When it comes to film restoration and preservation, nothing beats an original negative, or properly produced fine grain, that can be massage back to life.
This is just as important when it comes to Public Domain productions, that have been around the world and back in film and home video releases that run the gamut from horrid to beautiful.
With the assets of the Rohauer library at their disposal, The Cohen Collection has the ability to offer quality that can make public domain versions far less desirable.
At any price.
The Buster Keaton Collection Volume 1 should have been perfect.
Beautiful original 35mm elements, restored and synchronized with the work of Carl Davis.
While The General, a film that many cinephiles consider a perfect comedy, and the quintessential Keaton, looks superb, and akin to viewing a new print derived from the camera original, Steamboat Bill goes in an odd direction.
The scan looks proper. Stabilization – check. Clean-up – check.
Timing, which is inclusive of overall exposure, black levels, shadow detail, and other niceties – here’s the rub.
While The General looks superb, there are PD versions of Steamboat that appear better when it comes to overall exposure.
If I were viewing a print, I’d surmise that either exposure was occasionally off by 3-4 points, as in not enough illumination going through the negative, and hitting the raw stock, or problematic processing, totally missing the range of grays and blacks that can be seen on a proper print.
I have no idea what the problem is, but Steamboat somehow made it through any number of QC processes with parts appearing weak and underexposed. Basically, in some situations, whites appear blown out, and grays akin to dishwater. And that’s a pity, as I know that a great deal of effort went into creating these new masters.
Normally, to be able to own these two films in superb condition would easily be worth the $23 price of admission, but in this case, one sings. The other doesn’t, and I’d pass. Especially since anyone who loves Keaton already owns the earlier Kino releases, which work beautifully.
For clarity, I’m certain that some viewers will find both of these films to look perfectly beautiful, with Steamboat Bill, eliciting a delicate range of grays and whites. I’m not among them, especially knowing what a silver nitrate print might look like.
Some viewers might find it instructive to find a nice fade out / fade, and run the film frame by frame as the image darkens. While this is far from perfect, it will give some indication of what the film might look like with a simple overall exposure change.
Image – 5
Audio – n/a
Pass / Fail – Pass
Upgrade from previous Blu-ray – Yes
Steamboat Bill, Jr.
Image – 3
Audio – n/a
Pass / Fail – Fail
Upgrade from DVD – Absolutely not.
The General: Upgrade from previous Blu-ray - Yes; Steamboat Bill, Jr.: Upgrade from DVD - Absolutely not.