I was skeptical when I first heard of it, but Lionsgate’s two-disc Ultimate Collector’s Edition DVD of High Noon, which came out yesterday, is drop-dead beautiful. The monochrome images from this 1952 Fred Zinneman are so rich and lustrous and pulsing with biological exactitude that this DVD has instantly joined my all-time pantheon. And they haven’t even come out with a Blu-Ray version yet. It’s so immaculate with such an intriguing variance of tones that it’s almost like color.
Grace Kelly as she appears in a scene in the new Lionsgate Special Collector’s edition DVD of High Noon
I was going to say this new Noon is right up there with the Columbia-TriStar Home Video DVD of Anatomy of a Murder (rendered by the great Grover Crisp), but the DVD it reminded me of the most is Paramount Home Video’s “grain-rape” version of Sunset Boulevard. That suggests that the new High Noon has been grain-raped also, but it hasn’t been — and yet it looks as if it has. That’s the odd thing here.
Dustin Dean, Lionsgate’s director of DVD production, says the reason for the new Noon‘s radiant, super-sharp appearance is that “we maxed out the bitrate…[and] the compression is different than when it was mastered the last time.” The company hired to do the actual “authoring” worked from a high-def source that, according to an Amazon report, came from “a new transfer of the film, restored by Paramount.” Dean says that digital transfer technology has improving every year and so “the compression has become better….better compression, higher bit rate, a better encoder.”
Some of the purists out there condemned the Sunset Boulevard DVD because the transfer (a beautiful job by John Lowry of Lowry Digital) removed the celluloid grain effect from the image, and serious film restorers believe that the only honest way to master a black-and-white film is to retain the grain, which they say is integral to the image and in fact is essential to its constitution.
Being an Okee from Muskogee with a piece of hay between my teeth, I’ve never really bought this argument because Lowry’s Sunset Boulevard was so smooth and silvery and detailed beyond belief. It was heaven to me because the image seemed fresh as today, in part because that silver Iraqi sandstorm effect had been obliterated. The surprise in Lionsgate’s Noon DVD is that it appears to have been Lowry-ized — there isn’t a speck of grain in the whole thing.
Here’s’ the DVD Beaver comparison of the old Noon DVDs (Artisan, Republic…whatever) and the newbie.