No one has more respect and admiration for the work and efforts Warner Home Video and, in more recent times, the Warner Archive (WAC) have committed to hi-def remastering of vintage deep catalog titles. Warner Home Video, as most of us know, continues to be a treasure trove of priceless entertainment, culled from their own, as well as the MGM and RKO studio catalogs. And while Warner’s efforts of the last decade or so speak to the highest level of quality afforded such movies in hi-def, there are a few early misfires in their mastering that behoove the studio, possibly, taking another look and stab at doing right by these releases. Titles listed below are just a sampling of movies, with major drawing power, that I believe ought to receive an upgrade.
1) Doctor Zhivago – a few years ago Zhivago was shown theatrically in a sparkling new restoration that unfortunately leaves its Blu-ray counterpart looking very much like the poor cousin. One of the crown jewels in Warner’s back catalog (produced for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer originally), the current Warner’s disc sports wan colors and some heavy-handed edge effects, and even some minor untoward digital sharpening. This one could definitely get a reissue with a new 4K remaster derived from that aforementioned restoration.
2) Driving Miss Daisy – Warner suffered a brief and curious anomaly in their mastering efforts, releasing this Oscar-winning treasure, along with the less than well received Bonfire of the Vanities, both suffering from bizarre telecine wobble. In Driving Miss Daisy’s case, the most egregious example occurs in the scene where Daisy and her chauffeur are stopped by a pair of racist troopers while enjoying their curb-side lunches on their way to Daisy’s brother’s 90th birthday party. But the entire disc is a fairly abysmal effort, lacking in the subtleties being extolled in Peter James’ diffused glow cinematography. This is one perennially satisfying movie, too good to deserve this kind of treatment in hi-def.
3) Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet – the original roadshow theatrical release of this Columbia/Castlerock mammoth effort, glittering with an all-star cast, was presented in breathtaking 70mm. The Blu-ray has been authored from a 35mm reduction print, and looks it. Piggy pink flesh tones, a lack of tonality in the entire color spectrum and a general loss of what should have been razor-sharp fine grain detail and, well – the Blu of Branagh’s masterwork looks nothing like it did when it debuted. If ever there was a candidate for a 4K remaster and native 4K reissue, along with an upgrade to standard Blu – this movie is it!
4) Grand Prix – John Frankenheimer’s magnum opus, dedicated to those daring men of speed is another flick, originally released in 70mm. The Blu has been remastered from a reduction 35mm print that was a hold over from Warner’s push to enter the HD-DVD market. They released 2 movies originally shot in 70mm this way to HD-DVD before the format died. The other was Ryan’s Daughter (still MIA in any incarnation on home video). Frankenheimer’s extraordinary story-telling, his exhilarating action sequences, and, above all else, breath-taking cinematography from Lionel Linden, scream for a 70mm remaster in 4K. Pretty please – another disc worthy of a better representation on home video.
I have listed my top four wish fulfillment catalog titles that I believe could be better served by Warner on Blu-ray. Perhaps some of these are already in the works. And if not, perhaps this can serve as a reminder of shortcomings that, while accepted in the infancy of Warner’s mastering efforts, now do not live up to the standard we have all come to accept from hi-def disc mastering. Any takers on adding to this list. Fill in the blanks with your concerns and catalog.