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HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: That's Entertainment! - The Complete Collection

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#1 of 26 OFFLINE   Matt Hough

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Posted December 27 2007 - 01:02 AM


That’s Entertainment! - The Complete Collection (Blu-ray)
Directed by Jack Haley, Jr., Gene Kelly, Bud Freidgen, Michael J. Sheridan

Studio: Warner Bros.
Year: 1974-1994
Aspect Ratio: varied 1080p (VC-1 codec)
Running Time: 379 minutes
Rating: G
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 English, 2.0 French, 1.0 Spanish
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
MSRP: $79.98

Release Date: December 18, 2007
Review Date: December 27, 2007


Overview


The three editions of That’s Entertainment that make up this package constitute the single greatest collection of magical musical moments in the history of the genre. No, it’s not comprehensive. It represents only impressive numbers from about thirty-five years of MGM films (so no Jolson, no Keeler, no Faye, Temple, or Grable), and due to the depth of talent and the seemingly endless archives of available material, some excellent stuff has of necessity been overlooked. As documentaries, the films also have their faults. There are errors in the narration, and some artistic decisions have been made about adjusting some of the images for modern audiences that should make purists blanch. Still, with “entertainment” the key word, the films all deliver on that notion in spades.

The Films


That’s Entertainment 4.5/5

The documentary that started it all in 1974 deserved every bit of the tremendous success it gleaned. Reminding the world of its past musical glory, MGM’s That’s Entertainment picked the most tantalizing morsels from the MGM musical basket and presented them in a loving and wondrous showcase hosted by a group of performers all associated with MGM in one way or another. Some segments showcased specific performers (the MGM big three: Judy Garland, Fred Astaire, and Gene Kelly along with the one-of-a-kind Esther Williams). Others showcased non-singing stars trying to sing or the move to widescreen, stereophonic spectacles. And some sequences were merely a hodgepodge of numbers without much of a unifying theme.

Clearly the standout star of the first That’s Entertainment was Judy Garland. She had two sequences devoted to her gifts (a solo showcase and also a segment devoted to her teen musicals with Mickey Rooney) and also jumped off the screen in excerpts from her black and white years (“Dear Mr. Gable,” “Singin’ in the Rain”) to her Technicolor star vehicles (“On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe” from The Harvey Girls). Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire likewise earned a lion’s share of the credit for outstanding moments from their careers which were sprinkled throughout the film. And performers that might have been largely forgotten by 1974 (like Eleanor Powell in a sizzling tap-off with Astaire to “Begin the Beguine” or June Allyson in a couple of numbers) also got their spotlight moments.

Purists have sometimes been bothered by the careful editing jobs done on almost all of the numbers in order to meet time limitations, but I was bothered much more by the tendency to turn Academy ratio films into widescreen ones on a number of occasions. When the spectacularly elephantine “A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody” number from The Great Ziegfeld is introduced, narrator Frank Sinatra mentions that “if the number could be filmed today, it might look something like this” at which time the telecine camera zooms in to increase the width of the picture by trimming off the top and bottom of the image. If it were only for that one number, I might have seen the point, but time after time, this happens. The entire Show Boat sequence is compromised in this way (some heads get lopped off in the process), and some numbers like “On the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe,” “The Varsity Drag,” the “Broadway Ballet” or “An American in Paris Ballet” begin in 4:3 and during the number expand ridiculously into widescreen with the careful directorial compositions thrown out the window. The attempts to do this have been done subtly, but for those of us who know the original films by heart, these changes almost amount to sacrilege.

That’s Entertainment Part II 3.5/5

Two years later, after the enormous reception to the original That’s Entertainment, the powers that be at MGM decided on a sequel. Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire were brought in to host the film and narrate all the segments. Seeing the two veteran performers reunited in some simple dance routines thirty years after their only on-screen pairing in Ziegfeld Follies is definitely a treat, but the film has the distinct feeling of been there-done that about it. Efforts have been made to extend the theme of the film from being just musical numbers to include comedy bits with the Marx Brothers, famous lines from MGM movies (Garbo’s “I want to be alone” or Franchot Tone’s “I want to run barefoot through your hair”), and a segment on the Spencer Tracy-Katharine Hepburn partnership, but the segments are rudimentarily put together and often fall flat.

What’s worse, the film is much too loaded with Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire numbers. The men were undeniable geniuses at their craft, but the almost relentless parade of their numbers made the film very Astaire-Kelly top heavy to the detriment of the rest of the film. In fact, at one point, Gene actually says in his narration, “Here you are again, Fred.” That speaks volumes about the film‘s poor overall concept and execution.

And once again, Academy ratio production numbers are violated by being forced into a widescreen frame. No matter how much we might have wanted them to be widescreen films, Annie Get Your Gun, Girl Crazy, Easter Parade, the 1934 version of The Merry Widow, and the Cypress Garden finale of Easy to Love aren’t and showing them as such violates the integrity of the cinematography in each one of those movies.

That’s Entertainment III 4.5/5

The original That’s Entertainment may have the lion’s share of classic MGM musical moments, but That’s Entertainment III works overtime with the footage it has left at its disposal. Twenty years after the original film was released, the original premise is resumed by having great MGM stars of the past return to the studio to host segments on a variety of topics. Esther Williams and Lena Horne narrate clips of their work at the studio. Gene Kelly briefs us about the early talkie years while June Allyson talks about the studio’s efforts to find budding talents and build them into stars. Debbie Reynolds discusses the glamour mill at the studio intent on making its fabulous line-up of leading ladies look their best. Cyd Charisse pays homage to Gene Kelly, Ann Miller praises Fred Astaire’s career, while Mickey Rooney does the same with his beloved Judy Garland. Finally Howard Keel takes us into the widescreen, stereophonic last years of the MGM musical.

What makes these segments special this time around, however, is that unseen (at the time) outtakes and behind-the-scenes footage is woven into the fabric of the picture. The frame frequently splits so we can see, for example, how Eleanor Powell’s complex “Fascinatin’ Rhythm” number was filmed in a single take for Lady Be Good or how two different versions of Fred Astaire‘s “I Wanna Be a Dancin’ Man” from The Belle of New York were filmed though only Fred’s new costume gives it away. Otherwise, he mirrors himself step for step and gesture for gesture. We see an unused barnyard version of “A Lady Loves” from Debbie Reynolds’ I Love Melvin and four outakes of Judy Garland numbers, all of which are highlights of the film. We get to hear Ava Gardner’s singing voice (rather than Annette Warren’s dubbing) paired with her image in Show Boat and see two incarnations of “Two Faced Woman,” one an intriguing mix of dancing chorines and the other a Joan Crawford dud from Torch Song.

Their love for the studio and the pride in their accomplishments come through every last frame of this third film. That’s Entertainment III may not have the best numbers, but these elderly veterans, many in the twilight years of their careers when these bridging sequences were filmed, add a real poignance to the project that makes it for me in many ways the most enjoyable of the three features.

Video Quality


That’s Entertainment 4/5

The 1080p transfers (VC-1 codec) handle the tremendous array of different aspect ratios, film stocks, and color processes with variable success. Much of the black and white footage looks overly grainy, not surprising with some of the early talkies but less understandable when dealing with later black and white movies like Girl Crazy or It Happened in Brooklyn. Any time a film’s original 4:3 ratio is violated by zooming in on the image, the sharpness is compromised and the grain structure becomes far more noticeable. On the other hand, footage from Take Me Out to the Ballgame, The Barkleys of Broadway (Ginger’s blood-red fingernails sear the screen), The Toast of New Orleans, Meet Me in St. Louis, High Society, and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers looks astonishing enough to make those films instant must-haves on Blu-ray. Seeing faded, blurry clips from the films in the various bonus features also on the disc makes it obvious that much work went into making the clips in the main feature look as good as possible.

That’s Entertainment Part II 3.5/5

Again, clarity and sharpness varies from clip to clip, and once again, the zooming in on the images with Academy ratios softens the picture and magnifies the grain structure. Overall, the quality of the clips seems a bit lackluster in comparison to the other two films, and there are fewer clips that really impress in this feature in terms of high definition sharpness and dimensionality. The few that did it for me included “Steppin’ Out With My Baby” from Easter Parade, “I Like Myself” from It’s Always Fair Weather, and “I Remember It Well” from Gigi. Once again, High Society’s Vistavision image is impressive though Sinatra’s checked coat is riddled with moiré patterns.

That’s Entertainment III 4.5/5

For the most part, this film’s footage fares the best from beginning to end in high definition. The host sequences as well as almost all of the black and white clips have a sharpness and sheen that are lacking in the two previous pictures. The lack of a perfect video score is attributed almost entirely to the annoying zooming in on the 4:3 images for widescreen presentation which, especially in the cases of the introductory “Bring on the Beautiful Ladies” from Ziegfeld Follies and Cyd Charisse’s “Two-Faced Woman” outtake, look near-disastrous. On the other hand, one look at Carmen Miranda’s wildly vivid umbrella headdress from Nancy Goes to Rio will let you know how gorgeous these MGM musicals are going to look in high definition once Warners begins producing them.

Each film has its own chapter listing guide inside its individual keep case.

Audio Quality


All three films 3.5/5

The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track must deal with a tremendous variance of audio quality from the tinniest and hissiest early talkies to the magnificently surging orchestras for the more recent musicals as well as the orchestras that play the scores for each of the documentaries. Though deep bass is lacking throughout most of each disc, many of the recording sessions for these musicals had different audio stems recorded from separately placed microphones that could be fashioned into stereo surround elements to enhance the listening experience, and they‘re surprisingly effective. That’s Entertainment III features audio levels that seem just the slightest bit soft compared to the volume levels of the other two films.

Special Features


None of the special features on any of the discs are presented in high definition and all features have been ported over from the previously released standard definition box set of these three films. No new bonus material is included in this set.

That’s Entertainment 3.5/5

TCM host Robert Osborne presents a 4 ¾-minute introduction to the film.

“Just One More Time” is an 8 ¾-minute publicity featurette which has the narrators of the film in alternate takes of their hosting comments paired with some very washed out clips from the film.

That’s Entertainment: 50 Years of MGM” is a 66-minute television special publicizing the movie featuring George Hamilton and his then-wife Alana interviewing Debbie Reynolds, Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Donald O’Connor, Johnny Weissmuller, and Liza Minnelli. There is also 8 minutes of clips from the film.

“MGM’s 25th Anniversary Luncheon Newsreel” is the complete 10½-minute newsreel coverage of the grand silver anniversary luncheon which is only excerpted in the movie.

The original theatrical trailer runs 4 minutes.

That’s Entertainment Part II 3/5

TCM host Robert Osborne presents a 4-minute introduction to the film.

“The Lion Roars Again” is only peripherally about That’s Entertainment Part II. It’s only one of six MGM movies getting a big build-up at the 1975 international press conclave to announce MGM’s slate of upcoming releases.

“The Masters Behind the Musicals” is an all too brief overview of the men and women behind the scenes who tirelessly worked to give the MGM musicals their magic. Included in this documentary are interviews with various MGM stars about the lot’s producers, musical conductors and arrangers, choreographers, and directors, many of whom are worthy of their own documentaries. This featurette runs 37½ minutes.

A Mike Douglas Show excerpt that runs 21 minutes finds the affable talk show host at MGM interviewing Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Hermes Pan, Debbie Reynolds, Nanette Fabray, Ann Miller, and Janis Paige about their work at the studio.

The theatrical trailer runs 3¼ minutes.

That’s Entertainment III 3.5/5

TCM host Robert Osborne presents a 3½-minute introduction to the film.

That’s Entertainment III: Behind the Screen” is the best supplementary documentary in the package as the producers and the directors of the film discuss working with each of the star hosts and then the hosts themselves relive memories of their work at the studio which are not rehashes of what they say in the film but rather comments brimming with information and opinions about other studio personnel. The documentary runs 53 minutes.

The musical outtake jukebox features seventeen musical outtakes from an assortment of MGM musicals which runs a total of 49½ minutes. Three of the outtakes are the complete versions of numbers which are shortened in the actual feature: “The Lock Step,” “A Lady Loves,” and “Mister Monotony.” The other outtakes feature such stars as Judy Garland, Bert Lahr and Marjorie Main, Jane Powell, Mario Lanza and Kathryn Grayson, Lena Horne, and Frank Sinatra. Selections can be chosen individually or watched all at once.

The original theatrical trailer runs 1½ minutes.

In Conclusion

4/5 (not an average)

That’s Entertainment - The Complete Collection makes a most welcome debut on Blu-ray. The films are pure entertainment featuring an assortment of talent which the world will likely never see again. Now all we require is that Warners starts a systematic schedule of high definition releases of many of the classics contained in excerpt form on these excellent discs.


Matt Hough
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#2 of 26 OFFLINE   Ronald Epstein

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Posted December 27 2007 - 04:20 AM

Started watching this Christmas Eve and was pleasantly pleased.

Mind you, I have never been a huge fan of most musicals from
the 40s and 50s. In fact, it would have been impossible to
convince me to watch, let alone purchase any of the That's
Entertainment!
films years ago.

I decided to finally add these to my library because....well....
they represent the very best of what has made musicals what
they are.

So, here I am on Christmas Eve watching That's Entertainment!
with a smile on my face. Talk about some incredible moments
where you just go "WOW!" I think the most impressive moment
for me was Fred Astaire dancing on the ceiling --- and me trying to
figure out how it was done so fluidly. I also found myself gasping
at the pure scope of a camera pullback on a western train station
(think it was from The Harvey Girls). I mean the production numbers
don't hold a candle to anything modern cinema does today with all
its CGI.

The overall quality of video is a mixed bag on Blu-ray. As has been
noted, there can be a lot of grain in the B&W shots. However, much
of that is made up with the gorgeous technicolor shots that are
reproduced quite well here. I still think even the best footage shows
hints of debris which makes me wonder if Warner replaced original
footage or not here.

I look forward to watching parts II and III over the next few weeks.

This is a title that must be added to any hi-def collection.

 

Ronald J Epstein
Home Theater Forum co-owner

 

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#3 of 26 OFFLINE   TonyD

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Posted December 27 2007 - 01:52 PM

i wish i hadnt bought the sd set just before this was announced, i would have the br version now.
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#4 of 26 OFFLINE   WadeM

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Posted December 29 2007 - 12:50 AM

Anyone have any screen shots from this comparing it with the SD? I'm especially curious about just how affecting the grain is on the B&W. I can imagine how good the technicolor looks.

#5 of 26 OFFLINE   Raul Marquez,MD

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Posted December 29 2007 - 01:18 AM

Hiya Ron,
First of all Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year!!

Yesterday I was in my local Specs (f.y.e.) store holding the Blu-ray and the HD DVD boxes of That's Entertainment, and couldn't decide which version to buy. Have you heard of any differences? I decided to hold off on buying this title until I did some more research on this forum.
I'm completely format neutral so far, so I was tempted to get this on HD DVD just to even out my HiDef collections (I have 46 BR vs 35 HDDVD titles so far).

Take care,
Raul

#6 of 26 OFFLINE   Matt Hough

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Posted December 29 2007 - 01:26 AM

Since Warners uses the VC-1 codec and Dolby TrueHD on both the HD-DVD and the Blu-ray, I don't think there will be any differences at all with the releases. There is no content difference between the two either.

#7 of 26 OFFLINE   Wayne_j

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Posted December 31 2007 - 12:11 PM

Yes, Warners have been updating the clips from the That's Entertainment series as improved restorations have been completed. The digital bits has an interview that Robert Harris conducted with someone at Warners around the time of the DVD release.

#8 of 26 OFFLINE   Carter of Mars

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Posted December 31 2007 - 02:36 PM

Am I reading the review right? Are clips not being presented in the original aspect ratio on this set?

#9 of 26 OFFLINE   Matt Hough

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Posted December 31 2007 - 03:43 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Carter of Mars
Am I reading the review right? Are clips not being presented in the original aspect ratio on this set?

Yes, you are reading that correctly, and it isn't unique to the Blu-ray. Those same clips are cropped and blown up on the sDVD set as well. I checked.

It isn't every clip, of course, but in my mind, the only one they had a right to tamper with was the one from THE GREAT ZIEGFELD which Sinatra specifically stated was being altered to look like a clip from a more modern film. The rest should have been left alone.

#10 of 26 OFFLINE   Stephen_J_H

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Posted December 31 2007 - 04:15 PM

And I believe those clips were tilt n' scanned for the original theatrical release, since pillarboxing for modern theatres is a fairly recent practice.
"My opinion is that (a) anyone who actually works in a video store and does not understand letterboxing has given up on life, and (b) any customer who prefers to have the sides of a movie hacked off should not be licensed to operate a video player."-- Roger Ebert

#11 of 26 OFFLINE   Mark B

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Posted December 31 2007 - 04:26 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by MattH.
the only one they had a right to tamper with was the one from THE GREAT ZIEGFELD which Sinatra specifically stated was being altered to look like a clip from a more modern film. The rest should have been left alone.

I've always interpreted Sinatra's (scripted) comment as meaning that the sequence from that film would look the same in (1974) due to the high level of production value attributed to it in 1936; that it couldn't be done any better.

#12 of 26 OFFLINE   Matt Hough

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Posted January 01 2008 - 01:30 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Stephen_J_H
And I believe those clips were tilt n' scanned for the original theatrical release, since pillarboxing for modern theatres is a fairly recent practice.

Correct, at least for the first two. The third one never made it to my area of the world. Since they don't do it for every Academy ratio clip, the need to do it at all continues to mystify.

#13 of 26 OFFLINE   Mark B

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Posted January 01 2008 - 02:54 AM

Can someone explain "tilt and scan" to me please?

Edit:
I just did a little "Googling" and found my answer.

So, does this mean that in the original theatrical release of TE! ALL of the academy ratio clips were compromised? If so, the footage of the narrators would also have been matted, would it not?

#14 of 26 ONLINE   Gary16

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Posted January 01 2008 - 06:09 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mark B
Can someone explain "tilt and scan" to me please?

Edit:
I just did a little "Googling" and found my answer.

So, does this mean that in the original theatrical release of TE! ALL of the academy ratio clips were compromised? If so, the footage of the narrators would also have been matted, would it not?


The original theatrical release of TE looked exactly the same as the current video releases in terms of which sections were blown up and which were not. The footage of the hosts was all in academy ratio and not matted. When the movie first appeared on television (in the 4:3 days) almost the entire movie was in the 4:3 ratio which got rid of the blow-ups but caused the wide screen clips to be either cropped or panned and scanned.

#15 of 26 OFFLINE   Mark B

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Posted January 01 2008 - 10:01 AM

I have every VHS and laserdisc release of these films, as well as the SD-DVD version, so I'm aware of the home video progression, upgraded clips, and letterboxed segments. I've always been curious about the original theatrical exhibition, hence my questions.

#16 of 26 OFFLINE   Douglas Monce

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Posted January 01 2008 - 10:10 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Gary16
The original theatrical release of TE looked exactly the same as the current video releases in terms of which sections were blown up and which were not. The footage of the hosts was all in academy ratio and not matted. When the movie first appeared on television (in the 4:3 days) almost the entire movie was in the 4:3 ratio which got rid of the blow-ups but caused the wide screen clips to be either cropped or panned and scanned.


The footage wasn't "blown up", it was simply matted (in the projector) as most 1.85:1 films are. Of course the old footage wasn't shot with matting in mind so the framing may seem very tight.

When shown on TV they most likely scanned it in at 1.37:1 and didn't push it to the point where the top and bottom mattes wouldn't be seen on tv. The effect may simply be that the host segments seem to have a bit more head room than would seem to be normal, and the old footage would be seen at almost full frame.

Doug
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#17 of 26 OFFLINE   Mark B

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Posted January 01 2008 - 11:35 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Douglas Monce
The footage wasn't "blown up", it was simply matted (in the projector) as most 1.85:1 films are. Of course the old footage wasn't shot with matting in mind so the framing may seem very tight.

When shown on TV they most likely scanned it in at 1.37:1 and didn't push it to the point where the top and bottom mattes wouldn't be seen on tv. The effect may simply be that the host segments seem to have a bit more head room than would seem to be normal, and the old footage would be seen at almost full frame.

Doug

This sounds to me like it would explain how a 35mm general release may have been handled, but what about the 70mm version?

#18 of 26 ONLINE   Gary16

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Posted January 01 2008 - 03:03 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Douglas Monce
The footage wasn't "blown up", it was simply matted (in the projector) as most 1.85:1 films are. Of course the old footage wasn't shot with matting in mind so the framing may seem very tight.


Doug

In the theatrical release of TE, some of the original footage from movies shot in the 1.33:1 ratio was "blown up" to fill the 1.85:1 frame. If the top and bottom had just been matted, then it would have looked like a letterboxed film where the width is still the same as the 1:33.1 ratio but the height is lower. The "blow up" is what causes the softening of the picture during these portions (this is especially noticeable during "Showboat" and "The Harvey Girls" segments) both theatrically and in the new video releases.

#19 of 26 OFFLINE   Douglas Monce

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Posted January 01 2008 - 03:27 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Gary16
In the theatrical release of TE, some of the original footage from movies shot in the 1.33:1 ratio was "blown up" to fill the 1.85:1 frame. If the top and bottom had just been matted, then it would have looked like a letterboxed film where the width is still the same as the 1:33.1 ratio but the height is lower. The "blow up" is what causes the softening of the picture during these portions (this is especially noticeable during "Showboat" and "The Harvey Girls" segments) both theatrically and in the new video releases.


All 1.85:1 films are actually 1.37:1 (1.33:1 actually hasn't been used since the advent of sound) films that have just had the top and bottom of the frame matted out using the projector aperture plate. There would be no "blow up involved because they would just cover the top and bottom of the frame with the 1.85:1 projection aperture plate. They might have shifted the top of the frame down however to meet the top of the 1.85 frame line so you wouldn't end up with heads cut off when projected in the theater. But there is no blow up involved because the actual frame size is exactly the same as a 1.85:1 before the matte is applied.

The older clips most likely look softer than the new host segments for several reasons. One they more generations away from the camera negative than the host segments, and two the newer film stocks used for the host segments are just able to resolve more information than the older film stocks. Not to mention better lens optics.

Doug
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#20 of 26 OFFLINE   Douglas Monce

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Posted January 01 2008 - 03:33 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mark B
This sounds to me like it would explain how a 35mm general release may have been handled, but what about the 70mm version?

They would be handled exactly the same as any 1.85:1 film blown up to 70mm. They would crop the sides or pillerbox the image at 1.85:1. They could also pillerbox the image at 1.37:1 if they wanted too, but I doubt they would have done that in the 70s.

Doug
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