Most of the reviewers and columnists who write about Blurays tend to praise noticable grain structure, especially on Blurays of classic black-and-white films. On DVD Beaver or Bluray.com it’s not uncommon to read high praise for a monochrome film that’s swarming with hundreds of billions of digital mosquitoes. These same critics also put down Universal Home Video’s tendency to modestly apply digital noise reduction (DNR) to black-and-white films, as they did with the excellent Blurays for Alfred Hitchcock‘s Psycho and J. Lee Thompson‘s Cape Fear. DNR’ing means these films have been slightly degrained.
I, on the other hand, am probably the only columnist who loudly complains about digital mosquito swarms and who worships good DNR’ing. I don’t just love the Psycho and Cape Fear Blurays — I think their clarity and delivery of detail is orgasmic. They make me purr with delight. And I feel the same way about the recently released Schindler’s List Bluray. I recently called it “sheer black-and-white heaven…rich, razor-sharp, super-textured.” Steven Spielberg‘s film is only 20 years old, of course, and would naturally be expected to look all that much clearer and sharper. So I didn’t presume it had been DNR’ed.
But a couple of weeks ago Universal Senior Vice-President of Technical Operations Michael Daruty told Time‘s Wook Kim that some level of DNR’ing had been applied to the Schinder’s List Bluray. That’s why I like it so much, I guess.
Daruty: “Even though Schindler’s List is mostly a black-and-white film, we are still dealing with black levels and white levels and managing a broad range of highlights and contrasts. Our goal always is to preserve the cinematographer’s vision, while at the same time minimizing undesirable artifacts.”
Kim: “Minimizing artifacts? You mean ‘cleaning’ the picture? Can you explain how that works?”
Daruty: “We have technicians sitting at monitors examining the film, frame by frame, looking for anomalies: dirt, film scratches, stains, anything that shouldn’t be on the image. When they spot something, they move a cursor over the anomaly and paintbox them out.”
Kim: “That sounds like both a labor- and time-intensive process.”
Daruty: “It is. We had anywhere from 20 to 30 people working on it. The whole process took 5 months.”
Kim: “I suppose working in 4K must have brought out details — and imperfections — that were invisible in the DVD version?”
Daruty: “There’s so much finer detail in the clothing and the hair and the skin textures. So we’re trying to bring that out and, at the same time, finding and managing an acceptable level of film grain. Every film has grain — take out too much and it stops looking like film.”
In other words, Universal removed a certain amount of grain from Schindler List. And with Spielberg’s approval, Daruty adds. And this is why the Bluray not only looks cleaner and sharper than any previous DVD version, but cleaner and sharper than the film looked on theatre screens in 1994. It’s really marvellous and should be seen by anyone who cares about this stuff.