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A few words about...™ The Big Trail -- in Blu-ray

A Few Words About

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#1 of 38 OFFLINE   Robert Harris

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Posted May 08 2012 - 11:45 AM

Raoul Walsh's The Big Trail (1930) -- (look him up, you'll like his work) does not stand the test of time.  Like The Poseidon Adventure and The Barbarian and the Geisha, it's one of those proprietary Walmart titles, and it's not made in China.


Why did Walmart pick up this film?


I have no idea why.


The Big Trail is important to cinema history, but it's not a great film.  It concerns the Oregon Trail, and what the early settlers went through on their way west.


Variety noted on Dec. 31, 1929, :  "Young John Wayne, wholly inexperienced, shows it, but also suggests he can be built up. He certainly has a great start as the lead role in a $2 million production."


The reviewer went on to describe the Grandeur process, and I've a feeling they were having problems with their 4k projectors:


"The widescreen Grandeur [process] seems to dim the photography; leaves ensemble scenes indistinct, except for figure or form."


I presume this Blu-ray shares the earlier DVD master, and on Blu-ray it takes on a totally different existence.  I did note that the frame seems to be cropped a bit in height, as the full title art does not quite make it to the screen.


The Grandeur version is lacking in shadow detail.  I presume from the optical dupes down to 35mm.  In many shots the standard Academy version looks better.


Beyond that shadow detail, there is little to complain about in this release, which services the need for a historical reference for an early Grandeur production.  It only ran in the process in NY and LA.


Grandeur, by the way was a process that used 70mm film. It was developed by Fox.  It's proportions were 22.5 x 48mm, and carried an optical sound track.


Desire more info.  Go here, the best place in the known universe for information cinematography:  http://www.widescree...eur-sep1930.htm


Seeing a widescreen film that's over 80 years old will get your attention, and this one is worth your time.


Again, not a great film, by any means, but a good one, and being able to witness the emergence of John Wayne, a decade before Stagecoach is worth the price of admission.


BTW, you do get both versions on a single Blu-ray.


As I recall, The Bat is another early large format film available on DVD only.


Image - 3


Audio -3


Recommended.


"All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible. This I did." T.E. Lawrence


#2 of 38 OFFLINE   jim_falconer

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Posted May 08 2012 - 12:19 PM

Thanks for the review Robert.  While I don't completely agree with you about the quality of the film (I feel it's a classic, and has much to offer the viewer), I do appreciate the review of the bluray presentation.  Mine is on it's way, and can not wait to see it in HD.



#3 of 38 OFFLINE   Mark-P

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Posted May 08 2012 - 12:55 PM

I'm delighted to hear that both versions are included in HD on the Blu-ray. No one expected that.

As I recall, The Bat is another early large format film available on DVD only.

It's actually The Bat Whispers.

#4 of 38 OFFLINE   TonyD

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Posted May 08 2012 - 04:17 PM

For under $13 this is a disc that I'm interested in. Never really a fan of the western but they have grown on me. This one seems like a good one at least for the different versions.
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#5 of 38 OFFLINE   Robert Harris

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Posted May 08 2012 - 11:47 PM

Originally Posted by Mark-P 

I'm delighted to hear that both versions are included in HD on the Blu-ray. No one expected that.
It's actually The Bat Whispers.

Quite correct, and actually meant to type that, but fingers worked otherwise, not quite keeping up with head.


The Bat was the 1926 prequel.  Same director, writer, and photographed by a young Gregg Toland.  Apparently, only available on DVD-R.


RAH

"All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible. This I did." T.E. Lawrence


#6 of 38 OFFLINE   Robert Harris

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Posted May 08 2012 - 11:49 PM

Originally Posted by jim_falconer 

Thanks for the review Robert.  While I don't completely agree with you about the quality of the film (I feel it's a classic, and has much to offer the viewer), I do appreciate the review of the bluray presentation.  Mine is on it's way, and can not wait to see it in HD.


It is a classic, and huge!  But it creaks far more than many other 1930 productions.


RAH


"All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible. This I did." T.E. Lawrence


#7 of 38 OFFLINE   Will Krupp

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Posted May 09 2012 - 03:06 AM

Originally Posted by Robert Harris 

The Bat was the 1926 prequel.  Same director, writer, and photographed by a young Gregg Toland.  Apparently, only available on DVD-R.


RAH


THE BAT WHISPERS isn't really a sequel to the 1926 version it's a straight up sound remake.  I have the old Image disc from the Milestone Collection and, while I don't THINK it's anamorphic (I haven't looked at it in awhile) it also has both the widescreen and standard versions.  In the case of THE BAT WHISPERS I found the standard 4:3 version to be the better movie of the two with far more interesting camera work (although some of the set pieces look better in the 65mm) and performances.



#8 of 38 OFFLINE   JoHud

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Posted May 09 2012 - 05:37 AM

You're right in that the 65mm The Bat Whispers is not anamorphic widescreen. I contacted Milestone recently on a possible future upgrade (since the disc is long OOP) and they cited limited funds for a remaster. I agree on the widescreen The Bat Whispers, in that it is really not anything special compared to the academy ratio. The academy ratio version seems like the intended viewing release since there is quite a bit of cropping on the widescreen release--I recall a scene in which someone picks up an important object on the floor and the widescreen version cuts off what we are suppose to be seeing.

#9 of 38 OFFLINE   moviepas

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Posted May 09 2012 - 10:48 AM

Want to buy The Big Trail from Amazon? It is US$17 more than Walmart plus about US$13 on top of that for buyers aside USA. Wow. Not at that price!!!



#10 of 38 OFFLINE   John Skoda

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Posted May 11 2012 - 06:32 AM

In the BIG TRAIL restoration featurette, someone mentions that Fox donated all of its existing Grandeur footage to some entity but that the only film this group worked on restoring was THE BIG TRAIL. Wasn't the FOX MOVIETONE FOLLIES (a lost film) also done in Grandeur? I wonder if this group (can't remember offhand who it is) has the FOLLIES footage too.

#11 of 38 OFFLINE   Robert Harris

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Posted May 11 2012 - 07:20 AM

Originally Posted by John Skoda 

In the BIG TRAIL restoration featurette, someone mentions that Fox donated all of its existing Grandeur footage to some entity but that the only film this group worked on restoring was THE BIG TRAIL. Wasn't the FOX MOVIETONE FOLLIES (a lost film) also done in Grandeur? I wonder if this group (can't remember offhand who it is) has the FOLLIES footage too.

http://www.moma.org/...=1&sort_order=1


"All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible. This I did." T.E. Lawrence


#12 of 38 OFFLINE   jim_falconer

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Posted May 11 2012 - 07:24 AM

I had read somewhere that The Big Trail was originally 150 minutes long, then cut down to 122 (and then 90 minutes on some subsequent releases).  How I would love to be able to see the 150 minute version, if one ever truly existed.



#13 of 38 OFFLINE   Richard--W

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Posted May 12 2012 - 06:24 PM

So would I. I compared the two versions today. Often times we're looking at the same take shot simultaneously by two cameras in close proximity. I wish Fox had re-scanned the fine-grain positive of both versions for Blu-ray. A better image can be harvested I'm sure, but the DVD transfer looks remarkably good in HD, sharper and deeper than the standard DVD. The film "opens up" in Blu-ray. Personally, I think The Big Trail is a great film. Not just because of the vast size of the production or the technical accomplishment, but because of the story being told. A lot of the nuances that were understood and appreciated in 1930 are lost on contemporary audiences. Some of the slang and phrasing is right out of the Santa Fe trail narratives of the 19th century (which are voluminous, if anyone cares to do the reading). It is historically sound. The outfitting, wardrobes and props are completely authentic, and in many cases, the real thing. I enjoy the film on that basis alone. It's a pleasure to see the full-size Conestogas ("prairie schooners") put to the test instead of the sawed-off versions used in films like Meeks' Cutoff. The full-size Conestagos are museum pieces now. Hardly anyone knows how to drive them today, but in 1930, the pioneer days were not that far in the past, and people were still in touch with the skills and methods of their parents and grandparents. Love the pristine landscapes and clarity of light in The Big Trail. I work with 19th century photographs and photo technology, and visually the film looks as if it were captured by the pioneer photographers. It's amazing to look at. John Wayne may be inexperienced, but he oozes charisma, and his performance is genuine. He obviously believed in the two pep-talks he gives to the discouraged pioneers to encourage them to keep going. You'll find that dialog in many 19th century narratives. The sentiment may sound simplistic now, but it was a truth for people then. Wayne was the right actor for the part. I think The Big Trail is just his size. Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image

#14 of 38 OFFLINE   Bob Furmanek

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Posted May 12 2012 - 06:27 PM

That's a great review, I can't wait to see this!

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#15 of 38 OFFLINE   Everett Stallings

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Posted May 13 2012 - 05:29 AM

I wonder if any co. today would have the nerve to advertise a film with that line "the most important Picture ever made"!:D
Former projectionist @ all downtown theatres in Balto. City.Which are all closed. frown.gif

#16 of 38 OFFLINE   Richard--W

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Posted May 13 2012 - 10:50 AM

GONE WITH THE WIND had a similar blurb on some posters.

#17 of 38 OFFLINE   JParker

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Posted May 26 2012 - 05:52 AM

Raoul Walsh's The Big Trail (1930) -- (look him up, you'll like his work) does not stand the test of time.  Like The Poseidon Adventure and The Barbarian and the Geisha, it's one of those proprietary Walmart titles, and it's not made in China. Why did Walmart pick up this film? I have no idea why. The Big Trail is important to cinema history, but it's not a great film.  It concerns the Oregon Trail, and what the early settlers went through on their way west. Variety noted on Dec. 31, 1929, :  "Young John Wayne, wholly inexperienced, shows it, but also suggests he can be built up. He certainly has a great start as the lead role in a $2 million production." The reviewer went on to describe the Grandeur process, and I've a feeling they were having problems with their 4k projectors: "The widescreen Grandeur [process] seems to dim the photography; leaves ensemble scenes indistinct, except for figure or form." I presume this Blu-ray shares the earlier DVD master, and on Blu-ray it takes on a totally different existence. I did note that the frame seems to be cropped a bit in height, as the full title art does not quite make it to the screen. The Grandeur version is lacking in shadow detail. I presume from the optical dupes down to 35mm.  In many shots the standard Academy version looks better. Beyond that shadow detail, there is little to complain about in this release, which services the need for a historical reference for an early Grandeur production. It only ran in the process in NY and LA. Grandeur, by the way was a process that used 70mm film. It was developed by Fox. It's proportions were 22.5 x 48mm, and carried an optical sound track. Desire more info.  Go here, the best place in the known universe for information cinematography:  http://www.widescree...eur-sep1930.htm Seeing a widescreen film that's over 80 years old will get your attention, and this one is worth your time. Again, not a great film, by any means, but a good one, and being able to witness the emergence of John Wayne, a decade before Stagecoach is worth the price of admission.

Wiki has important information, I trust ( I didn't know of Mr. Malkames, rest his soul, does anyone here?): http://en.wikipedia....rail#Production

Late in 1930, however, when the effects of the Depression were beginning to be felt by the public, studios abandoned the use of widescreen and color in an attempt to decrease costs. Because only a small number of theatres could play widescreen films, two versions of the widescreen films were always simultaneously filmed, one in 35 mm and one in the 70 mm Grandeur process. By doing this, the film would be able to be played throughout the country in 35mm at the same time it was being played in deluxe theatres capable of screening widescreen films. The movie's scenes were often filmed at very different angles for the widescreen and standard releases, with the best angles reserved for the widescreen version. A good example is the scene of Breck Coleman talking with the children, the same sequence simultaneously shot from starkly different angles. The wagon train drive across the country was pioneering in its use of camera work and the stunning scenery from the epic landscape. An extraordinary effort was made to lend authenticity to the movie, with the wagons drawn by oxen and lowered by ropes down canyons when necessary. Tyrone Power's character's clothing looks grimy in a more realistic way than has been seen in movies since, and even the food supplies the immigrants carried with them were researched. Locations in five states were used in the film caravan's 2,000 mile trek. In the early 1980s, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, which housed the 65mm nitrate camera negative for The Big Trail, wanted to preserve the film but found that the negative was too shrunken and fragile to be copied and that no film lab would touch it. They went to Karl Malkames, an accomplished cinematographer and a leading specialist and pioneer in film reproduction, restoration, and preservation. Malkames was known to be a “problem solver” when it came to restoring early odd-gauge format films. He immediately set about designing and building a special printer to handle the careful frame-by-frame reproduction of the negative to a 35mm anamorphic (CinemaScope) fine grain master. The printer copied at a speed of one frame a second. This was a painstaking year-long undertaking that Malkames oversaw from start to finish. It is solely because of him that this film survives in this version.

However, what I find amazing is that John Wayne, for a young, inexperienced actor, to some extent, had that natural gift of commanding presence. And for those used to the grizzled, mature John Wayne it is an experience to see him so young and vibrant. In effect, the film is a time machine we can actually use and not for John Wayne alone, even although that is highly worthwhile, but to see an America that is now lost, with development, the tremendous increase in population and the like. The distance in time between the movie's making and the old West wasn't as far as it is now from us, I think... As Richard W wrote:

Personally, I think The Big Trail is a great film. Not just because of the vast size of the production or the technical accomplishment, but because of the story being told. A lot of the nuances that were understood and appreciated in 1930 are lost on contemporary audiences. Some of the slang and phrasing is right out of the Santa Fe trail narratives of the 19th century (which are voluminous, if anyone cares to do the reading). It is historically sound. The outfitting, wardrobes and props are completely authentic, and in many cases, the real thing. I enjoy the film on that basis alone. It's a pleasure to see the full-size Conestogas ("prairie schooners") put to the test instead of the sawed-off versions used in films like Meeks' Cutoff. The full-size Conestagos are museum pieces now. Hardly anyone knows how to drive them today, but in 1930, the pioneer days were not that far in the past, and people were still in touch with the skills and methods of their parents and grandparents. Love the pristine landscapes and clarity of light in The Big Trail. I work with 19th century photographs and photo technology, and visually the film looks as if it were captured by the pioneer photographers. It's amazing to look at.

All right, the Churchill woman is ahead of her time, highly annoying :rolleyes:! But other than that! Highly recommended, by me.

#18 of 38 OFFLINE   JParker

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Posted May 26 2012 - 05:54 AM

Oops, Wiki link: http://en.wikipedia....rail#Production And I just saw that there's a button that allows editing. Silly me. My bad! :D

#19 of 38 OFFLINE   bigshot

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Posted November 12 2012 - 06:02 AM

I'm sorry, I screened this last night and you're off your nut with this review. This film is astounding. The sophistication of the compositions and the scale of the shots are beautiful. I've never seen a film from that era that even comes close to this. It reminds me of Fitzcarraldo crossed with How the West was Won. John Wayne oozes charisma in this picture. I'm not a huge John Wayne fan, but from the second he comes on screen and swings his leg over his horse's back to casually lean over his saddle to speak to someone, you can't take your eyes off him. He wears the character like a comfortable suit of clothes he's been wearing all his life. The wilderness photography here is incredible. In 1930, they'd be lucky to have a dirt road leading to these isolated locations. How they schlepped a monumental production like this over five states in four months is a total puzzle to me. The Hitchcock and Universal Monsters sets are great, and Die Nibelungen, Keaton and The Penalty are remarkable as well. But I knew all about those pictures. This one I had only seen back in the VHS days in the vastly inferior 35mm version. I thought the movie sucked back then. But after seeing it on bluray the way it was intended to be seen, I've done a 180. To me, this is the most surprising and wonderful restored classic film of the year.

#20 of 38 OFFLINE   benbess

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Posted November 12 2012 - 06:50 AM

RAH did write that The Big Trail was "good" and "Recommended"! I would say it's maybe very good in places, but it is slow in places and Wayne is still learning what to do. But it is a key part of the history of the Western. I think it's a strong film overall, and even in the damaged print we have the 70mm process does indeed give it "Grandeur."





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