I’ve been waiting a long time to see the much-promoted 4K restoration of North by Northwest, and so I couldn’t resist attending yesterday’s Tribeca Film Festival screening at the Village East Angelika.

I had a reasonable expectation that the restorationists had enhanced Alfred Hitchock’s 1959 classic with a distinct visual bump effect (as in “whoa, this looks better than ever before!”).

This would have been due, I figured, to their having sourced the original 8-perf 35mm VistaVision camera negative with all restoration work completed in 6.5k, and then overseeing the creation of a 65mm negative and finally having Fotokem create a 70mm film print.

That 70mm print was what was shown at the Village East last night, and I have to be honest — it looked very nice but it didn’t blow me away, and it certainly didn’t make my eyeballs go “boinnnggg!” There was absolutely no “bump” effect, and I was sitting there going “what the fuck?” and “why am I not looking at the very best NXNW ever created or projected…not since the waning days of the Eisenhower administration but ever, especially given the 8K VistaVision negative scan?”

I’m not saying that Jim Hemphill’s 6.11 IndieWire piece on the NXNW restoration is bullshit, but…okay, I guess I am calling it bullshit because it makes you think “whoa, here’s my chance to see a great Hitchcock classic in the best visual condition ever!”

What I saw yesterday evening was just…very nice. Approvable. Agreeable but nothing to bounce up and down about on a trampoline.

Here’s why: 70mm presentations are no longer the cat’s meow. Creating a 70mm NXNW print is a fine, excellent thing in terms of archival preservation, but the sharpest and most vibrant way to present a digitally restored film (NXNW was scanned at 13K but restored at 6.5K, whatever the hell that means) upon a large screen is via 4K digital projection.

You’re losing two generations of clarity by (a) creating a 65mm negative and then (b) creating a 65mm print, so right away audiences are being shown a less-than-optimum image. And then you’re at the mercy of the projection standards at whatever given theatre (proper or improper foot lambert levels, sufficiently sharp or underwhelming sound).

So there’s no obvious enhancement and nothing to go crazy about, and the strong black levels, by the way, that are visible in the 2009 NXNW Bluray have been mostly removed or at least significantly dialed down. There’s nothing the least bit pinkish about the sky in this sequence, but there’s no question they’ve diminished the blacks.

The cropduster sequence, also, has now been tinted with a slight amber-light brown effect, which struck me as affected.

In short, if you want to see the very best rendering of this new Film Foundation-approved restoration, wait for the Bluray, which will “street” later this year.

As I was walking uptown after the screening, I felt like Sterling Hayden‘s General Jack D. Ripper in that Dr. Strangelove scene right after the Burpleson Air Force base surrender. Speaking to Peter Sellers‘ Group Captain Lionel Mandrake, Hayden says, “Those boys were like my children, Mandrake, and now they’ve let me down.”