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A Few Words About A few words about...™ The Ten Commandments -- in Blu-ray

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Robert Harris, Mar 12, 2011.

  1. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    As I find little enjoyment in on-line charges of collusion, a bit of disclosure is necessary for transparency's sake.


    Five or six years ago, Paramount gave me access to the Ten Commandments elements toward the concept of restoring the film with a process recently perfected that dealt with the myriad of problems faced by the half-century plus old elements.


    In most simplistic form, the original cut negative had issues with fading, occasional chemical damage combined with that of lacquer removal, and an odd set of emulsion scratches at the upper far left of the frame, which were unfortunately, not outside of protected areas. The scratches seem to share a commonality with like marks on other VistaVision (VVLA) productions, and may have somehow been added in optical printing.


    Corporate structures and people change positions, and with the creation of a new restoration division at the studio, a decision was made to perform the restoration internally. This is fine as long as things are handled correctly. In the end, the most important point is that a film is restored. The secondary point is who is behind the restorative efforts.


    Now that readers are aware of the film's problems, and of my knowledge of those problems, I can move forward with my thoughts as to what has been performed, and to what quality. I have purposefully not discussed what I've just viewed with anyone at the studio, and will only do so after my comments are posted. I may append if I've erred in any way.


    The problems of fade, chemical and other damage, wear and tear on the original elements, inclusive of detritus added over the decades, have all been beautifully dealt with. As I've not seen any mention of the facility that performed the scanning, color correction and clean-up noted on-line, I'll not mention them, but suffice to say that the work has been performed in top fashion, yielding a A+ for the facility and its personnel.


    Color and density appear to be based upon dye transfer re-issue prints, which are different in overall contrast, color and black levels than those prints struck in 1956. This isn't incorrect, simply different. While I'm aware of partial original prints for reference, I'm unaware of a complete original. Most have fallen to vinegar syndrome. While discussing this disparity, it's important to note that for a modern audience, the re-issue look would probably be preferred.


    Sharpness and overall resolution, as captured from the VVLA elements at 4k (6k, if you consider the negative moving sideways, but still 4k perf to perf) is dead-on perfect. Grain levels appear normal and approximately half that of a normal non-VVLA 5248 production of the era. I'm seeing no apparent use of DNR or sharpening. Production dupes, with matte lines intact, are as imprecise as they were in 1956, with heavy movement between elements, and obvious rear projection. Keep in mind that this was a very studio-bound production, with limited use of location exteriors.


    I presume that Mr. DeMille was highly budget oriented, as if one has the opportunity to view the entire frame as exposed, there is little information outside of approximately 1.75:1 protected. One is seeing the tops of sets, wires, etc. I mention that as framing on this film is crucial, and it is framed to perfection. The far left and right expose image, precisely as it was exposed on original prints, merely protecting around the splice lines, which on VVLA are vertical.


    There is an area here, where had the studio wanted to fake a proper restoration and save some budget, they probably could have gotten away with it.


    But they did not.


    I'm referring to the tiny emulsion scratches that could have been "fixed" by simply affecting an overall field enlargement, thereby cropping the far left side of the frame. Rather than taking the simple (and cheap) way out, all of these marks have been digitally painted and eliminated.


    Audio, with which I'm less familiar, is presented both in 5.1 uncompressed as well as monaural. The audio sounds wonderful.


    For those who may be viewing this film for the first time, a few thoughts. The film was created by a master-showman. Mr. DeMille was born in 1881, a mere fifteen years after the death of Abraham Lincoln.


    He directed his first film, naturally silent, in 1914. His silent version of The Ten Commandments in 1923, was his 59th film. By the time he hit the sound era, it was easy to lose count of his work. It's important to recognize that fact that he was a showman-director. His films are very much old world.

    That said, be aware that his 1956 Ten Commandments has a very theatrical feel, with dialogue that may sound old-fashioned to modern ears. The amount of sheer history in this production is immense, and many players will be recognized as part of the early DeMille company, having worked with him in various capacities for decades. This is a film in which bit players may not merely be bit players.


    Those of you reading this are probably waiting for the final "what's wrong" with this Blu-ray.


    The answer is easy.


    Absolutely nothing. If I owned the world, I would have had a three-disc set, including the 1923 version, but I'm certain there's a way for that to me remedied.


    With the studio's Ron Smith calling the restorative shots, his background in the digital world comes to the fore. His work on this film is superb.


    Paramount's 1956 The Ten Commandments is everything that one might wish, in bringing what was essentially a problematic and occasionally ragged original negative, along with its early 5216 protection elements into the modern world.


    The The Commandments is Extremely Highly Recommended.


    RAH
     
  2. benbess

    benbess Well-Known Member

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    Great news! Thanks for this review.
     
  3. Charles Smith

    Charles Smith Extremely Talented Member
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    Whew.
     
  4. benbess

    benbess Well-Known Member

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    PS Did you get to see the 1923 version included in the boxed set? If so, how did that look for PQ?
     
  5. Guest

    Yea!
     
  6. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    I have not seen the 1923.
     
  7. Robert George

    Robert George Well-Known Member

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    Thanks, Bob. Now I know what to expect when this large chunk of cinema history lights up my theater.


    And not a screen shot in sight.
     
  8. Guest

    Robert, do the foley effects sound vintage? I just hope they haven't modernized or updated the sound effects.
     
  9. Rob_Ray

    Rob_Ray Premium
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    Eric,


    I saw this restoration screened last year. I detected no updating of any sound effects. It was an A+ effort all the way. And, yes, the entr'acte was in full stereo as on Joe Caps' laserdisc.
     
  10. Phoebus

    Phoebus Well-Known Member

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    Fascinating to read, Mr. Harris, as ever.

    Many thanks for all your reviews/essays.
     
  11. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Administrator
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    Ron Smith has always done an outstanding job with
    Paramount restorations.


    He's also very personable in person and very happy

    to talk about his work.


    I am so happy this film's restoration was placed in

    Ron's hands. I am not surprised by the praise Mr.

    Harris has given here.
     
  12. dana martin

    dana martin Well-Known Member

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    Robert,


    Paramount Restoration at one time had a web site, really outstanding reading on the different catalog that they were working thru, do you know if it still exist, i have done some searches and am not able to find anything related to it. and along with everyone else who has stated, your highly enthusiastic recommendation , is just the icing on the cake, i just wish that i didn't have to wait 2 more weeks.
     
  13. ahollis

    ahollis Well-Known Member

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    Thanks for your thoughts on the transfer. I just pre-ordered it and of course went through HTF to do so. Can't wait to spin this one.
     
  14. Guest

    Rob_Ray, thanks for answering my question!!!! I have been waiting so long for this, and I can't wait to pick up the big box!!!!
     
  15. Scott Merryfield

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    Thank you for the in-depth review, Mr. Harris. I can now purchase this film with confidence.
     
  16. MatthewA

    MatthewA Well-Known Member

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    It is nice to know we have another winner from Paramount.


    We chide them for not dipping deeply enough into the catalog, but when they do it, and when they do it right, they really do magnificent work.


    I hope to see more VistaVision restorations in the future.
     
  17. Guest

    Now the question remains, do I show this to friends the week it comes out, or do I enjoy it myself and show it this summer on my huge outdoor screen?
     
  18. Rob_Ray

    Rob_Ray Premium
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    I vote for the huge outdoor screen!
     
  19. dana martin

    dana martin Well-Known Member

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    actually, did that one once, cant remember when they were doing a re-release but this is one that we caught at the drive-in, sometime in the 70's; odd thing being a religious movie, the place was still packed, lots of families then.
     
  20. Cees Alons

    Cees Alons Moderator
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    The Ten Commandments certainly is a huge-outdoors-screen movie, if you'd ask me.



    Cees
     

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