Since last summer Universal Home Video has been working with restoration guru Robert Harris on a digital high-def restoration of Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus (’60). This new version will, I’m told, look more detailed and more Super Technirama 70-ish than the somewhat derided “shiny” Spartacus Bluray that came out in 2010. The new version, which is both a restoration and a reconstruction, was going to be screened this weekend at the TCM Classic Film Festival but Universal yanked it at the last minute because it couldn’t be finished in time. It’s now expected to pop on Bluray sometime next fall.
Spartacus producer-star Kirk Douglas, director Stanley Kubrick during filming in early 1960.
Soon after the 2010 Bluray emerged Harris, who famously supervised the Spartacus restoration of 1991, called for a new digital harvest that would more closely represent the film as it appeared in its early 70mm Technirama engagements.”
“The bottom line is that the new Spartacus is going to be gorgeous,” Harris told me earlier today. “The work has been underway since last July, and it’s been a huge, huge project. I’ve been consulting with them, and Universal is taking this very seriously. They’re doing everything that I asked for, and in 4K. You’re going to see detail and color that you haven’t seen since the restored 70mm version screened 24 years ago.”
In 2012 I wrote that Universal Home Video execs “need to allow Robert Harris, who co-directed the original Spartacus restoration, to do a Bluray that’s really right, and I mean in a way that truly captures the textured wholeness of Russell Metty’s Super Technirama 70 photography.”
And yet I’m on record as being a mixed admirer of the “shiny” Spartacus as contained in the 2010 Bluray. What I really meant is that it looks a helluva lot better than the old Criterion DVD, which was 480 interlaced and looks like mud by today’s standards.
I don’t “respect” shiny (i.e., DNR’ed) Blurays, and yet my inner primitive slow-witted goon responds excitedly when I watch one. Put me in jail but I adore the sharpness. I really love seeing the tiny little creases in Douglas’s face in those Spartacus closeups, not to mention those hair follicles and day-old beard stubbles and odd threads from those gladiator tunics.
“I’m truly sorry, but the 2010 Spartacus Bluray looks ten times better than Criterion’s DVD version,” I wrote four and a half years ago, “even though the shiny version has less-detailed image and generally less information due to the digital noise reduction process.”