Robert Harris

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I'm not quite certain how to review this set, as it's an extremely important document. It bills itself as "Definitive," "2k/4k From Original 35mm Nitrate Sources," and capping those claims with "The best quality since their original release."

Thems big claims!

On the positive side, there are a myriad of extras, in addition to the two feature films and 18 classic shorts. We're given multiple domestic tracks on a couple of the shorts, which illustrate how the films were re-issued. Someone thought this through.

The problem for me is that this set would, and should be, a must own for any serious cinephile, but it lacks in overall quality.

There are some terrific people and entities behind the set, but it's let down by some of the best hyperbole this side of P.T. Barnum, which I'd surmise came from the marketing side of the project, not being in sync with the restoration and production side.

In short, the claims don't match the finished product.

Here's a sample of what I'm seeing, and keep in mind, everything is publicized to be from 2 and 4k scans of original nitrate:

Some of the M-G-M logos appear tacked on

Berth Marks - Soft, dupey

Brats - Overall soft imagery, with some blown-out whites

Hog Wild - Okay with black levels a bit odd in some shots

Come Clean - Soft and grainless

One Good Turn - Soft and grainless

My and My Pal - Overly digitally soft and grainless

Help Mates - Soft, appears digitally scrubbed. No grain. Lite scratches

The Music Box - Digitally cleansed, no grain, underlying dirt and wear

And the features:

Sons of the Desert - overall dupey, obviously not from original nitrate elements

Way Out West - Nice densities, wonderful audio, overall lack of resolution and detail, soft on the verge of going waxy.
Occasional light positive and negative dirt. A wonderful film that appears to have received an overall digital
cleansing that removed high-frequency definition.

In short, these no longer look like film. They're average appearing video products lacking in overall quality.

The problem is that this set is a big deal. It's doubtful that anyone, after this has been released, will attempt to do it again. So we have what we have, which is a pity, as it's obvious that a great deal of effort and funding has gone into the project.

Image - 3 (overall)

Audio - 4.5 (overall)

Pass / Fail - ???

Recommended (as we probably won't get better)

RAH
 

Robert Harris

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Do you know Robert what was the condition of the original nitrate elements on some of the shorts and features? And can you please tell us what could have been done to make them look better?
Difficult to answer. I believe that many of the original nitrates have seen far better times, if they even exist. Too many owners and distributors over the decades. Some of the films had analogue preservation and restoration years ago. I presume that at least some of the masters are derived from those safety dupes, as opposed to returning to the original basis of those restorations, presuming that the elements have survived.

Better? Generally, higher quality, far more work intensive digital work, with a lighter touch. One way to get images clean is heavy brushstrokes and automation. Doing otherwise, is far more expensive and time consuming.

In a general sense, from a appropriate seating distance, many of these films are fine. They just aren't as either advertised or expected.

Had the marketing simply said, "from finest surviving film elements," I could buy it.

In defense of the way it's been handled, to do it properly could have necessitated a great deal more funding, and taken years.
 

Rob W

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In defense of the way it's been handled, to do it properly could have necessitated a great deal more funding, and taken years.

Confused. UCLA has had an ongoing restoration project for L & H going on for at least 5 years or more - I have donated to it several times. Are these not affiliated with that program ?
 

Robert Harris

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Confused. UCLA has had an ongoing restoration project for L & H going on for at least 5 years or more - I have donated to it several times. Are these not affiliated with that program ?
I believe some are. Those would have been analogue works.
 
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Tony Bensley

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Confused. UCLA has had an ongoing restoration project for L & H going on for at least 5 years or more - I have donated to it several times. Are these not affiliated with that program ?
Same here regarding the confusion, as it was my understanding many of these same UCLA Film & TV Archive (Yes, they are listed on the back cover of this set!) restorations got rave reviews when presented theatrically, which I'd think should have made their transfer to Blu-ray a reasonably smooth (Not as in DNR!) and painless process, no?
I believe some are. Those would have been analogue works.
Which should have been able to have been transferred digitally in similar quality to how they looked when the UCLA restorations were presented theatrically. At any rate, the Laurel & Hardy library has always been rather problematic in terms of having to deal with well worn, dupey prints, and having to source from multiple, often incomplete film elements. As such, it would appear that expectations are best infused with keeping this in mind.

CHEERS! :)
 

JoeDoakes

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I'm not quite certain how to review this set, as it's an extremely important document. It bills itself as "Definitive," "2k/4k From Original 35mm Nitrate Sources," and capping those claims with "The best quality since their original release."

Thems big claims!

On the positive side, there are a myriad of extras, in addition to the two feature films and 18 classic shorts. We're given multiple domestic tracks on a couple of the shorts, which illustrate how the films were re-issued. Someone thought this through.

The problem for me is that this set would, and should be, a must own for any serious cinephile, but it lacks in overall quality.

There are some terrific people and entities behind the set, but it's let down by some of the best hyperbole this side of P.T. Barnum, which I'd surmise came from the marketing side of the project, not being in sync with the restoration and production side.

In short, the claims don't match the finished product.

Here's a sample of what I'm seeing, and keep in mind, everything is publicized to be from 2 and 4k scans of original nitrate:

Some of the M-G-M logos appear tacked on

Berth Marks - Soft, dupey

Brats - Overall soft imagery, with some blown-out whites

Hog Wild - Okay with black levels a bit odd in some shots

Come Clean - Soft and grainless

One Good Turn - Soft and grainless

My and My Pal - Overly digitally soft and grainless

Help Mates - Soft, appears digitally scrubbed. No grain. Lite scratches

The Music Box - Digitally cleansed, no grain, underlying dirt and wear

And the features:

Sons of the Desert - overall dupey, obviously not from original nitrate elements

Way Out West - Nice densities, wonderful audio, overall lack of resolution and detail, soft on the verge of going waxy.
Occasional light positive and negative dirt. A wonderful film that appears to have received an overall digital
cleansing that removed high-frequency definition.

In short, these no longer look like film. They're average appearing video products lacking in overall quality.

The problem is that this set is a big deal. It's doubtful that anyone, after this has been released, will attempt to do it again. So we have what we have, which is a pity, as it's obvious that a great deal of effort and funding has gone into the project.

Image - 3 (overall)

Audio - 4.5 (overall)

Pass / Fail - ???

Recommended (as we probably won't get better)

RAH
Mr. Harris. I, like many here, previously purchased this set Amazon product, which was the best prior presentation of the L&H's work and had the bonus of being largely complete for sound recordings. Any idea whether it is worth it to upgrade from DVD?
 
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Tony Bensley

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When i received the dvd box set i did a quick comparison of Sons of the Desert with my two older dvd box sets from 2003 & 2011 and the new release is a step up with most of the film damage gone on that film so i am ok with that.
Honestly, there's only so much that can be done with well worn, dupey prints! I'm sure the restoration team did the best they could with the existing source elements and budgetary constraints.
Sorry, but I've not seen the DVD. If it's film-like, it might be better.
I'm thinking some title by title comparisons might be in order. Since I'll have all three sets with the Blu-ray Edition, this should be very interesting! The slightly masochistic streak in me wonders what your overall rating for the two Laurel & Hardy Hallmark DVDs (I have both!) would be? :lol:

CHEERS! :)
 

Traveling Matt

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I'm confused as well. Either the UCLA theatrical showings were overrated, or something happened during this project to result in something different from what UCLA has done. Either way, I'm skeptical this is the best it can possibly be until UCLA confirms this is how they're "supposed" to look. Then perhaps I'll settle. I'm canceling my pre-order until I hear more.

Seriously, but tentatively, disappointed.
 

Tony Bensley

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I'm confused as well. Either the UCLA theatrical showings were overrated, or something happened during this project to result in something different from what UCLA has done. Either way, I'm skeptical this is the best it can possibly be until UCLA confirms this is how they're "supposed" to look. Then perhaps I'll settle. I'm canceling my pre-order until I hear more.

Seriously, but tentatively, disappointed.
Well, I'm keeping my preorder, as I've read from both sides of the Film or not Film like argument, and TV calibration issues can sometimes play a significant role in that.

CHEERS! :)
 
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Skretvedt

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Having worked on the "Definitive Restorations" set for a solid year, I cannot claim impartiality, nor did I have anything to do with the photochemical nor digital cleanups. However -- I can assure you that you will see film grain in all of the transfers. I have watched these multiple times over the past year on many different monitors and the image is sharp, clear and steady with just the right amount of film grain. It is not over-enhanced, nor has it been smoothed out entirely. The film restorations were done by UCLA or the Library of Congress, and further cleanup and 2K or 4K restorations were accomplished digitally. HOG WILD is taken from a full-aperture source (which was used for prints which had the soundtrack on discs) and yields much more image area than any prior release. THE MUSIC BOX soundtrack is taken from first-generation "pre-mix" elements and is breathtakingly clear -- as is the image, taken from immaculate source material. If you compare ONE GOOD TURN, COME CLEAN, ME AND MY PAL and THE MIDNIGHT PATROL to prior releases, I think you will be happily impressed. SONS OF THE DESERT has been jinxed in prior video releases -- The Nostalgia Merchant and Video Treasures VHS releases were from battered prints, the 3M laserdisc was severely cropped, the dreadful Hallmark DVD was taken from a de-saturated colorized tape with added music and fades-in and out for commercial breaks, and even the Universal/Vivendi DVD of 2011 suffered from a lackluster, faded picture with no contrast. The transfer on the new Blu-ray and DVD is absolutely gorgeous visually and audibly -- it is entirely complete (no more splices on key lines of dialogue), is sharp, clear, steady, and has the proper grayscale.

Mr. Harris does not mention the nearly nine hours of exclusive bonus materials -- thousands of stills, many of which are from Oliver Hardy's personal collection; press sheets and other Hal Roach Studios documents; audio interviews with cast and crew members; filmed interviews; original trailers -- and much more. Also note that this set contains the first-ever release of THE BATTLE OF THE CENTURY, the legendary pie-fight silent short which now is in nearly complete form, missing only one sequence running about one minute (this is bridged by stills and titles). I am eager to read comments of others here who perhaps might not be so ready to dismiss this important release.
 
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bigshot

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I think the problem is that Robert is judging these without having seen how they have been presented in the past. These films were in heavy distribution on TV for a long time, and they changed hands several times. Anyone who has followed them over the years has seen weird aspect ratio crops, dupes of dupes, missing footage, replaced title cards, burned in damage, muffled and gain ridden soundtracks... just about anything that can possibly happen to a film has happened to these. And once a mistake was made, it was burned into the masters and new mistakes were made on top of that like layers on a tree. They're like a well worn teddy bear that has been loved a little too much. I don't doubt that it took drastic means in some cases to put these into presentable shape. Lord knows they haven't been in presentable shape for decades and decades. Short subjects, and especially ones not produced at the big studios, have often fared poorly. And even big studio comedies are patchwork jobs- look at the Paramount Marx Bros films like Coconuts. If these look significantly better than the copies on the big UK box set, I'll be happy. I don't doubt that they will. The only thing about that box that was film-like was the constant element damage and dupeyness.
 
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Tony Bensley

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For a bit of perspective, here's a review for the first Laurel & Hardy Hallmark DVD from 2003:

Robert M Grippo Here is the review of the hallmark release 2003 VIDEO---The feature and four shorts are shown full frame (1.33:1), which is the correct ratio. Sons has always looked pretty poor but this new transfer is certainly the best I’ve seen. There are still many problems like small speckles and some scratches but the image is pretty steady throughout. Previous versions were full of dirt, which is thankfully missing here. The four shorts all look better than previous versions but again, they are far from flawless. Speckles and scratches are on the prints but the black and whites certainly look better than before.

AUDIO---You get the choice of the original 1-Channel Mono and a new 2.0 Mono track. I really have no idea what this 2.0 track is supposed to be but I suggest sticking to the original. The 2.0 track has all the dialogue sounding as if it is being spoken in a large hall, which causes echoes that just doesn’t sound like it should. On the audio menu page there’s a small warning about the sound mix so we’re pretty much told what to expect. I was a little disappointed that the audio hadn’t been clean up much, if any. The feature and shorts are full of hiss in the background, which at times is very loud.
Another problem, especially on the shorts are some loud cracks and pops, which are somewhat distracting. If this is the best track possible then fine but I believe a little more work could have been done.

EXTRAS---We start off with some well written bios of Laurel, Hardy and Hal Roach. Up next is a Location Tour, which shows what the studios looked like back then and what they look like today. Pretty boring stuff. Next is a photo montage, which shows stills from the feature film and shorts. Again, pretty boring. Next up is a text interview from 1987 with Hal Roach. This here is rather short but the interview is pretty interesting. It’s funny hearing what he has to say about Chaplin. Finally we get a 10-minute tribute called “Kings of Laughter”. This here features many clips from their films and a few interviews. It’s narrated by Leonard Maltin and is mildly enjoyable, although we really don’t learn anything other than the fact that L&H were funny.

OVERALL---Fans have waited awhile for L&H to hit DVD and I think they’ll be happy. The feature film is certainly their best and the shorts are a good selection to start off with. The video quality is the best I’ve seen the films look but don’t expect some Citizen Kane like transfer. The audio on the other hand is a little bothersome and it appears no work was done on it. We get a new 2.0 track but I find this pretty bad. The small amount of extras are pretty worthless as well but it’s the films that count and that’s enough of a reason to buy this set.


An actual positive review for one of the Hallmark DVDs....A BLOODY HALLMARK DVD!!!!

I'd say it's safe to say "The Definitive Restorations" set is a helluva many times lot better than that piece of rubbish!

CHEERS! :)
 

Rob_Ray

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I also have no intention of cancelling my preorder. I can't wait to see the result of all the hard work KIt Parker's team put into this. Apart from the extensive work they did in bringing the UCLA and LIbrary of Congress' restorations to the digital format, I know Randy Skretvedt put many, many months worth of work into gathering all the bonus materials and proofing the results. I am purchasing with confidence knowing the results will look far superior to anything seen in the past on film elements that have been sorely abused and neglected for about 90 years.
 

Jeff Heise

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Well, I am not cancelling my pre-order, but I have never been steered wrong by RAH's reviews in the past, so I will reserve judgment until my set arrives. I do know that Randy and Richard Bann and the whole team have put in a ton of sweat labor on this, so before I put it in the player I will make sure my set is tuned properly then let the Boys havoc reign.
 

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