Whoever was hired to screen the digitally restored Ben-Hur this morning at a New York Film Festival screening messed up big-time. It wasn’t the fault of the Warner Home Video guys, who have reportedly produced a stunningly exquisite Bluray. (Every Bluray reviewer has said this.) But I do know the following:
(a) The sound this morning was ridiculously out of synch, and it got worse and worse until someone finally found the projectionist (who had left the booth and was out having coffee or something) and told him to stop the film and re-synch it. It was obvious to me after ten or fifteen minutes that the sound was “late”, but nobody did anything about it for the longest time. The bottom line is that we were shown an out-of-synch film for about 90 minutes, or until Charlton Heston and Jack Hawkins are floating on the raft after the sea battle.
(b) The detail didn’t seem all that sharp to me. It was fine but not that great, and for a film shot in Camera 65, I expected great. Every now and then you’d notice a handsome shot and go “oh, that’s striking” or you’d notice how blue Heston’s eyes were, but I was never blown away by it. It looked to me like they were showing a perfectly fine, very clean 35mm print. Okay, maybe a bit better than that, but it never looked drop-your-pants magnificent. And I have a pretty good eye for these things.
(c) To me the colors seemed a teeny bit brownish, and the overall color scheme was on the slightly under-nourished, fine-but-no-cigar side. The bright red Roman capes and tunics were okay as far as they went, but they didn’t melt me down and my eyes didn’t pop out of my sockets.
(d) The house of Hur scenes shot in shadow and/or relative darkness seemed overly murky and lacking in intrigue. You just couldn’t see very much during these scenes, and that told me something was off.
(e) The fabled 2.76 to 1 aspect ratio was not delivered. It looked to me like we were seeing roughly a 2.55 to 1 image, at best. I’ve seen the 2.76 to 1 version on DVD two or three times on an unmasked monitor, and I know we didn’t see that kind of super-duper width this morning. There’s a shot with Hugh Griffiths and the four white horses when Heston enters from the left and says “What magnificent animals” or words to that effect. I knew right away what I saw wasn’t right because Heston was slightly cropped off as he said this line — he didn’t have any breathing room — and you NEVER crop a star. And I don’t want to hear any arguments because I know my friggin’ widescreen aspect ratios. I know what 70mm Vittorio Storaro 2.21 to 1 looks like. I know what 2.35 or 2.39 looks like. And I know what 2.55 to 1 (i.e., mid ’50s FoxScope) looks like. The image I saw today might have been a tad wider than 2.55 but only by a nose hair.
I’m sorry but comically flawed sound synch, decent but not exactly mind-blowing sharpness, slightly brownish colors, a murky feeling in scenes intended to shadowy or nocturnal, and an image that wasn’t a full 2.76 to 1 adds up to “projection fail.”
I’m sure the Ben-Hur Bluray will be fine. I’ll catch it when I return to LA on 10.8.
Video caption: Director Fraser Heston (son of Chuck) and producer Catherine Wyler (daughter of William) offer remarks prior to this morning’s screening.
Early this afternoon Living in the Material World director Martin Scorsese was asked to explain the cultural significance of the Beatles and George Harrison in particular becoming advocates of Eastern-style meditation and mysticism and notions of Godhead satori or enlightenment, which began to happen in mid 1966 and picked up serious speed in ’67 and ’68 and then bloomed in various related ways during the ’70s and beyond.
The formidable Toby Wyler, great-grandson of Ben-Hur director William Wyler, during this morning’s pre-Ben-Hur screening breakfast across the street from Alice Tully Hall. The sword he had in his sheath had dull edges, but was made of serious metal.
Wyler on-set with kids during making of BenHur some 53 years ago. Yes, same outfit.
Currently London-based Martin Scorsese during Skype interview following today’s screening of George Harrison: Living in the Material World. (I captured two video clips of this event; being converted and uploaded.
A New York Film festival panel that occured earlier today. Moderated by Indiewire’s Dana Harris.
“The man who gives Moneyball its soul as well as, at times, its drive and exuberant energy is Brad Pitt, which surprises me, since I had written him off as a good-looking guy without much temperament,” writes New Yorker critic David Denby in his 10.3 review of Moneyball.
“Pitt was fun in such films as Snatch, in which, playing an Irish bare-knuckle boxer, he throws himself around the set and speaks in a brogue thicker than the head on a pint of Guinness, and he was exciting as the unpredictable, mock-fascist underground leader in Fight Club. But when he stopped moving and the camera bore in on him (in Meet Joe Black, for instance) his eyes were empty. He couldn’t convey thinking, which is not a sign of stupidity, just a failure of technique.
“But recently something has been happening inside Pitt. In Babel he showed hints of fire and a fallible rage. And in Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life, in which he plays a father who takes out his disappointments on his sons, his anger is self-wounding and tragic. It’s a performance that deserves an Academy Award.
In Moneyball, Pitt has the air of a former athlete who never quite grew up. His round-cheeked face, like Mickey Mantle‘s, has the congealed look of a picture on a baseball card. A restless man, Pitt’s Beane abruptly overturns anyone who disagrees or can’t keep up with him. Swapping players with other general managers on the telephone, Pitt is almost as quick as Cary Grant‘s manic newspaper editor in His Girl Friday.”
Is there general agreement with my view that Jonathan Levine‘s 50/50 is an affecting, honestly configured drama ribbed or seasoned with occasional Rogen laughs (which you really need to call “yuks”) but is hardly a comedy, or do some feel that the term “comedy” actually, literally applies? What did the room feel like as it played? How old did the audience seem to be?
Last night’s New York Film Festival opener for Roman Polanski‘s Carnage went nicely, I thought. But it began raining fairly hard before the film began at 9 pm and was still coming down when the film ended just shy of 10:40 pm. There were no cabs in the rain, of course, so everyone took the IRT down to Times Square then walked four blocks over to the Harvard Club — slightly crouching, no umbrellas, somewhat exasperated expressions. My back felt as if someone had poured a glass of water onto my sport jacket. The party was great. The bull elephant head on the wall (the one allegedly shot by Teddy Roosevelt) looked green, for some reason.
Last night’s numbers (as reported by Deadline‘s Nikki Finke) had Moneyball in the #1 slot on its second weekend with a projected $12 million by Sunday night and a grand cume of $38 million. These days a 45% drop is considered a reasonably good second-weekend hold, but a mid 30% decline would have been more to my liking.
Dolphin Tale, which nobody in my sphere cares about, might wind up on top with an estimated $13 million…maybe. Courageous is being projected to come in third…blah.
If 50/50, which did $3.5 million last night, ends up with $9.5 million in 2458 situations, the per-screen average will be $3864. So by no means is it tanking, but audiences are being a little standoffish.
Nobody cares about Lion King 3D being expected to rake in $12 million by Sunday night with an estimated grand cume of $80.6 million. I mean, people “care” in the sense that they can’t ignore the huge success of this re-issue, but…fine, whatever, later.
Jim Sheridan‘s debuting Dream House, which wasn’t press-screened, did $2.7 million last night for an estimated weekend haul of $7.5 million. If that number holds it’ll have a per-screen average of $2817 in 2,661 situations. That’s bad.
Nobody cares about the seventh-ranked What’s Your Number? or ninth-place Abduction, but it’s moderately cool that Steven Soderbergh‘s low-key Contagion, beginning its fourth week of play, is still duking it out with an estimated $4.7 million of weekend income and an estimated cume of $64.4 million.