AI Can Ruin Movies Now, Too – Aliens and True Lies on 4k

This channel isn’t really known for movie content… well, not content people like, anyway- but I wanted to talk about the use of AI in film restorations, because we don’t get much time to discuss these things in advance. AI has potential to do a lot of great things but

also a lot of harm, and it’s moving so fast that we’ve been discovering who and what it’s going to break in real time as it’s happening. James Cameron recently gave us a shot across the bow for another application of AI- Hollywood film remasters. Cameron was already known for

producing one of the most disappointing 4ks in the history of the format with Terminator 2, a hyper-processed mess with enough grain reduction to turn characters into cartoons and so much teal that the original colors have been terminated from this timeline. “You’re terminated, fucker!” His new 4ks have taken

the revisionism to a new level by incorporating Park Road’s AI upscaling. Peter Jackson had these tools developed to make low quality WW1 footage look like modern video for the sake of better realism- it was used in the Beatles documentary “Get Back” for the same reason. You could argue

that it’s impressive that the AI cleans up such old footage this well. You could also argue that it looks like creepy, uncanny digital shit. Enhancing found

archival footage is one thing, but some people would argue that this process is antithetical to what 4k movie restorations are about. My

source on that is- me. Me people would argue that. The best 4k releases tend to follow a pretty simple template: clean and scan the negative, repair any obvious signs of damage, and restore the colors to match the original grading, with as little meddling beyond that as possible. The

process should not be about modernizing to the style or forcing film to look like digital video. 35mm film was capable of incredible picture quality, and 4k is the first home format capable of delivering most of that detail- that should be enough. A well done 4k is like having

a pristine copy of the original negative to watch in your own home, with the full data from that celluloid- grain and detail alike- digitally preserved forever. And that’s the problem with deep learning algorithms- they can’t preserve details. They make their best guess about what an object is supposed

to be, then pull new details out of their digital assholes and smear them across the screen. This is a bit technical, I know, but try to keep up. True Lies is the best demonstration of why this remastering approach was a horrendously bad idea. Faces regularly become host to

a menagerie of parasites, burn scars and porcelain cracks. Lines are oversharpened to the point of making Arnie look like crinkled leather, and Tom Arnold- a spectacle to behold in his prime- looks to be in the early phases of Emperor Palpatine-ism. The AI inserts these details because it doesn’t

have a great grasp on human skin yet…. Key word “YET.” Not only does this fake detail suck, it has no temporal stability. Faces phase between AI oversharpening and soft blurriness from one second to the next. Features like eyelids bizarrely cut through out of focus shots with razor sharpness;

it seems the algorithm was able to recognize that something was a face and drew googly eyes onto it regardless of whether it made sense relative to the rest of the frame. Hair always looks like a video game render- some kind of digital wig applied to the actors’ heads-

and these synthetic details also remain uncannily sharp when the actor is otherwise blurred by motion. The AI tries its best with distant faces but always renders them as if in the midst of possession by a squishy demon. Any unusual lighting conditions or obstructions confuse the results- an eyeball

briefly melts like a Salvador Dali clock, or warps along with the edges of a smoke line, and it’s hard to shake the feeling that pupils are going wrong in several ways at once. And of course, you get a few fucked up hands. AI was supposed to deliver next

generation grain removal, able to reduce noise without removing detail, but it seems to accomplish the reverse. Jamie Lee Curtis’s face is hypersmoothed, but grain is still there, as if the algorithm targeted her skin itself. The oversharpening makes lines appear too deep, which is exaggerated even more by how

smooth the rest of the face is in comparison, giving the actress a borderline ghoulish appearance. The small facial nuances of performances are plastered over by the AI’s bullshit, turning even the most basic emotions weird. What used to be human expressions of affection have become cold mechanical simulations, wrought

from the jaws of rubber skinned apparitions masquerading in the places of ones once called “Curtis,” and “GOVERNATOR.” The oversharpening produces so many halos that even the simplest shots look green screened, undermining a lot of the very real, very expensive stunts that were done in-camera. There are also odd

color banding issues, and a few shots are aliased to the point that they look like they were pulled from a laserdisc. There’s not much information about the sources used for this remaster so it’s hard to say what’s going wrong here, and it’s hard to compare against past releases

because the film never came to blu ray, adding insult to injury that this is the only modern version fans will get. Now, I’m no expert. I haven’t seen “all” movies, but I’d feel safe calling this one of the worst film restorations ever done, because I’ve never laughed out

loud at a fucking restoration before. This is almost worthy of a bad movie night with friends, where you drink every time the AI fucks something up. It starts looking like shit from literally the first moment a human being is on screen. As reviled as Terminator 2’s 4k is,

it’s by far the better looking disc by virtue of having some good looking shots. True Lies looks like the entirety of the film was generated frame-by-frame in Dall-e. Aliens is the release I was really excited for and it doesn’t fare much better- all of the same issues are

here, but with even less stable image quality. Vasquez starts this shot as an amorphous blob before the AI starts to put a mouth on her cheek, then realizes “no, that’s not it,” and puts a cartoon butthole in- -which would be a perfect fit for a little corncob pipe,

by the way- and then it gives her Pennywise makeup to cap things off. Nailed it. This is not cherrypicked- faces melt and warp like this throughout the entire movie, and even when the AI isn’t completely fucking something up, it still looks weird. Pores get unsharp-masked into mini bulletholes.

Pixels that shouldn’t connect are joined together to form waxy fractal-like patterns, similar to what you get when using smoothing filters on old games. It took years of advancement and superpowered tensor cores for Park Road Post to achieve xBRZ TECHNOLOGY. It again results in extremely unflattering close-ups, making Sigourney

Weaver look a decade older than before. Noise reduction occasionally goes haywire and seems to mistake grain for clothing or skin detail, resulting in pixels frozen in place for the duration of a scene. Haloing is a major issue in this release as well, with even Ripley holding a cat

looking like some kind of composite effect, and the overly fluid, dream-like renderings continue to make practical scenes look like CGI. The blu ray release of Aliens was no prize itself, having apparently undergone some process at Lowry involving heavy grain removal, sharpening, and fake grain reinsertion afterward, along with

colors getting a major teal push. But despite that mangling, the image holds up and is more enjoyable because you’re not constantly tumbling down the uncanny valley, like fucking Homer Simpson in the Springfield gorge. Some might write this off as nit-picking but there’s no such thing when it comes

to 4k, a format premised on the display of every last minute detail. I didn’t seek out faults frame by frame; I paused the movies only when something was actively drawing my attention, which was at least once every few minutes… Enough that I ran out of paper watching these.

Professional reviewers seem predisposed to give releases like this good marks simply because the level of detail has increased, but it shouldn’t count when that detail is nonsensical garbage. Some major outlets sidestepped talking about the AI altogether. …Why? If you’re already deep diving into and offering opinions on the

tech behind movie releases, why draw an arbitrary line at this tech specifically? If AI is being considered for future restorations, isn’t right now the most important time to judge its performance? I think the assessment of any reasonable person would be that this upscaling was simply not good enough

for a major commercial release yet- possibly the final home format release, at that. So why use it? Why wasn’t a standard 4k scan and cleanup good enough, given how well that’s served other releases? Barring some kind of late revelation proving otherwise, it seems the answer is that they

didn’t bother to do a scan in the first place. Internet forums have melted down bickering over this, but there’s been some confirmation that Aliens used the finished 2k master from 2010. Just looking at the disc itself backs that up- underneath the AI generated horror show, the 4k is

basically the old blu-ray again. I realize not everyone watching is fully nerded up on the details of 4k, and few people will probably end up viewing this in HDR, so I’ll explain what these spyromagraphs mean. SDR content peaked at 100 nits of brightness, which is basically nothing in

terms of the light you see on a daily basis. The high dynamic range of 4k enables films to be mastered for 10,000 nits of peak brightness, although most stop at just 1,000. When tastefully handled, the wider range greatly increases the contrast and realism of the image, and often

restores highlight details that were clipped in SDR transfers. Aliens has a soft cap of 200 nits according to Resolve’s scopes- in other words, SDR+. Which means that a thermonuclear explosion… ends up being less bright than the Ghostbusters lobby. Not every film needs HDR cranked up to max levels

and some filmmakers choose not to use it- revered cinematographer Roger Deakins being among them. But after seeing HDR fully utilized in the first Alien, as well as films that inspired its visuals like 2001: A Space Odyssey, the complete lack of it here feels less like an artistic choice

and more that they just dumped the SDR transfer in and turned a knob. The higher white level still improves the image but you could probably get better results boosting the blu-ray yourself in a single afternoon. The fake-DR also creates blown out, unnatural highlights on skin and other surfaces.

It’s nigh false advertising to list HDR as a feature on the box. “Wide color spectrum” is another selling point of 4k that doesn’t really apply here. Of the colors that the human eye can see, blu-ray’s 709 standard covered roughly 35%. 4k uses 2020, which covers about 75%. This

allows new film scans to deliver color that could never be seen before, and most negatives have plenty to offer. Vertigo, a film from 1958, is absolutely loaded with previously out of gamut color. Suspiria has some shots where more color exists outside of the old 709 space than within

it. Aliens is mostily restrained to the 709 color space… Mostily. Color sometimes seeps outside of that standard- mostly blues, and mostly on effects shots- but not to the extent I’ve seen when scanning through other 4ks. Ghostbusters, a fairly undersaturated movie shot on the same stock, has much more

wide-gamut color than this. It all suggests they fed the blu-ray to the AI and didn’t really check what it ended up shitting out. The only legitimate upgrade here is that the metallic teal grading has been reined in, but the better color is more than offset by everything else.

It’s extremely disappointing after the stunning 4k of Alien, which got just the kind of straightforward treatment I was glorifying earlier. The film was allowed to be film, and the grain doesn’t hurt anything. Faces don’t mutate when more than five feet from the camera. HDR is flashy but well

judged, blasting out 1,000 nits when appropriate. It makes it hard not to wonder what Aliens might have looked like had they done a similar restoration. True Lies is mostly the same story- a 200 nit cap for the entire duration. The snow scenes in particular are badly blown out-

again, I’m an ignorant YouTuber, not a professional colorist- but I have to imagine a real HDR grade would have recovered more highlight detail than this. And like Aliens, there’s just a small amount of wide gamut color in only a handful of shots. Supposedly this one was scanned in

4k but was the first remaster of the batch, which, if true, makes the AI even more impressively terrible that it did this to a native 4k image. According to the same source, The Abyss and Titanic came last, also using 4k scans, and they mostly look OK. Mostily. The

Abyss even bucks the HDR trend and makes frequent use of the headroom above 200 nits. The AI is still noticeable in these, and you can see it fading in and out just like the others, but it’s not offensive. The worst I can say about these discs is that

close ups have a hyper-real quality to them, with so much sharpening that they don’t look like normal faces anymore. Ed Harris looks like a pile of sandpaper with eyes. It’s unnecessary and off-putting, and even distracting in some of the most pivotal scenes, but you can mostly ignore those

shots and still enjoy the movies. James Cameron hyped these releases up in interviews, claiming that “every pixel of every frame” had been scrutinized. He acknowledged the importance of getting a 4k release right, as this may be the last format we get- especially in a streaming-only world, where services

will only host the new 4k transfers and discard older ones. These could be the versions we end up looking at for a very, very long time. Despite being fully aware of the stakes when preparing his filmography for posterity, Cameron still pressed the “just fuck my shit up” button,

binding this early beta technology to his films for all time. It is at least in the same ballpark as George Lucas fusing 90’s CGI into Star Wars. If it sounds like I’m vilifying Cameron too much, just bear in mind that I chose to do this video because I

love his work. He’s a genius who has made some of the most successful movies in history, which is why it matters when he makes terrible decisions about them. At least in the case of Aliens, there’s a problematic film stock to blame- “Kodak was in transition; they hadn’t figured

out their T-grain emulsion, so it turned out to be grainier than I would have wanted.” Cameron would have gone to town with AI noise reduction no matter what, and maybe they figured a new scan would just add more grain to remove. But working from an already heavily manipulated

2k master clearly did the AI no favors. Some of the weird anomalies in this version seem to be rooted in damage or distortion from that master. Other films claimed to have used the same Eastman stock have mostly turned out alright on 4k- Seeing the same actress on the

same film in Ghostbusters makes for a clear comparison- it’s grainy as hell, but pleasant to watch and takes full advantage of the 4k format. If this is what a straight Aliens restoration would have looked like, I’d take it over the drippy “Picasso” edition. Another possibility is that Cameron

didn’t really give a shit. He made it very clear that these transfers were a burden he didn’t have time for, and maybe AI was just the fastest and easiest way to get from point A to point B. Whatever the reason was, there’s arguably another set of films in

the “Star Wars” zone now, where the burden of a high quality restoration falls to fans and whatever surviving reels they can find. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that the original negatives are probably still available for another studio to take a crack at them, if Cameron were darted

and gagged first. The point of this video is not “AI BAD.” There have been machine learning upscales that have turned out better than this. If AI had been used in a more targeted way, like fixing these horrendous stunt double face swaps, that would have been fine. It could

even help with the most manual of manual restorations… “The film prints- some have better color, some have more detail- that piece of information probably exists on another print. And when you combine the data- from in this case four other prints- that’s the new level of detail that we’re

talking about. In order for that to work, those pieces of film have to be precisely aligned. At the time that I was developing this, there was no software tool that could do this.” If AI could automate these tasks, it could empower fans to accomplish things never before possible

with degraded prints. The point is that it has to be used carefully, and the problem with these remasters is that it was not. And it’s up to you, the customer, to decide whether or not that matters; if the disc sells either way then the Park Road treatment gets

normalized, and maybe other studios will decide to take this cheaper and faster route. There’s a debate to have here, because obviously Terminator 2’s 4k sucking didn’t stop this from happening, but buying these certainly won’t help. The Terminator especially is on a precarious edge, being the last Cameron movie

still on blu ray. The only slim chance it doesn’t end up as another AI shitshow is if people make enough noise about these releases. So- if you’ve had your eye on one of these 4ks- consider avoiding them (because they’re trash). I bought them for this video, sure, but

specifically so that I could tell you not to, so you see, it makes perfect sense. Aliens in particular is a fraud- it’s not real 4k, not real hdr, and not really wide color. If you have the blu-ray, you can get better results by dropping it into gigapixel. We

have Aliens 4k at home. With businesses conspiring to force physical media into an early grave, we’re on the cusp of ADORABLY losing ownership and control of our history. The decisions we make right now and the practices we choose to accept could matter a lot for the future of

our culture, dictating what we can watch and how we watch it. I think it’s fair to say that AI is now another factor in that mix. So look Vasquez right in the face butthole and decide for yourself if this is the future you want to support.

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