Lowering my standards

Adel Gabot



I downloaded the new Jason Bourne movie this morning. A film transfer. A friggin’ film transfer.

The file’s watchable; the framing’s a little askew, the picture’s a bit blurry and unclear and the colors are dull and dead and it might as well have been black and white. Occasionally, audience members cross the frame on their way to the john or to buy snacks. But I can live with that. It’s the sound I can’t stand—it’s like coming from the bottom of a deep well.

I think I’m going to eventually erase it and wait for a much better copy.

Yes, yes. I downloaded a lousy film transfer. I know.

From my blog posts, you guys probably know I regularly download films using torrents (hey, so sue me). I had the usual moral qualms about downloading these movies long ago, but I quickly got over them, citing my third world status as a mitigating factor. (C’mon, Hollywood, let me have my little personal pleasures. I’m literally the only person who watches them anyway. It’s not like I hold regular neighborhood screenings and charge for them.)

I’ve set reasonably high standards for a film to be part of my collection. It has to be high resolution, at least 720p, usually higher, with crystal clear stereo sound. Their sizes normally don’t go below 1.5GB each, and usually average around 2.5GB, occasionally going as high as 4GB+. Just like DVDs.

I used to have around 3250+ movies on my computer. Back in the day I wasn’t that picky; half of the files in my collection were in the 750MB range, and more than three-quarters of them I didn’t really want to keep. I really don’t know why I collected them, but I did.

They were all on a 4TB external media drive, but apparently I didn’t much believe that old saw about not keeping all your eggs in one basket. When that drive eventually tanked two years ago, I lost everything, and I’ve had to slowly rebuild my collection. Since I began re-collecting again, I set in place my high standards, and became more selective with my choices.

Today I have around 800+ films, ranging from classics to animated movies, subtitled ones from different countries, documentaries, concerts, regular movies and new releases, spread out over three separate external USB drives for minimum exposure. All in excellent, DVD-grade quality. At the very least. (Incidentally, I also have a humble Blu-ray collection, for movies I really really love.)

I have this old friend named Richard who obsessively collects video files and bootleg DVDs, up to and including shoddy, piss-poor film transfers. Movies where you can barely discern who’s on the screen or what they’re saying, they’re so bad. But Richard had to have them; the newer the movie the better, no matter what the condition, as long as he was among the first to watch them. I remember him calling me and telling me he had this brand new movie called Black Hawk Down, and if I wanted to watch it. I went over and was appalled at the quality, but he seemed to enjoy it immensely.

I used to think, I’d never be like Richard. I wanted my movies to be crystal clear and technically perfect as much as possible, which I believe contributes greatly to the cinematic experience. I didn’t really mind being patient and waiting for a bit so I could get them that way.

But lately, I’ve lowered my standards.

Not that I’d knowingly watch horrible, piss-poor versions where the actors were just these fuzzy, dark blobs on the screen, and the audio was a constant drone of ambient theater noise that made the dialogue unintelligible, no. But recently I’ve acquiesced to getting, in the interest of being more current, watchable film transfers.

Of course, I preview them, and if there’s just a single thing that overly bothers me about the quality of the audio and video, I just delete the file and wait for a better copy. Like Jason Bourne, for example. That movie download just skirts the edge of watchability, and I’m still undecided whether or not I’m going to watch this one and ruin the experience for me forever. (Or, alternately, I could just go and watch it in the theater, like I usually do if it’s a movie I really want to see right away.)

I’ve actually added a new folder on my media drive called “Film Transfers” and right now it’s got four movies inside it: a couple of pretty good quality files and a couple of barely passable ones. The Secret Life of Pets and Captain America: Civil War are excellent transfers, and if not for some technical niggles, I’d actually keep them permanently in my collection. Star Trek: Beyond and the aforementioned Jason Bourne bring up the rear of bordering-on-crappy-quality-movies and I’m seriously thinking about deleting them and just waiting for better versions.

There are a few transfers that haven’t made the grade time and again. Sometimes the audio doesn’t sync with the video, or it’s taped with a handheld camera with first-person jitter, or the framing’s terribly askew as it was taken from the side of the theater. Or the guy taping the movie doesn’t respect the filmmakers and just liberally chop the opening and closing credits off and taking some of the relevant stuff with it.

For example, The Conjuring 2 I’ve downloaded more than once, but the transfers are terrible, particularly with the many dark nighttime scenes where the screen is just entirely black and you can’t make out a single blessed thing. Nope, I’ll wait for the unofficial “good” copy, thank you.

Same with The BFG, The Shallows, Lights Out, Now You See Me 2, Independence Day: Resurgence and Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates. All horrible. Ghostbusters was another one that was nearly unwatchable, but I stuck it out and watched it anyway, I loved that movie so much. Then of course I deleted it.

That’s how I collect movies these days. Of course, I just get these film transfers to satisfy my cinematic curiosity. I watch them (if I can), then delete them. They’re not meant to be permanent additions to my collection, not by any measure. I wait for the DVD-quality versions for that. This option is usually for movies I’m just curious to see one time, and then forget. If I really like them, I wait for the good copy and add that to the pile.

How about you? Any guilty confessions from your end?

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