner Brothers. So much so that it is of course very much on the minds at everybody at Warner home video, and bringing Babylon 5 to a next generation shall we say, is very much on the minds of everyone involved. The fact that the show was post produced on video tape and FX were done on video tape makes bringing another iteration a very expensive proposition. But it is being discussed in the highest of quarters."
"There might be hope, but there is nothing to report that’s a fact. Lets just say that the powers that be are very smart and they know the fan desire is out there."


Babylon 5 aired 110 episodes (and seven TV movies, including the pilot) between 1993 and 1998, with additional TV movies being made in 2001 and 2007, as well as a short-lived spin-off series called Crusade which ran for 13 episodes in 1999. Though it enjoyed solid ratings for most of its run, Babylon 5 was never the ratings juggernaut that the various Star Trek shows were. However, its critical acclaim was immense, often eclipsing that of its contemporary Star Trek shows. It won two back-to-back Hugo Awards in 1996 and 1997, as well as various Emmies for its cutting-edge CGI effects work. The original series was released on DVD in 2003 and 2004 and according to some sources has made over $500 million in worldwide sales for Warner Brothers.

Like most US TV shows of the time, Babylon 5 was recorded on film but mastered - having special effects, music and sound effects added - on video tape. Video tape cannot be upscaled to high-definition resolution, preventing the show from being upscaled as-is and released on Blu-Ray. Instead, the only way to upscale the entire show is to go back to the original film elements, extract a HD image and then re-edit each episode from scratch. Whilst the original audio tracks can be re-used, the special effects would also all have to be remade from scratch and edited back in. In the case of Babylon 5, which sometimes had 100 CGI shots per episode, this would be extremely expensive and time-consuming.

However, last year CBS began re-releasing Star Trek: The Next Generation on Blu-Ray and put the show through this extremely laborious process. Each season takes over four months (and closer to six for the first couple) and $9 million to bring up to scratch. The Blu-Ray re-releases have been extremely successful and wildly acclaimed, and some of the same personnel are now allegedly working on a similar Blu-Ray re-release for The X-Files for next year, whilst the ST:TNG team is rumoured to be moving straight onto Deep Space Nine (which has many more CGI shots) once TNG is completed early next year. Warner Brothers have certainly been monitoring the situation and the sales to judge whether it is worthwhile to pursue a similar process for Babylon 5.

The viability of this plan would depend on the original film stock having been stored in good conditions. According to rumour, the Babylon 5 pilot episode's film has been damaged in storage, initially by flooding and later by rats getting into the facility. The status of the rest of the show is not known. If it has all been stored, then upgrading the show's live action scenes to HD will be relatively quick and easy. More complex are the CGI scenes and composite scenes (scenes mixing live action and CGI, including every time a PPG weapon is fired), which would need to be completely redone from scratch. The cost of this may be too much to be practical. Still, it's encouraging to know that WB are at least looking into the matter.

42 comments:

Anonymous said...

Best sci-fi show ever, and one of the few that answered all/most of its mysteries.

Anonymous said...

Not sure how I feel about this. Stuff like the effects for PPGs and other small effects I don't really care about but the CGI for the scenes in space are part of the charm of B5. I'm not sure I'd want to watch it with redone CGI.

Edward Dowell said...

Redoing the special effects is necessary for the transition to hi-def. The point isn't to just make them better per say, it's to make them work at all with the other hi-def footage.

Ben C. said...

I would love remastered effects, it would make the show much more appealing to younger audiences who have become accustomed to high quality effects while retaining the incredible story

owen brennan said...

The Shadows are behind this

f said...

Please make this happen!

Anonymous said...

I would buy Babylon 5 on blu-ray in a heartbeat. I would love to see updated FX. I know the original work was groundbreaking but it would certainly entice new viewers with a CGI update and make it worth revisiting again for old fans. Perhaps a release could include both versions, like the Star Trek TOS blu rays.

Dan K said...

I would definitely buy the Babylon 5 Blu ray edition set in a heartbeat. I just hope that the conversion is done right along with redoing the special effects for all the space scenes, even if it takes WB a bit longer to make it happen.

Anonymous said...

At $9M a season [or double or treble] this would surely be profitable. And once done, and with a firm understanding of the new CGI, WB can do all-CGI installments of the things that were never done (canon novels, comic adaptations, missing Crusade eps, JMS's movie, lost Lost Tales, etc.) to fill in the gaps with proper age progression of the characters. Use original actors (and substitute voice actors, where [unfortunately] needed, but strive to keep the B5 family). THAT would make the effort pay off in spades and make the property thrive another 20 years, without a reboot [which would be a horror. I'd rather be suckled by a Nakaleen Feeder than suffer that].

Insane said...

Problem is they'd have to completely replace doctor franklin whose actor died a few years ago due to coronary complications. However the original audio tracks are probably on file I believe and it's the sound effects and music that would have to be redone, not the dialog. Which would be manageable from a cost standpoint. The CGI costs are rough tho... B5 was way ahead of its time using a ton of cgi within the show. Especially live action and cgi combined...

Adam Whitehead said...

A HD remaster would use the original film (just re-scanned in HD), audio tracks and music, perhaps remastered from the original files. There would be no need to recast anyone, as no live-action footage would be shot.

The only stumbling blocks (but they are biggies) to a HD BABYLON 5 are 1) the status and condition of the original film stock, which remains unknown; and 2) the practicality of remastering all of the CGI and composite shots from scratch.

TMK said...

I really hop this pans out - Babylon 5 is the one show that I would buy a Blu Ray player for. For a detailed insight into why the DVDs didn't look as good as they could & should have, take a look here: http://www.modeemi.fi/~leopold/Babylon5/DVD/DVDTransfer.html

There's also a thread on jmsnews.com describing how WB lost the CGI archives that Babylonian Productions handed to them for safekeeping at the end of every season. Their treatment of the show has left a lot to be desired!

James Ingram said...

Do it and I will buy...

DigitalHelix said...

Shut up and take my money!

Londo Bondo said...

Take all my money, if they do this.

Anonymous said...

Please, please, please!! If you make it, B5 fans will buy. One of the greatest science fiction TV shows ever made!!

Anonymous said...

upgrade to Blu-Ray? ooh yeah :-) ill buy all 5 seasons, no matter the cost

Anonymous said...

Surely the CGI wouldn't need to start again from scratch if the original source files have been kept. The textures would need updating to HD, and there may need to be some fine detail added to some of the geometry, such as the B5 station itself, but wouldn't it be possible to use precisely the same framing and dynamics?
Still wouldn't be cheap - but worth a feasibility assessment? As one of the 4 (space opera) sci-fi series greats, I would buy the lot.

Anonymous said...

I wonder how those cheap sets look in HD? The show really hasn't aged that well(few shows from the 90s have). I used to be a huge fan and thought it was the best series ever, but then came shows like Breaking Bad with totally different levels of writing, cinematography and acting.

Anonymous said...

In case anyone is thinking that teh original B5 CGI source files have been lost forever, - whilst that may be true, it is also possible that they are just temporarily unlocateable.
I say this because the 1972 WB series "Search" ("Search Control" in the UK) has just been released on DVD, despite having been long thought of as lost forever. I have been tracking it for years, and have just ordered, received and watched 6 eps) and it was brilliant!!

Anonymous said...

WB, take my money! Please!

500 million in DVDs sales? E-gad, I had no idea B5 was such a gold mine for the WB. I have seasons 2-5 on DVD and the In the Beginning DVD, and will happily buy a second set in glorious HD. The existing DVD prints vary so widely in quality, sometimes from shot to shot in the same scene as to be distracting. Also, the DVDs crop the smallest portion of the original scene. Just re-watched "Illusion of Truth" and realized in the Sheridan/Delenn interview scene when it aired you could see Delenn's hand on Sheridan's knee; that is cropped in the DVD release. (Hey, these things are important....) I wish I'd held on to all my VHS tapes of the series, I pulled them off of satellite and they were much cleaner. TAKE MY MONEY, WB!!! And while you're at it why don't you then re-release the series into syndication for another generation to discover? #FreeBabylon5

Anonymous said...

They didn't edit this on videotape. It was computer edited.

Anonymous said...

The editing was done on Avid, mastering done on film.

Adam Whitehead said...

The mastering was definitely not done on film. If it was, the show would look a hell of a lot better than it does on DVD (or even the original transmission). The original live-action footage was shot on film, but it was copied (via Avid) onto a master tape where the CGI, sound effects, dialogue looping (where required) and music was added.

Anonymous said...

I would love a Blu Ray of this with all new CGI to bring the space scenes into HD standard

Anonymous said...

I really hope they create a HD-Version of this great space opera!

Can't wait! :)

Rob said...

If JMS is involved in this project, I'd buy TWO copies... at least! :-)

Karllen said...

As an avid Trek fan and collector of the new blu-ray collections all I can say is B5 ROCKS!!!! and a blu-ray version has to be made. This was and still is a legendry piece of sci-fi history and would recoup any costs to remaster.

Anonymous said...

I would gladly pay premium $$$ for an HD make-over of B5. Nearly 20 years later, we still watch the show regularly. One of the great sagas.

Zippy said...

TO those complaing about redone effects keep in mind it was MADE with the idea to redo the effects in HD so they have the files and the original negatives. Problem is (from what I heard) while the negatives are good for HD many of the mat shots used in the CGI are still low def, but at least that means they would just have to do the HD work on that work.

Cameron Molstad said...

Babylon 5 is my all time favorite Tv series, it had in-depth story line. My understanding is Babylon 5 TV series was film with near HD quality then it was downgraded for dvd. Things like the space battles, flying through space I would like to be redone and maybe some places on Babylon 5 could be redone, but having the original quality the movie would be nice. Not everything would need to be done from scratch, they could use a lot of the original film quality, this would save them a lot of money. I brought the original Babylon 5 on dvd, and would jump at the opportunity to buy the Blu-ray version.

Anonymous said...

If the original object and scene files still exist, it would be a relatively simple matter of importing them into Lightwave, and re-rendering them. So it's possible that they could still be the original objects and animations.

Jeff Montray said...

As one of the original animators/supervising animators for season 4 and 5 this is one project I would love to get involved in...We could get as many of the old crew together as possible and that would hopefully make this as close to the original as possible...

Mickey said...

I would do anything for this, please…

Also, why not go big? Do 4K CGI :)

NERDS WILL PAY $$$$$ FOR B5 CGI IN 4K

Dan said...

Please do this. I have money burning a hole in my checking account! Hey, what about a super set of all five seasons, Crusade, Rangers, Lost Tales, and some wonderful toys housed in a cool B5 station box? Drooling...

Ashraf Khan said...

Great blog, I've been waiting for a very long time for a glimmer of hope that Warner Brothers would consider the B5 series and universe for blu-ray release. However, it's been nearly a year since that announcement and nothing has stirred since.

If Warner Brothers does go-ahead with the update then; from a business and consumer point-of-view i hope they do the remastering in 8k, by doing an 8K remastering they will be set for the next new generation of better than 4k in home entertainment (fully uncompressed (lossless) video & audio data). Lets face the fact that 4k is already a few years old now.

The fact is, more & more Blu-Ray Players are becoming available with 4K upscaling and Full 4K capabilities for very little money. It's only a short matter of time before the 4K TVs becomes cheap and viable for the average consumer. It can easily be predicted that by the time the hd remastering process is complete we will be evermore closer to "in-home 8k equipment exhibitions". By that time 4k will very-much be the standard in every average consumer home.

By doing the 8K remastering now, they can release a down-sampled (4K conversion) on Blu-Ray for the 4K user, and then re-release the 8K uncompressed version of the B5 Universe on Blu-Ray when 8K becomes the in-home standard and Blu-Ray has moved beyond its current 2 layer limitation (the Blu-Ray members are currently working towards this goal).

Future proofing the remastering now will make the future releases of B5 cost effective. The reason i say this is because when a films/series are released as 2K or 4K, compression of data from the original source has to be done. This in turn makes it time consuming and costly. However with an 8K remaster, they'll only have to do the compression to a lossy state once for the 4K Blu-Ray release.

Therefore, when the time comes to releasing the 8K Blu-Ray version in the future, the hard work would have already been done and they can just sit back and reap-in the rewards of the sales once again.

I hope this is the path they take because i'll definitely buy the 4K version when it comes out and then re-buy the 8k version when it becomes available, i know of other fans new and old who would also.

It maybe wishful-thinking on my part, but if anyone from Warner Brothers reads this then please take the above into consideration.

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Anonymous said...

It's the best sci-fi show plot/arc ever completed. I never cried watching sci-fi until I watched this. They had a nothing budget and little technical advancement when this show was created. Now, a kid could spit out the VFX scenes on his 8 core home machine.

This can be done cheaply, as the show was created cheaply. I know you think it will cost a million per episode to clean it up. Maybe you are constrained by unions and the like, and you can't shop around. But in this case it will be worth it. You could make something better than the original and have it last for all time.

This isn't a money problem I suspect. It's an effort and will problem. If you have to spend the same per episode to clean it up as it did to create it- 20 years later- YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG. 8 MB's of ram is no longer $400. You have an absolute advantage to get it done on the cheap. The VFX are independent repeating screens. The video just needs a higher resolution. It's hard to F this up.

Adam Whitehead said...

As mentioned above, Foundation Imaging's deal to make the CGI for the show was something that would never even remotely make the cut today. Any modern CGI house employed to redo the effects would charge by the shot, not get a flat fee per season, and the result is that replicating every effects shot in B5 would be VERY expensive, far more expensive than it was to make the original effects.

FI blazed at trail for other CGI houses to follow, including, unfortunately, setting a precedent for not getting ripped off when you have to do three or four times the work for Season 3 than you did for Season 1 on the exact same budget.

Mike Frett said...

Not going to happen, the fan base is too small and the funding required would bring monetary losses for WB.

This article is in error about Star Trek Blu-Rays; they are not bring in the money that CBS/Paramount thought they would. They are taking a loss.

Physical media is simply dead. Retail chains are showing that DVD's are actually outselling Blu-ray by large margins.

A lot of consumers simply turn their nose up at Blu-ray due to the enormous amount of issues involving the quality of the players. being connected the internet in this environment of Spying isn't helping sales either.

Adam Whitehead said...

There are no signs the BR re-release of STTNG is bringing in a loss, nor that the STTOS ones did so beforehand (they'd have hardly moved onto TNG if TOS had bombed).

It's also not purely based on the success or lack of it of physical media, which is on the way out. Having shows available in HD is critical for future repeat rights when HD becomes the standard broadcast quality. Outside of the BR sales, CBS has made substantial sums of money by re-selling ST:TNG in HD to both domestic and foreign television markets.

Having older, legacy programmes in HD is critical for future exploitation of that product. This is why X-FILES, BUFFY, TWIN PEAKS etc are all being (or have been) remastered. If WB don't remaster B5, they may find their ability to commercially exploit that show in 10 or 20 years is reduced to nothing.

"A lot of consumers simply turn their nose up at Blu-ray due to the enormous amount of issues involving the quality of the players. being connected the internet in this environment of Spying isn't helping sales either."

Not sure what you mean here. BR players are fine (I've had a few, never had as many problems as I had with DVD players), cheap (in the UK only slightly cheaper than DVD players) and certainly don't need to be connected to the Internet.

Anonymous said...

Take my money! I want this now!! Ps. Folks, if I become a billionaire, I would actually fund this for them.

Martyn Elvy said...

As a fan of Star Trek and owner of all the new blu-ray Re-mastered sets I have no doubt in saying that Babylon 5 would ROCK! in a re-mastered edition. It is without doubt the only sci-fi show, in my humble opinion, that left Trek standing. The storyline was awesome, characters were "out of this world ;)" and the graphics for its time were outstanding, I cannot see this being anything other than a huge success if it is re-mastered and marketed well.