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What the Hell Happened: Media Re-Releases Now Made Possible by AI

The wear and tear left on a creation as it further situates itself in history becomes a part of its temporal experience.
The wear and tear left on a creation as it further situates itself in history becomes a part of its temporal experience. By Angel Zhang
By Lydia H Fraser, Crimson Staff Writer

The recent resurgence of older media, propelled by AI enhancements, sparks both excitement and ethical deliberation within the entertainment industry. Most recently, the re-release of James Cameron’s classics “Titanic,” “True Lies,” and “Aliens” in Blu-ray and 4K has stirred anticipation and critique alike. Through AI-driven restorations, once-familiar scenes have been revitalized with newfound clarity and detail, inviting audiences to rediscover and reexperience iconic films.

The use of AI in media enhancement and the potential disruption of a formalized art-making process invites a larger conversation about the ethics of AI to improve art and whether it contributes meaningfully to popular culture and media. Ultimately, the current uses of AI in media re-releases are fundamentally unnecessary and could even be harmful to the art.

Technological developments and computer processes have allowed Cameron’s team to meticulously examine each frame of each film, eliminating minuscule flaws present in the original negative — including scratches, dirt, and water stains. Using a digital tool akin to a copy-and-paste function, the computer erased these imperfections and replaced them with information from neighboring frames.

Despite the intentions of these AI enhancements, critics argue that they actually made the films worse, arguing that the resulting product is unrealistic in texture and overly smooth.

For films such as Peter Jackson’s “The Beatles: Get Back” and “They Shall Not Grow Old,” machine-learning technologies were used to restore extremely old and degraded original negatives and thus did not face much public criticism. However, those for “True Lies” and other now-enhanced Cameron movies are still in good condition, indicating an unofficial threshold for which audiences are willing to allow AI to be involved in the production of the art they consume.

Much of the current stigma surrounding AI relates to the use of generative AI, which is often associated with a lack of creative labor and consequently a loss of artistry in media and art.

“It’s not the same AI, conceptually,” Geoff Burdick, Lightstorm Entertainment Executive, said to the New York Times. “It’s more like, this piece of negative looks kind of cruddy, and we can use some software to improve it, carefully.”

Regardless of the impact of AI on the visual quality of films, it could be worth contemplating the use of AI as a channel for rereleasing popular movies and updating older media to be more concurrent with contemporary media just because it is possible. There is something valuable about allowing art to remain a reflection of its time. The wear and tear left on a creation as it further situates itself in history becomes a part of its temporal experience. The contemporization of older media forces them into an ahistorical context that feels rather uncanny by erasing the artistic nuances and cultural markets that bridge these works to a different time and place. Allowing art to exist in its original form is an acknowledgment of its place in history and the complex narratives that shaped it, encouraging audiences to consume past media from nuanced and critical perspectives.

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