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A Few Words About A few words about...™ Ben-Hur -- in Blu-ray

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Robert Harris, Sep 17, 2011.

  1. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    William Wyler's Ben-Hur is an interesting example of what happens to films, even some of the greatest and most important, over the years.


    And many of these films wouldn't be saved, were it not for a desire to bring them out on Blu-ray.  For that reason, and the desire to create a high quality home video release, film elements are handled in high resolution, and the act of saving, or in some cases restoring the films, occurs simply because of Blu-ray.


    This is true in the case of Ben-Hur, a jewel in the crown of Warner's Turner / M-G-M library, that had become so worn and in disrepair, that it was on the verge of becoming irreparable.


    Ben-Hur had a myriad of problems.  Enough to make an archivist's head spin, and be the cause of an executive's look of befuddlement, when told that one cannot simply "make a print."


    Ben-Hur was well past that.


    The original 6-track mags deteriorated, the original 65mm negative in an embarrassing state of disrepair.


    How does all of this affect the new Blu-ray?


    In huge ways.


    But the casual observer would never know it.


    Archivists cannot seem to agree on a definition of the word "restoration."  My belief is that if a negative has not faded badly, and can be color corrected, if the tracks survive, and even if the project must return to masters to pick up a few shots damaged over years of printing, the film is not in need of restoration, merely a well-handled digital clean-up.  I recall getting into a discussion with a lab exec, who came up with a list of films he had "restored."  His feeling was that if a negative came into the lab, was cleaned, and the next print produced had a bit less built-in dirt, that the film was "restored."


    Of the most recent classics to make there way to Blu-ray, one, Breakfast at Tiffany's, has had a very nice digital clean-up.  The other, Ben-Hur, is fully at the other end of the spectrum -- a film that was basically unprintable to achieve any result of quality.


    Ben-Hur is a true restoration.


    To the specifics, the tracks sound more representative of the film than did those of the last DVD release, which seemed heavy on the effects, the color is back, and very representative of the look of the original. 

    The Glory Days of Ben-Hur have returned.


    Everything looks to have been dutifully handled, and the recipient of all of this work is the home theater enthusiast.


    Director William Wyler was not a maker of epics.  One of the most respected filmmakers of his era, he was known for intelligent films, that spoke to the human condition.  The Little Foxes, The Best Years of Our Lives, Jezebel (a personal favorite), Wuthering Heights, The Westerner, The Letter, Mrs. Miniver, The Heiress, Roman Holiday, Friendly Persuasion, The Big Country, The Collector...


    If two films stand out as productions that one would never equate to Mr. Wyler, but were the lucky recipients of his genius, they would be Funny Girl and Ben-Hur.


    His work can (and should) film a disc shelf of those who love cinema.


    Ben-Hur was not the Best Picture of 1959 by accident.  An incredible cast, led by Mr. Heston, the cinematography of Robert Surtees, the score from Miklos Rozsa, all blend together to create one of the great masterpieces of the cinema.


    As to the Blu-ray, the quality of the film shines through.  The labors performed to get it back into shape look superb on the format.  Some will discuss the aspect ratio.  Filmed at 2.76:1, I'm happy with it anywhere between 2.5 and 2.76.  I don't believe that it matters.


    In over 200 minutes of film, I noted no major problems.  A couple of mis-cuts, which will never be noticed.  Even dupes are handled to perfection.


    Ben-Hur is a glorious Blu-ray experience.  The icing on this particular release is inclusion of the tinted and two-color 1925 silent version, from Photoplay, and with a score by Carl Davis.  A silent masterpiece in its own right.


    I must make the point.  The way to see properly this film is on a huge screen, but in the world of home theater and Blu-ray...


    Ben-Hur, from Warner, is Very Highly Recommended, and looks to be the major restoration to hit Blu-ray in 2011.


    RAH

     
  2. JoHud

    JoHud Well-Known Member

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    Great piece, particularly on the monumental feat of getting this restored. I'm a bit more compelled to get the Limited Edition set to support such an effort.
    Regarding the 1925 film, can you confirm that it will be in HD, similar to the silent Ten Commandments feature Paramount included in its set?
     
  3. David Weicker

    David Weicker Well-Known Member

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    From the reports I've read, the 1925 version is not in HD. I haven't seen if it is the same as was included in the DVD set, or whether work was done on it though.
     
  4. Billy Batson

    Billy Batson Well-Known Member

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    To me, this is what Blu-ray is all about, big event movies from around this era. We have Ben-Hur, Mutiny On The Bounty & The Guns Of Navarone all before Christmas. Unless you really don't like this movie, it's a must buy, esp. in the UK where it's really quite cheap. I can't wait to see it.
     
  5. Mark-P

    Mark-P Well-Known Member

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    I can't wait. I just knew George Feltenstein wasn't lying at Comic-Con when he said it would be amazing. I put in my pre-order weeks ago.
     
  6. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    Warner's Ned Price and his staff have done an incredible job.
     
  7. SD_Brian

    SD_Brian Well-Known Member

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    DVD Beaver confirms the silent version is standard def. That's unfortunate because the standard-def, bundled-with-the-Heston-film version is likely the only way the silent will ever appear on Blu Ray. Of course, I'd love to be wrong about that...
    Sounds like that's the only real negative of the set, however.
     
  8. Steve Tannehill

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    I was fortunate to see a 70mm print of Ben Hur projected on a 40-50 foot screen, with good sound. The chariot race is something else on the big screen.
    I ordered the disc-only blu-ray edition from Amazon.co.uk...I have too many big blu-ray boxes to fit on my bulging shelves.
     
    Dr Griffin likes this.
  9. Mike Frezon

    Mike Frezon Moderator
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    That looks like a great option, Steve. The only difference between the sets is that the US edition has a bunch of ephemera: diaries, books, etc.? There is no disc-only US release in the works?
     
  10. Steve Tannehill

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    As with the other big box releases, there have eventually been bare-bones releases...or retailer-exclusive bare-bones releases. Maybe Ben Hur will be the same.
     
  11. Charles Smith

    Charles Smith Extremely Talented Member
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    Scrolling down and seeing this thread resulted in a nice double-take as I realized it wasn't one of those tired old Ben-Hur threads but a nice shiny new "A few words about..." Ben-Hur thread. Then I held my breath as I started reading.

    Whew.

    Yay!!!!!
     
  12. Ken_McAlinden

    Ken_McAlinden Well-Known Member
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    Just received my review copy today, watched half of it and the new Heston documentary, and I concur. Very impressive. Review is forthcoming, but the film, extras (both video and physical), and packaging are all worthy of your pre-order dollars.
     
  13. AdrianTurner

    AdrianTurner Banned

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    I am very impressed - and not a little relieved - by Mr Harris's comments. Ben-Hur was the very first movie that made a huge impression on me when I saw it in 1960, as part of a school outing, at the Empire Leicester Square in London. From that day on, I was a movie fan. Ruined my life!
    I'm not sure that Ben-Hur sits rather awkwardly in the Wyler career because its underlying pacifist message makes it part of a loose 1950s trilogy with Friendly Persuasion and The Big Country. I believe Mr Wyler turned down The Sound of Music but accepted Funny Girl after he saw how much money there was to be made from musicals at the time. Asked if he had any problems with Miss Streisand he said, "None at all, considering it was the first film she ever directed." In real life, Mr Wyler was a very witty man, not unlike Mr Wilder with whom he was often confused.
    Anyway, I can't wait for my copy of Ben-Hur to arrive and thanks again to Mr Harris for giving me some background into how this fabulous film came to be saved. The race isn't over . . .
     
  14. ManW_TheUncool

    ManW_TheUncool Well-Known Member

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    Now, I can safely go sell my old DVD (or maybe just give it to family/friend).

    Thanks a bunch, RAH, for your very fine (and fascinating) "few words" as usual...

    Yeah, I may go that route the next time I place an order from them. Actually, I just placed an order from them and could probably just cancel it and reorder, but their current price isn't all that great -- according to blu-ray.com's historical price chart, it was priced at under £12 for a while before getting the bump up. I'll probably wait until it comes back down some (unless a discs-only version comes out here in the USA before then)...

    _Man_
     
  15. Mark Anthony

    Mark Anthony Well-Known Member

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    Hi Mr Harris, v pleased to hear that this classic has finally been rejuvenated!
    Could you go into more detail about Warner's restorative efforts, I know they made an 8K scan of the 65MM O-Neg, but was all the damage/problems cured digitally and then a new archival 65mm negative output to allow the creation of prints going forward, or was it a digital/photo chemical hybrid?
    With the exception of ....Mad World & The Alamo, are there any other major titles on your hit list that need this kind of attention before it's too late?
    Kind Regards
    M
     
  16. Billy Batson

    Billy Batson Well-Known Member

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    That cheap price was before they knew any of the details, they were only listing it as a single disc release. I'm surprised the various online retailers are going to honour that price. I managed to get it for just under £14, which considering all the work that's gone into it & what I'm getting, is the bargain of the year.
     
  17. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    Quite correct, and usual of your thoughts, there certainly is a pacifist trilogy. I'd never thought of it in that manner.

    David Lean used to refer to his three favorite directors, by then all in the Colonies, as "the three foreigners," all of whom he admired immensely.

    Wilder, Wyler and Zinnemann.

    RAH
     
  18. dpippel

    dpippel HTF Premium Member
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    Priceless!

    I'm REALLY looking forward to this, particularly after reading your commentary on the release Robert. Thank you. I'll probably go for the UK single-disc as well. I really wish that Warner would give up their "box set only" mentality on some of their high profile catalog titles here in the U.S.
     
  19. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    I have less of a problem with the boxed sets, although I personally don't like them, and more with the fact that the discs themselves are packaged in an oversize hard paper holder, as opposed to standard sealable BD packaging, for protection from the elements.

    RAH
     
  20. JackKay

    JackKay Well-Known Member

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    RAH, I'm going to preorder the box set today, and I hope that Warner Home Video continues to see the value of their archive.
     

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