A Few Words About A few words about...™ The 7th Voyage of Sinbad -- in Blu-ray

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Robert Harris, Oct 24, 2008.

  1. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    Well before the era of digital effects via which the wall between fantasy and reality could virtually be erased, there lived a hard working band of "digital" animators, who used small tools, as well as their digits to delicately manipulate all sorts of creatures the likes of Gertie the Dinosaur, King Kong, Mighty Joe Young, as well as a host of skeletons, harpies, a hydra, and the giant bronze Talos.

    From Mr. Young onward through the 1950s and into the '80s with his work on Clash of the Titans, the most well-known purveyor of this special kind of "digital" magic has been Ray Harryhausen, now 88 years old.

    My two Harryhausen's are (and always have been) 7th Voyage (1958) and Jason and the Argonauts, created five years later. These films represent the height of quality from that era as envisioned and created by Mr. Harryhausen.

    These films were created for children and teens, but were viewed by young adults, and loved by all. Seen today the dialogue of 7th Voyage may seem a bit stilted, but the effects are not.

    Here's where things get difficult however, especially when it comes to Blu-ray. Because of the taking stocks 7th Voyage has faded, especially in the dupes -- and all of the effects sequences encompassing both live action and effects are dupes. The dupes were always grainy, but slightly softened when printed via dye transfer.

    Jason, created on a later stock should be far less problematic.

    I've been reading comments on line about the grain, the overall look, and the concept of digital sharpening, leaving lines around different visual elements in the film. And I come away realizing that a great percentage of those viewing 7th Voyage simply don't understand what it is, how it was made, what it can and should look like, and precisely how far the image, especially from faded elements, could be pushed to make it presentable.

    What I would suggest, with the web being a wonderful archive of information, is that the uninitiated to these works spend a bit of time reading about the difficulties in production and precisely how these films were created half a century ago. I believe that research will give a better mindset and general understanding of what is on screen, and why it looks as it does. One bit of research worth doing is for the term "matte lines."

    A great deal of work and investment has gone into bring 7th Voyage to Blu-ray, and to my mind it has paid off handsomely as a wonderful gift to cinema aficionados.

    As an aside, one of the other treasures of this film as well as Jason (which I hope will follow on blu) are the brilliant scores by Bernard Herrmann, which have been historically among the most sought after scores on vinyl.

    Recommended.

    RAH
     
  2. Ed St. Clair

    Ed St. Clair Producer

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    Thanks, as always.
     
  3. EnricoE

    EnricoE Supporting Actor

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    about a year ago i saw jason and the argonauts in hd via hdnet movies and it was wonderful. sure, it had it's fair amount of grain and some smearing do the broadcast real-time encoding, still a high-bitrate of 18mbps, but in the end it was a great presentation. so without a doubt, robert you'll be pleased with the upcoming blu-ray release [​IMG]

    i can't wait to get my hands on the 7th voyage!!!
     
  4. DaViD Boulet

    DaViD Boulet Lead Actor

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    RAH,

    glad to read your comments here. At dvdfile, I tried my best to educate readers about the history of the optical effects and the presence of the grain in the release print used for the transfer (I hope that my technical descriptions at least vaguely resembled reality). I feel very strongly that given the onslaught of "it didn't look as good at Toy Story" reviews for vintage material like this, it's important that informed reviewers do their part to help educate film lovers who might not fully understand the signature of photochemical/optical processes, especially in a film like this that's so effects-rich. I can't wait to see other Sinbad films on Blu and it will be a joy if Jason has better preserved earlier-generation source material that can be used for the transfer.

    Funny to see you mention that the target audience was young kid/teen. I had never thought of that before watching this on blu-ray for review... growing up with these films on television, I was the right demographic when I first grew to love these films. But watching this Blu-ray Disc, the veil was removed and I was suddenly surprised to find that these movies were indeed targeted towards kids and young teens... not an adult mindset. Of course, anyone can enjoy the adventurous yarn, but the plot/script and acting do require a little more flexibility on the part of adult viewers.
     
  5. Douglas R

    Douglas R Cinematographer

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    I'm not entirely convinced that 7th Voyage was made for children. In the UK the film was given an A certificate when it first opened which meant that no one under 16 could see the film unless accompanied by an adult. At the age of 13 I had to plead with my father to take me to see it. He enjoyed it as much as me!
     
  6. Sam Posten

    Sam Posten Moderator
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    Snagged this at Frys for $13 yesterday, looking forward to it bigtime!
     
  7. Tino

    Tino Lead Actor
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    Thanks for the review Robert, and your insight is much appreciated.

    But I have one question, In your opinion, is this the best Sinbad could have looked, or could more have been done to make it look better than it does (while understanding how difficult it was to make this film "presentable, I must admit I was a bit disappointed with the transfer)?

    Thanks again.[​IMG]
     
  8. Douglas R

    Douglas R Cinematographer

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    I think there are problems with the transfer in that I don't believe the amount of grain on display was present in theatrical screenings.
     
  9. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    Can you please clarify and fully define the words "theatrical screenings?"
     
  10. Douglas R

    Douglas R Cinematographer

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    Well, I meant when the film was first released in cinemas in 35mm in 1958.
     
  11. Jesse Blacklow

    Jesse Blacklow Cinematographer

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    I'd be interested to learn how exactly you know what the grain looked like 50 years ago, and how it is different and problematic now. I'll be eagerly awaiting the unveiling of the original 35mm negative in your possession that informs this opinion.
     
  12. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    Fair enough.

    There are a few elements that come into play here. For the first, we need to re-visit dye transfer printing, which was the original mechanism for the show. If you recall the OCN is optically printed to matrices. The matrices are run through liquid dyes, which are then partially washed away, with the remaining material pressed against (and I'm being simplistic here) a prepared blank with mordant, and imbibed into the blank. The resultant image is far softer than that of the OCN by virtue of the process, and the look of the grain structure is less grainy and a bit more "velvety."

    A bit of sharpness and resolution in lost in the process, but is regained somewhat by an apparent boost in sharpness by virtue of contrast. This is not actual sharpness.

    With the OCN now being used as a basis, the grain is more evident, although not to any huge degree. While the look of the original prints can be attained, one would then have the loss of resolution, which on this film also affects the look of efx shots. You gain, you lose, you end up with a slightly different look. I have no problem with the final look of the BD, especially as it comes from faded elements. Nice work.

    RAH
     
  13. Tino

    Tino Lead Actor
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    But, as I asked earlier, could it have looked better?
     
  14. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    Not necessarily "better," just different.
     
  15. Randy Cook

    Randy Cook Auditioning

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    I am gratified to read RAH's comments, as I have been mightily impressed by his work in film restoration, so it's good to see him weighing in on this old favorite.

    I was certainly captivated when I saw 7th VOYAGE in a theater 50 years ago, and have spent countless hours trying to figure out how some of the effects were accomplished. One of the above statements, regarding matte lines, might need a little clarification.

    There are only fifteen or so traditional matte setups in the picture, wherein two separately-filmed elements are combined in the optical printer. Most are bluescreen travelling mattes, but a couple are static mattes (Colossa establisher, Princess on pillow, wide on Princess on Sokurah's table) and even a shot of Sinbad's hand, taken against black, from which a hi-con matte was derived (which I didn't realize till I asked Ray about it, on the commentary track, back in July 2007)

    The creature work is mostly rear-screen process work, wherein an animation table is set up between RP screen and taking camera. The creature is photographed on the table, whose height corresponds to the ground plane on the RP screen's image on which the creature appears to be walking. Creature is posed against a still live action RP frame, a frame of film in the taking camera is exposed, projector is advanced a frame, creature re-positioned, etc.

    When the animation is completed, the animation table is removed (it's been obscured by a black static matte held in a matte glass easel between table and taking camera). A counter matte is then inserted into the easel and projector and camera are rewound to frame 1 and the bottom of the shot is exposed.

    I mention this because this process ensures that no matte lines appear around the creature. The creature, in fact, is first-generation photography while the live action element is second generation.

    The BD transfer has, nevertheless, numerous anomalous artifacts which might appear to be matte lines around the creatures, but have in fact been introduced in this new transfer. During fast motions, for example, the cyclops' horn partially vanishes, sometimes for 10 consecutive frames. Ditto his fingers, ditto the spears thrown at him.

    This is a new problem, not something inherent in the 50 year old image. I certainly trust that the image is as clear as it can be, because RAH says so. I am not being facetious, because RAH is far more expert in the field of film restoration than I am.

    But I do know the workings of Dynamation pretty well and my objection to the look of the transfer is that these frequent abrasions to the silhouettes of the animated characters ALTER the quality of the animation, and I can't help but feel that they were avoidable. The often super-saturated chroma and odd choices in color timing are a matter of taste, but the alteration to the animation is a matter of fact, and not an improvement.

    The soundtrack, however, sounded better than I have ever heard it...and I've heard it many, many times.
     
  16. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    Randy,

    A big welcome to the forum. I have no idea why the anomalies that you note have cropped up. I must admit that I did not notice them, as I don't know the film as well as you. I'm always caught up in the fact that this was possible at all.

    RAH
     
  17. Randy Cook

    Randy Cook Auditioning

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    Thanks, Robert

    I don't know if you caught VOOM/MONSTERHD's broadcasts of the Harryhausen titles (minus CLASH, GULLIVER, GWANGI & FIRST MEN IN THE MOON) last year. The transfers of JASON and GOLDEN VOYAGE were stunning; Jim Danforth was over to watch them projected on a 9ft screen and we both thought that they looked great. GOLDEN VOYAGE looked better than either of us had ever seen it.

    The quality of those presentations got my hopes up for the 7th VOYAGE disc.
    I also saw what seemed to be a great new print at the Aero in February (seemed, because I was compelled to sit in the front row, from which vantage the film often looked like animated confetti). I think the modern print stocks may well be contrasty-er than those of the fifties, but there was a wealth of detail evident at that theatrical showing not reflected in the BD transfer.

    But JASON should be a treat, when it finally gets to BD. And I can't wait to hear what it SOUNDS like!

    Off topic, and maybe I can be directed to the appropriate thread, but any news of LAWRENCE's BD release date? I cherish the HDNET DVR version (the camels finally have LEGS again, in the long shots), and one hopes the BD will be even better. Saw the film in its original release, and LOVED the restoration, which I know the BD won't match... but as I don't have 70mm projection at home it's better than nothing.

    Randy
     
  18. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    The overall "look" of Ray's films is really based upon the taking stock and the amount of fade. The period from 1953 through 1960 was all bad, with the later years being the most problematic.

    Re: Lawrence, Sony is handling things correctly. It will arrive on Blu when it's done.

    RAH

    The overall "look" of Ray's films is really based upon the taking stock and the amount of fade. The period from 1953 through 1960 was all bad, with the later years being the most problematic.

    Re: Lawrence, Sony is handling things correctly. It will arrive on Blu when it's done, and I'm unable to put a date on that at this time.

    RAH
     
  19. Torsten Kaiser

    Torsten Kaiser Film Restoration & Preservation
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    Randy,

    I want to add my voice of appreciation for your valuable comments and insight re: Dynamation process here. I myself have watched JASON and 7th VOYAGE more than 35 years ago as a kid and I am as fascinated about them today as I was back then (and I am a proud owner of the Japanese DVD Boxed sets that contained along with the films some three 7" "tall" animation figures). I would love to hear more from you since this really gives people an idea about how complex this whole process really was.

    With regard to your comments re: Blu-ray I believe I can shed some light here.
    To my great disappointment and frustration I have to say that this problem was, indeed, COMPLETELY AVOIDABLE. The strange "disappearance act" of the horn, actors' fingers and even parts of objects or costumes is due not to the transfer but another stage in mastering - a fully automatic digital dirt and scratch removal tool that was utilized in order to cleanup the image. The thing is: the disadvantages of such automated tools are (or darn well should be) well known to the people who use it. As I said before in this forum re: another title that was issued recently, the use of such tools is highly problematic since these are notoriously unreliable as seen in this case. As you already observed, any blinking object, any fast moving object, any part of the picture exposed to rapid change of contrast is a "potential target" for such a tool, which aims (at least that is the idea) to detect and correct bits and pieces of dust, debris and scratches this way. If that concept was as perfect as the various makers claim it to be one would save time and a lot of money this way. But, in reality the algorythms of such automated tools are no match for the complexity of a motion picture and the very film stock it is on. Instead, pieces of information that belong in the film are "attacked" as well and literally bitten off.

    Now, knowing that, what is essential if and when such tools are used in the first place is a frame-by-frame check to find out what this tool did to the image and to make corrections that have to be made manually. However, and this makes the whole thing so frustrating, this was not done here, either - as in many other cases I have seen issued on Blu-ray. [​IMG]

    Re: color timing: In some scenes the color saturation is, indeed, quite "lush". The fading of the taking stock Robert referred to makes things here even more difficult. If you look closely, you can see that the color depth is in some scenes (such as in chapter 3 onboard Sinbad's ship) bordering on posterization. The combination of the sharp transfer on the SPIRIT, the amount of grain and the high level of saturation could not hide the problem and the encoder evidently also had its "issues" getting the image to register properly at this high saturation level.


    However, while this is tolerable, the first issue - in my view as well as yours - is definitively not. The reality is that not only are such automatic tools frequently used by many outlets to save costs, but the bigger disappointment to me is that the necessary step of a frame by frame check afterward is apparently being made by merely very few even at the studios.
     
  20. Randy Cook

    Randy Cook Auditioning

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    A tardy thank-you to Robert for his response.

    Torsten, let me take this opportunity to give a couple friends a free plug: further explanation of Ray's is available through two new books, one by Ray himself (with Tony Dalton).

    A CENTURY OF MODEL ANIMATION reviews Ray's work, as well as the work of (ahem) many others. Modesty forbids mentioning ALL their names, but the book is filled with heretofore unpublished anecdotes and photos, and even some sketches of typical a "Dynamation" setup, drawn by Ray himself.

    Also on offer is Mike Hankin's RAY HARRYHAUSEN : MASTER OF THE MAJICKS, also brimming with photos and info, and with very little duplication of the contents of Ray's book.

    Both are a treat.
     

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