A little more than five years ago Universal Home Video released their infamous “shiny” Bluray of Stanley Kubrick‘s Spartacus. The transfer by Jim Hardy’s HTV/Illuminate looked sharp and crisp but overly sweetened; too much of the detail captured by Russell Metty‘s 70mm Technirama photgraphy had been lost. In an online review restoration guru Robert Harris, who reassembled and restored a definitive 184-minute version of this epic film in 1991, called the 2010 50th Anniversary Bluray “an ugly and unfortunate bit of home video fodder,” suggested a recall, and called for a “new image harvest.”
Well, Harris has been working on such a harvest for about a year (the project was revealed last March by The Digital Bits‘ Bill Hunt) and a brand-new, presumably more specific and film-like Spartacus Bluray will pop sometime in the fall. A day or two hence I’m hoping to speak with Harris in some detail about the 4K restoration and maybe post some before-and-after comparisons.
Excerpt from 6.1.10 HE review of “shiny” Spartacus: “There’s no question that the Spartacus Bluray has been scrubbed down. Last night I put my face about 15 inches away from my 42″ plasma and studied Jean Simmons‘ face during one of the first-act closeups, and it’s like she’s wearing too much base — not the flesh-covered stuff you buy in pharmacies, but the digital kind that washes away organic sincerity. So yes — Harris is right. The Spartacus Bluray is, technically speaking, high-end vandalism. It should be recalled and done right.
“There’s just one problem. If you step back from the screen — sit three or four feet away, I mean — the Spartacus Bluray looks way better than the Criterion DVD or the laser disc or any other version that I’ve ever seen. For the first time since seeing Harris’s restored print on a big screen, I felt dazzled by some of the images. I was saying to my son Dylan, ‘I’m not supposed to like this but whoa…look at that!’
“Harris will probably get angry when he reads some of these words, but this Spartacus delivers some of the sharpest, most gleaming and best-looking pop-out images I’ve ever seen of Stanley Kubrick‘s 1960 film outside of a theatre. As long as you keep your distance from the plasma screen, I mean. Especially if you squint a bit.”
Screen shot of the “shiny” Bluray as it appeared on my old 42″ Panasonic plasma