Home Theatre Forum fellows have noted that a “restored HD” version of George Pal‘s War of the Worlds (’53) is now streamable on iTunes. It’s said to be a marked improvement over the HD version that’s been streaming since ’11 or thereabouts, especially with the wires that once held up the Martian attack ships now digitally removed.
In fact a Paramount Home Video spokesperson told me today that the HTF guys are actually viewing a 4K version, “remastered and restored over the past year.” She said the new restoration is only being offered in 4K (i.e., not in 1080p HD or SD) and “only digitally for now, starting on iTunes then rolling out to other platforms that offer 4K.”
She said that Amazon “doesn’t offer 4K at this time,” but of course she’s mistaken about that. I’m speaking as a very gratified owner of a beautiful Amazon 4K streaming version of Lawrence of Arabia. Many Amazon customers, I’m sure, would love to stream this new War of the Worlds.
The spokesperson also said there are “no plans” for a 4K or 1080p Bluray release. Physical media…stake through the heart.
This War of the Worlds 4K restoration will, however, be screened sometime during the forthcoming Infinity Film Festival, which will run from Thursday, 11.1 to Sunday, 11.4 somewhere in Beverly Hills. The festival’s site doesn’t say what screening venue[s] will be used.
You can see the Martian wires in this screen capture (taken off my 15″ Macbook Pro) of the Amazon streamable version that’s been available since 2011.
“War With Itself,” posted on 11.13.05: The recently-issued Paramount Home Video DVD of the 1953 War of the Worlds, one of the most beautifully photographed Technicolor movies ever made, looks absolutely breathtaking. This sci-fi classic provides one of the lushest color-baths in Hollywood history and has always looked sumptuous…now it’s heavenly.
But there’s an unfortunate side effect to this clarity. The new DVD (released on 11.1) pretty much ruins the suspension-of-disbelief element because of the way- too-visible wires holding up the Martian spaceships. You can see them repeatedly during scenes of the initial assault against the military…a thicket of blue-tinted wires holding up each one.
And there’s no believing it. The wires are much too vivid. Clayton Forrester (Gene Barry) is explaining to General Mann (Les Tremayne) how the Martians keep their bright green ships aloft, that they’re using “some form of electro magnetic force” and “balancing the two poles” and so on, and it’s absurd. The illusion is shot.
The obvious solution is for Paramount Home Video to digitally erase the wires. It would make perfect sense. Just as digital technology has made this 1953 film look sharper than ever before, it follows that digital technology needs to recreate the original illusion. The wires weren’t that visible in 1953, and they weren’t as visible in Paramount Home Video’s 1999 DVD.
I can’t believe there are people who feel that wire-erasing would be a violation of the original film and are actually arguing against a fix-up, but they’re out there.
One of those naysayers is the highly respected and very bright Glenn Erickson (a.k.a., “DVD Savant”). I’m stunned that a smart guy like Erickson could be so dead friggin’ blind.
“Many scenes [in War of the Worlds] that appeared blurry or poorly composited [before] are now crystal clear,” Erickson said in a review posted 13 days ago. “This means that the forest of fine wires supporting the fighting machines is now more visible than ever, so we can’t have everything.
“There was no CG wire removal in 1953,” he writes, “and it would be detrimental revisionism to change the picture now. Today’s enlightened filmmakers like George Lucas would never do such a thing! So be an adult and learn to live with it.”
Suppose George Pal and Bryon Haskin couldn’t do anything to hide the wires in their film, and 1953 audiences could therefore see them as clearly as DVD watchers can now? Would Pal and Baskin have just shrugged and told Paramount and the exhibitors, “Sorry, guys… learn to live with it…it’s the best we can do”?
Obviously the new DVD is the provider of “detrimental revisionism” — it’s showing an image that wasn’t meant to be seen.
Obviously, clearly…hello?…erasing the wires will enable audiences of today to suspend their disblief with the same ease that audiences did 52 years ago. You can’t muddy up the image so they can’t be seen, so it’s the only thing to do.
I’m going to be charitable and consider the possibility that Erickson may be over- worked and wasn’t thinking all that clearly when he wrote what he wrote. All is forgiven if he recants.
John Lowry, the head of Lowry Digital who’s done some great clean-up and/or digital restoration work on loads of classic films, was the one hired by Paramount Home Video to clean up War of the Worlds .
“Our job is always to serve the wishes of the client…we do what the client says …and we didn’t have orders to clean up the wires,” he says. “Plus we were working on a very tight budget.”
Lowry faced a similar issue when he was doing the digital remastering ofAlfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest. “We were working onthe scene when the crop duster plane crashes into the gas truck,” he recalls, “and there were 25 or 30 frames of that particular shot in which you could see three wires holding up the rather large model of the airplane.
“And I said to myself, my God, too obvious…it spoils the illusion. And I asked myself, what would Hitchcock do? I knew what he would do. Take the wires out of there. So I did, and the Warner Bros. people approved.
“But ever since then we’ve been very attuned to original artistic intent. And with today’s technology, anything that interferes with the story-telling process or which degrades that process, is dead wrong.
“We got rid of the wires on the Mary Poppins DVD, for the Disney people. We asked and they said ‘get rid of them’ but they had the money to do it.
“When we were working on the snake-pit scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark you could see all kinds of reflections in the glass separating Ford from the snakes, and there was a very conscious decision made by Spielberg to take the reflections out.”
I called and e-mailed a few other guys who should have opinions about this story — restoration master Robert Harris, director and War of the Worlds fan Joe Dante (who riffs about the film on one of the DVD’s two audio tracks), and film restoration artist Mike Arick.