I’ve been trying to figure out how to relate to Universal’s new 4k UHD of George Lucas’ 1973 American Graffiti.
It’s quite an extraordinary film. Always has been. Look at the above and below the line participants, and you’ll be drawn to it with no previous knowledge.
I saw it in August of 1973, in a beautiful dye transfer print, derived from the Techniscope 35/2 negative. It was sharp. Had great color. Very comfortable grain structure. Just a gorgeous production.
Which makes me feel as though I’m now looking at a living, breathing digital oxymoron, and there are two totally different perspectives that go with that.
The first, and probably most important, is the right of the filmmaker to alter, adapt, edit and overall change their art. Strangely, the audience, many members of which may love the film that they originally saw half a century ago, feel that they also have rights.
But they don’t.[/FONT][/SIZE]
[FONT=times new roman][SIZE=4]So from one perspective, I find myself obviously looking at something that, although it’s without a label, is obviously “Director Approved.” [/SIZE][/FONT]
[SIZE=5][FONT=times new roman]Putting on my archival hat, and knowing the film that I’ve loved, I’m actually hating what I’m seeing, especially when walking up to the screen.
Grain is gone. Zip. Out of the picture.
And along with that, the image has been not only softened, but corrupted. Looking at medium shots of Richard Dreyfuss early in the film, and Ron Howard a bit later, it appears that alien creatures are attempting to escape from the sides of their faces. Whatever software has been used, has corrupted the original look of the film.
Is there a 4k image?
Well, yes, sort of.
It appears that the original main titles have been recomped from background and overlays, or possibly new digitally created titles, and they look great. There’s definitely at least 2k here. Maybe more.
But for the rest of the film, I doubt that there’s even HD resolution.
The track in 5.1 works for me. I’ve actually not checked to see if the included 2.0 mono is the original, or a fold-down. Hopefully it’s original. That would be nice for those wishing to hear it.
Here’s another “but…”
But sit at a reasonably distance – for me, that’s about twelve feet from my projection screen, and all seems well. No grain problems, no alien creatures, no obviously problematic power windows.
So what do we have?
I depends upon one’s perspective. I’d have preferred to have the original grain, and no alien creatures in actors faces, along with the resultant higher resolution.
And the fact that the film no longer looks anything like film, I find troubling.
But it’s still American Graffiti. A superb entertainment.
And sitting at a reasonable distance, we can kind of, sort of, make believe that all is well.
The copy that I examined was in the Best Buy steelbook, and it’s a solid and attractive package.
[B]Archival Rating – A close examination[/B]
Image – 1.5 (HDR10)
Audio – 5 (DTS-HD MA 5.1)
Pass / Fail – Fail
Plays nicely with projectors – No
Makes use of and works well in 4k – 1
Upgrade from Blu-ray – Probably not
Worth your attention – 1
Slipcover rating – 6
[B]Entertainment Rating – at a moderate seating distance[/B]
Image – 5 (HDR10)
Audio – 5 (DTS-HD MA 5.1)
Pass / Fail – Pass
Plays nicely with projectors – Yes
Makes use of and works well in 4k – 3
Upgrade from Blu-ray – For the HDR
Worth your attention – 10
Slipcover rating – 6
Very Highly Recommended
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Robert has been known in the film industry for his unmatched skill and passion in film preservation. Growing up around photography, his first home theater experience began at age ten with 16mm. Years later he was running 35 and 70mm at home.
His restoration projects have breathed new life into classic films like Lawrence of Arabia, Vertigo, My Fair Lady, Spartacus, and The Godfather series. Beyond his restoration work, he has also shared his expertise through publications, contributing to the academic discourse on film restoration. The Academy Film Archive houses the Robert A. Harris Collection, a testament to his significant contributions to film preservation.
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