The Truth Is Out There: The X-Files Blu-ray Review

Posted: Jan. 28, 2016


All nine seasons of The X-Files have been beautifully remastered in HD from the original 35mm negative - it's something that fans never thought would happen. The X-Files first showed up in HD on the German TV channel ProSieben Maxx on January 20, 2014. Of particular interest was that Seasons 1 through 4, originally aired in a 4:3 aspect ratio, were being presented in 16:9. Now, almost two years after its German HD debut, The X-Files was finally released on Blu-ray on December 8, 2015.

While Blu-ray will be the preferred format for many fans to experience The X-Files in HD, the show is also available from services such as Netflix and iTunes. If you want the best audio and visual experience, however, the Blu-rays should be your first choice. With that in mind, many of the comments here are about the HD restoration in general, and some comments will be related to the Blu-ray release in particular.

The X-Files in 16:9

Watching the earlier seasons of X-Files on Blu-ray in the new 16:9 aspect ratio is really a fresh and invigorating experience for a fan of this show. For the most part, the 16:9 framing in the first four seasons works, though there are occasional shots that do feel somewhat awkward in 16:9. With added room on the sides, there is varying amounts of cropping at the top and bottom. One of my favorite examples of probably the maximum amount of cropping is Scully in "Deep Throat," where we lose her legs in the 16:9 HD version. This isn't Buffy, where Joss Whedon explicitly stated that the show was always designed for 4:3, and opening up the shots from 4:3 to 16:9 reveals all kinds of problems. The X-Files had increasing amounts of intentional protection for 16:9 during the original production of the first four seasons.

The X-Files 4:3 HD Versions

The remastering company - Illuminate - actually started the process in 4:3, and then just as they started work on Season 3, they were given the go-ahead from Fox to do everything in 16:9. As a result, Illuminate provided Fox with the first four seasons in BOTH 4:3 and 16:9 HD versions, with the 4:3 versions completely matching all the original framing. While the new 16:9 versions have their appeal, I wish Fox had released both versions, since all the work was already done. I'd gladly re-buy the first four seasons in HD with their original 4:3 aspect ratios. For me, it's half nostalgia, and half concern for the historical preservation of the show as it was originally broadcast. Sure, fans concerned with original aspect ratio will always have the DVDs - but the knowledge that the HD 4:3 versions are all finished and sitting on hard drives in a Fox warehouse somewhere is aggravating.

The X-Files in HD

The Blu-ray release is, as one would anticipate, a vast improvement over the DVDs in picture quality. The HD image is full of detail. The color grading, brightness and contrast of the HD image is superb. One of my favorite example scenes is from the Pilot, with Mulder and Scully on the road in the rain. The DVD image is filled with black but the Blu-ray is stunning with detail while maintaining the atmosphere and mood of the scene. I've been posting comparison screenshots between the Blu-rays and the DVDs to demonstrate the differences in color grading and to illustrate the 16:9 vs 4:3 framing differences. I've started with an episode from each season, so check out our Episode Guide to view those comprehensive screenshot comparisons, most having over 200 comparison images per episode.

Missing Footage and Upscaled Footage

Some effects shots and stock footage have been upscaled, and some missing negative film that couldn't be found during the remastering has also been upscaled throughout the seasons. This upscaling of standard definition footage is unfortunately very noticeable when it occurs. A similar situation occurred with Star Trek: The Next Generation. Unlike Star Trek: The Next Generation, which released each Blu-ray set as the restoration work was completed, The X-Files has been released all at once. The benefit of this is that it did allow Illuminate to find as much of the original negative as they could. They didn't lock any episodes until the very end of the restoration process, in case any additional film was found. Even more than the mistakes (see below), this is the most disappointing part about the HD remaster and the Blu-ray release.

Video Bitrate

Part of the reason that The X-Files looks so good on Blu-ray is that Fox didn't make any compromises on video bitrate when they rendered the digital masters for Blu-ray. They even went to an extra seventh disc for season 2 in order to avoid the greater compression that would be required to fit the season's last episode onto disc six. (Season 2's original DVD release also had 7 discs, before the later re-issue of only 6 discs.) The Blu-ray packaging lists the bitrates with five seasons at 24 MBPS, three at 25 MBPS and one at 23 MBPS. Each episode - with all English audio tracks - has a file size between 9+ and 11 gigs.

The Problem with Fight the Future

On a side note, watching the first X-Files feature film Fight the Future - in its place in the story between seasons 5 and 6 - is now a somewhat painful experience, as its Blu-ray transfer was never spectacular to begin with, and its HD presentation is now sorely lacking when compared to the show. I very much hope that Fox will have a new transfer done - it would make a great purchase along with the eventual Season 10 Blu-ray.

Blu-ray vs DVD Subtitles

I watched much of the Pilot and parts of "Squeeze," with the Blu-ray side-by-side with the DVD in order to compare the subtitles of both. The subtitles have been completely redone for the Blu-ray release. Subtitles are well-known for not matching word-for-word with what is said, and that's certainly the case here. Sometimes, the Blu-ray is more accurate than the DVD, but even more often, the DVD was more accurate than the Blu-ray. Sometimes, both the DVD and the Blu-rays have subtitles with typos and words that are just plain wrong (but not the same ones). Finally, unlike the DVDs, the Blu-rays use British spellings for the English subtitles instead of American spellings, no matter where you buy them from - since my Blu-rays were bought in Canada (where we use many British spellings), I've confirmed this with fans in the United States. The subtitle company put a credit for themselves into the subtitles, generally occurring sometime between just before the end credits and the 20th Century Fox logo at the very end. They even listed the person who did each episode. Some read "Visiontext subtitles: Susan Voas," "Visiontext subtitles: Pam Atkinson" or "Visiontext Subtitles: Adrian Isaac" (notice the inconsistent capitalization) for example. Visiontext is a London company, which explains the British spellings. You'd think that "one of the world's leading linguistic subtitling companies" (according to their website) would have used American spellings for an American show.

Mistakes

We have two feature articles here at the X-Files Vault about the mistakes made by the remastering company - our main feature listing all the mistakes, as well as an article focusing on the problems with the opening credits. I'd like to offer my speculation on why some of these problems happened. It's clear from the timeline given - various sources say the project took 18 to 24 months - that Illuminate would have been incredibly rushed to complete this project. Given 2 years and assuming 5 working days per week with no holidays, that's 508 days to complete 202 television hours. That's only 2.5 days - at the most - to complete each episode. I can see some of the mistakes being understandable in this context. Others, however, there truly is no excuse for. If Illuminate or Fox had consulted a fan expert - or maybe, I don't know, Chris Carter and members of the original production? - these mistakes could have been easily avoided, and fans would be a lot happier. Because fans are extremely knowledgeable and because they care a lot about their favorite television shows, I'd go so far as to say that remastering companies should employ fans as expert consultants.

There's a line of thought in fan circles that says "You got X-Files on Blu-ray, be happy about it and shut up." I AM very grateful that The X-Files has come to Blu-ray, and I hope it paves the way for even more television on Blu-ray. (In completely unexpected news, seaQuest DSV Season 1 is now available on Blu-ray, region-free from Australia. I'm still waiting for my import copy.) But being grateful is completely different from the need to give a critical assessment of a product. If no ever said "there's some problems here" and "a better job needs to be done," studios and the companies who do this restoration work will never have an incentive to improve their work, and historic shows such as the X-Files will probably go down in history with these mistakes.

Lastly, if you haven't heard about the Season 8 problem, make sure to check out our Season 8 feature article about the defective discs.

The Box Set, the Individual Seasons, and the Fat Season 2

The individual seasons are not available in all regions - some regions only got the full box set. In North America, the individual seasons have been put into slim Viva Elite cases to save space on your shelf, except for Season 2, which has a fatter case. While this confused many, which turned to annoyance with the individual seasons not matching on a shelf, I'm glad that Fox did this. The whole reason Season 2 needed a fatter case was because the season has an extra, seventh disc so that no video quality compromises had to be made, which is the reason we buy Blu-rays in the first place - for the highest video and audio quality. And unlike international regions where all the cases are fatter, I'll take inconsistency and saving shelf space any day.

The Box Set has been notoriously overpriced despite having no extra content when compared to the individual season releases. The only thing that's extra (for most regions) is the box itself. The box configuration varies in different regions, with North America having a mix of the slim cases and the fat case for Season 2 and international regions having fat cases for all seasons. The box also contains a spacer so that you can put the upcoming Season 10 Blu-ray into your box. However, in North America, the box also contains a second spacer that is glued into the box. This glued spacer can be hard to remove without damaging the box. It's pretty ridiculous, because the only reason to own the box is if you want it as a collectible, and most fans will want to try to remove that spacer and put their movies into the box. Just like Fox left room for Season 10, that second spacer should have been removable for the movies, instead of unnecessarily gluing it in. Speaking of which...

The Movies

The two X-Files movies - Fight the Future and I Want To Believe - are not included in the North American version of the box set, but you can pick them up on Blu-ray in a 2-pack from Amazon. As noted above, these are older Blu-ray releases, and I very much hope that Fight the Future will receive a new transfer in the near future. The movies ARE included in the Australian release, and they will be included (along with some other goodies) in the Japanese release on March 11, 2016.

The Extras

Except for a couple minor extras so insignificant that they aren't even worth mentioning, all of the standard definition extras from the DVDs have carried over to the Blu-rays. And not just the original DVD releases, but the commentaries and featurettes from the Mythology sets, as well as the episode introductions from the Revelations set. Curiously, they didn't simply dump the extras from the DVDs to the Blu-rays. In some cases, the Blu-ray extras are more or less compressed than their DVD counterparts, and minor color grading, stretching and edge enhancement has been applied to the extras. For a full run-down of what all the extras are, head over to Bill Hunt's review at The Digital Bits.

The Conclusion: The Truth Is Out There

The X-Files on Blu-ray is not without considerable flaws, but if you're a fan of the show or if you always wanted to check it out, you should not miss this experience.

Purchase The X-Files on Blu-ray

If you purchase The X-Files on Blu-ray using any of the links below, you help support X-Files Vault and our ongoing work to provide comprehensive and in-depth information about The X-Files.

The X-Files Blu-ray Complete Set is available from Amazon, however, it can be cheaper to buy the seasons individually. Here are all the individual seasons of The X-Files on Blu-ray: Season 1, Season 2, Season 3, Season 4, Season 5, Season 6, Season 7, Season 8, Season 9.

To complete your collection, don't miss both X-Files Movies in a 2-disc Blu-ray from Amazon and The Lone Gunmen Complete Series DVD from Amazon!