Digital restoration of HOW THE WEST WAS WON
A digital presentation
The 70mm Newsletter
by: Rick Mitchell,
Film Editor/Film Historian/Film Director © 2008, Universe rights reserved.
in home movies - Cinerama in 8mm.
The "special screening" that ended last weekend's excellent "The Reel
Thing-XX" put on for AMIA by Grover Crisp and Michael Friend was a
digital presentation of Warner Home Video's digital restoration of
"How The West Was Won" from original negatives. Each panel of the Cinerama
negative was scanned at 2K, ultimately yielding a 6K image. A Sony 4K
digital projector was used for the presentation.
The last session in the "Reel Thing" program was a presentation by Bill
Baggelaar of MPI, who supervised the restoration. They had two main
goals: minimizing the blend lines as much as possible and correcting
geometric problems caused by the nature of the three lens Cinerama
camera. When focused from infinity to about 25 ft. the three 27mm lenses
produce a fairly accurate representation of the 146 degree
field-of-view. However, the left and right cameras are designed to
toe-in when focused closer and this leads to some strange results, such
as different vanishing points for each panel, that are not that obvious
when projected onto the deeply curved screen, but become quite so when
shown side-by-side on a flat screen. Since most of the shots in the
travelogues were fairly wide, this wasn't as much of a problem as it
became with the dramatic films where the directors wanted to use medium
and even close shots. Photochemical technology made correcting this for
non three panel presentation impossible.
Though I'm not aware of any efforts to do a combined version of any of
the travelogues (16mm IB prints were extracted from the center panel of
"Seven Wonders of the World" (1957); I don't know if this was done for the
entire film or selected sequences), according to editor Harold F. Kress
in personal conversation, Technicolor did make a 35mm reduction with all
three panels printed side-by-side with a 2x squeeze for editing and
viewing. They later made a
combined interpositive, which I'm assuming
was on 65mm because both Ultra Panavision and spherical 65mm format
internegatives were made, at least on "HTWWW"; I have no further
information on these elements, such as their actual formatting, aspect
ratio, etc. The 35mm anamorphic internegative that became the source of
the general release 35mm and 16mm prints made by MGM Labs and all
subsequent 35mm, 16mm, and video elements are from this source. All of
these would have had the perspective flaws noted above.
MPI used digital technology to get a better geometric match between the
center and side panels, resulting in the kind of fish-eye effect that
would have been achieved if the film had been shot on a single 105mm
strand of film with a 27mm lens. While all the horizontal information
was captured, this created a problem with the top and bottom of the
frame. As it happened, Cinerama films were composed with extra headroom
to allow for theaters whose prosceniums were lacking in height. Since
the amount of perspective varied depending on the point of focus of the
shot, resulting in variations in framelines, MPI decided to letterbox
the image to a ratio that covered all situations, resulting in the
2.89:1 AR announced in initial publicity, the ultimate "letterbox".
How does this look? On the 42 ft. screen
[12,8 m, ed] of the Academy's Pickford Center Linwood Dunn Theater, it was no problem, but on a 42 inch
monitor? Fortunately, the Blu-Ray disc will also have the film rendered
in MPI's version of David Strohmaier and Greg Kimble's "Smilebox"®,
which simulates the way the film would look from the ideal seat in a
Cinerama theater. This format is quite effective on 4:3 screens and it
will be interesting to learn how many fans prefer watching the film this
The 2.89:1 ratio also contributes to the controversy over "how wide is
too wide", which has been going on since the aborted Wide Film
Revolution of 1930. It's the widest format used for mainstream motion
picture presentation to date, wider than Ultra-Panavision (2.75:1),
small format anamorphic (@2.66:1 depending on how the aperture is cut,
and the recommended projection aperture for three panel Cinerama
(2:59:1). Because "HTWWW" was photographed primarily with wide angle
lenses, it actually does not look all that awkward, on a large screen.
Fair evaluation of compositions is compromised because of the necessity
of keeping the subjects within a given panel in original photography
rather than composing for the entire frame. However, with apparent
declining interest in seriously working in aspect ratios wider than
16:9, this issue may be moot.
in 70mm reading:
"How The West Was Won" in Cinerama
How the West Was Won on DVD
To Split or not to
Who's Rick Mitchell?
Because of my familiarity with the film, I was subconsciously seeing the
panel splits, but they've done such a good job of pulling the images
together that I doubt they'll be visible on smaller video displays. They
are really only noticeable when there is horizontal movement from
panel-to-panel, especially when the moving object is closer to the
camera than where it was focused. They are also noticeable in shots
where they couldn't totally correct for the geometry across the split.
One interesting instance is one of the few lateral tracking shots in the
film, the camera traveling along side a Pony Express rider. This shot
looks rather strange in Cinerama and really awkward in old combines.
Here it looks better but really emphasizes the fisheye lens effect.
The only negative is the reproduction of the
This has always been a problem since, for the original version, it had
to be double duped through Kodak's 5253 Intermediate stock. Introduced
in 1956 and supposedly improved over the next twenty years, it was still
not deemed good enough to allow labs to stop release printing from the
original cut camera negative until the introduction of 5249 CRI stock in
1968. Use of the large format 65mm negative helped, but even in original IB Cinerama prints, the image quality change was quite noticeable and
was worse in the combined elements, which added an additional two
generations to the material. For cost reasons, MPI did not scan from the
65mm originals, which still exist, but reduced to those scenes to 35mm
VistaVision for scanning. The quality of the results varies. Ironically,
the material taken from "The
Alamo" and "Raintree County", and here
reproduced from the three panel dupe negative, looks better.
The original seven channel dub has been rechanneled to 5.1, with an
enhanced low end and inconsistent placement of dialogue and effects
entirely in the center channel or with their onscreen sources. It
includes the overture, en'tracte, and walk out music.
Though I'm not a video person, I know this is going to be very
controversial when released in August, especially the non-"Smilebox"®
version, and I leave that to others.
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