Nerding out about Surgical Enhancements

Over on the MST3K Youtube channel, on the compilation video of the 2022 Host Segments, someone in the comments made a technical remark about the video colorspace of the Surgically Enhanced episodes in the side-by-side enhancement comparison. Curiously enough, someone from Crane Media Factory (the ones responsible for doing the Surgical Enhancements) chimed in with a reply, and I thought the information they provided might be fascinating for the other video nerds among us. It really helped me appreciate the care and attention they’ve put into these Surgical Enhancements. Here’s what they shared:

I helped work on this. The specific scene chosen for the comparison was meant to highlight six main improvements: high-quality deinterlacing, sharper seats and cleaner silhouettes, improved detail and sharpness, a zoomed-in theater presentation that gives a wider image of the movie, a special noise reduction process which eliminates most of the blue mess in certain Sword & Dragon scenes without degrading the rest of the picture, and the color adjustment (hopefully “improvement” or “restoration”) you noted.

I can’t rule out the possibility a colorspace issue might’ve slipped through, but obvious differences you see in coloration are because all the upscaled episodes have their color adjusted and enhanced, shot by shot, for a (hopefully!) more enjoyable viewing experience.

Many of the original movies have really bad or washed-out color. Speculatively, this could be a result of how they might’ve been altered by MST3K decades ago to help make the silhouettes more visible on bad screens/transmission standards of the time. Since you seem to know a bit about video processing: one of the issues is that they appear to have raised movies’ black levels significantly. Because I already specially process the silhouettes to make them less blocky, I have the ability to make them still stand out while approximating the original movie black levels.

Another issue with the original movie color is that some of them appear to have come from reels that were degraded by age and have a strong blue or green tone. I tried to correct this and I think on City Limits in particular the results are quite striking. Almost the entire original movie has either a blueish tone or (what appear to be) the aftereffects of the studio attempting to correct the bluish tone, and in some scenes it’s very distracting. For example, the truck that almost hits the main character during the early part of the movie looks very blue when it’s obviously a white truck. There’s a technical reason for why I think this happened but it’s too long to explain here. Anyway, I was able to fix this and the trucks are now properly white without throwing off the color balance in the rest of the shot.

For “Horror of Party Beach” I matched the black levels during a couple of the night scenes, though not the ones near the end of the movie where it comically goes from night to dusk to daytime to night, etc. I also reduced the white levels during some of the flashing “sodium grenade” explosions to hopefully eliminate risk of photosensitivity issues in viewers.

During Sword & Dragon, virtually every single shot has color adjustments, some subtle, some big. Most of the cuts in the movie are accompanied by 1-2 frames with a strong red/blue/dark/bright shift and I fixed all of these (hundreds!) by hand. One scene I’m very proud of is after Ilya’s given the elixir and then goes outside - in the original movie there’s a jarring lighting transition when the door is half-open which I was able to almost completely eliminate, and I also corrected the color tone of the sky. The Sword & The Dragon is based on a European historical legend a bit like King Arthur, and as It’s the beginning of his Heroic Journey I didn’t want the scene to be marred by technical defects.

The aim was to make these movies more pleasant to watch without getting into George Lucas levels of “remastering” - for example, I left the color alone in Starfighters because there’s a joke or two about how bad the day-for-night photography looks.

Feedback is welcome: cranemediafactory at gmail. If fans prefer movies in their original “glory” I can focus more on just fixing artifacts and enhancing detail but leave the color alone. I tried to find a good balance, aiming to fix the sorts of things that might be corrected in a modern studio remaster.

Based on some feedback I’ve already received I’m going to try to improve retention of movie grain and shift focus a little more towards detail rather than clarity. This might be be tricky for streaming video though - film grain is the first thing to get eliminated, and having too much of it causes the entire video to macroblock to hell. AV1 should solve this someday, as would a Blu-ray release (I know no idea whether this is planned).

This is much more than the sort of quick cynical cash-grab upscale some companies have started putting out. I find lots of things to love in these movies and I hope that comes across. Enjoy!

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That is very cool, thanks for sharing.

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Oh wow! Love the added info on how the Crane Media team went about the restorations.

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Very cool stuff! I especially loved their treatment of The Sword and the Dragon. That movie was already visually stunning, but then they took those great qualities above and beyond.

Thanks so much for sharing that all with us - cheers!

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I had noticed the subtle minor zoom-in when entering the theater segments, in order to make the most of widescreen’s real estate, and suspected there may have been color adjustments made to give some of the more faded prints a bit of their life back, but wasn’t sure until I checked the originals. In my opinion, it has all been done tastefully and with the right amount of restraint so as not to “George Lucas” the films and make them feel messed with - the viewing experience is just improved. As a video editor myself, I know that (in most cases) you don’t want people to notice your work. Looking at the episodes side-by-side though, I really appreciate where the attention with these enhanced versions has been placed.

Oh, and for what it’s worth, I should probably say that I got the okay from Crane Media to repost their comments over here.

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The enhancements were noticeable. I was thinking initially that maybe someone found pristine prints of these movies and grafted them into the original MST3K video.

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Wow! Now I’m kinda sorry I didn’t watch City Limits then. (If nothing else it’s one of the episodes I’ve seen the fewest times, but I just kinda ran out of steam.) Hopefully I’ll get another crack at it sometime.

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