"Around the World in 80 Days" Standard DVD review - Home Theater Forum and Systems - HomeTheaterShack.com

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Richard W. Haines
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"Around the World in 80 Days" Standard DVD review

"You're in the Show with Todd-AO"

I'll start this review of Michael Todd's Oscar winning 1956 epic with that tag
line which is important in that this really isn't a movie but a 'show' produced
to illustrate the attributes of that process. And a spectacular process it was...

To enjoy this picture you'll have to project on a DLP on the largest screen/image
you can without seeing pixels and the screen door effect. In my case I watched
it on the Optoma HD70 DLP and played on the Toshiba XA2 HD player which upscaled
it very nicely on my 10 foot wide glass beaded pull down screen. It almost resembed
a high definition disc. Not as breathtaking as a 35mm Technicolor anamorphic print
but pretty close. If you cannot project it on a large screen, it's unlikely the film
will work for you.

You're probably wondering what the difference is between a narrative movie and a
'show'. To understand and appreciate that you'll need some background on the
films of the fifties...

As I mentioned in another post, television had caused such a major drop in attendence
that cinemas were folding like dominoes throughout the country. The industry had
to do something to drag people away from their TV sets. Beginning in 1952 they
came up with one remedy which was Cinerama. Three interlocked 35mm cameras
photographing the action in a U formation were later projected with three projectors
in a similar format on a deeply curved screen with an interlocked 35mm magnetic
fullcoat containing seven channels. Five on top of the curved screen and two in the
back of the auditorium. Since the cinematography showed not only what was in
front of you but the sides of the location you got a peripheral illusion that you were
actually inside of the picture. When the cameras were placed on a rollercoaster or
boat you got motion sickness. It was an effective illusion until the cameras were static.
Then the audience ended up looking at the blurred panel joins and mis-matched color
of the three images.

Broadway Producer Michael Todd wanted to get into cinema but on his own terms,
not as a 'work for hire' for a studio like most other filmmakers. He saw a demonstration
of Cinerama in it's early stages and decided to co-produce an informercial of the
process entitled, "This is Cinerama". He shot the first half of the film which included
the famous rollercoaster ride, canels of Venice and La Scala opera house. The movie
started with a standard 1.33 black and white introduction by journalist (and co-sponsor
of the system) Lowell Thomas who gave a brief history of cinema and then exclaimed,
"Ladies and Gentlemen...THIS IS CINERAMA". The three interlocked 35mm projectors
were turned on and the curtains opened to display the wide and curved panorama
of a rollercoaster ride which had audiences screaming. I saw the 1997 revival in
Ohio and it still worked as a great piece of showmanship. The rest of the film was
a standard travelogue showing off various locations in the process.

The movie was a smash hit and Todd told his partners (including Thomas) that it
was time to perfect the system so that both widescreen picture and stereophonic
sound 'came out of one hole', which meant everything was on one piece of film.
His partners weren't interested since they were making money with the process
'as is' (despite the join lines and sychronization difficulties) so Todd sold off his
stock to create his own system. He hired optical expert Dr. O'Brien to create
his proposed new format. O'Brien did some tests and determined that Cinerama's
2.76 x 1 ratio was too wide for comfortable watching. If you stared straight ahead
you only needed 2.21 x 1 width to fill your peripheral vision. The extra width of
Cinerama was beyond your field of vision and to see the outer edges you had to
turn your head back and forth which was distracting. So the new system would
have the reduced ratio for more comfortable viewing. To achieve the field of viewing
for peripheral vision, O'Brien designed an extreme wide angle lens that was known
as the 'bug eye'. For the wide ratio, O'Brien dusted off the old 70mm format that
was introduced in the late twenties for films like "The Big Trail" that didn't catch
on. He speculated that at twice the width of 35mm, it would work with the new
lens. The six tracks of stereo sound were all that was necessary and they could
be placed inside and outside the sprockets like CinemaScope. Whereas Cinerama
had stereo rear channels, O'Brien determined that a Perspecta encoding could be
placed on the single rear channel. Perspecta sound (introduced with VistaVision)
contained sub-audio tones on a single track. When decoded it could direct the
single track into three speakers one at a time or simultaneously. While the bug
eye lens gave a similar field of view to Cinerama, it wasn't appropriate for medium
shots and close ups so he developed more conventional wide screen units for those
shots. Todd modestly called the new 70mm system, "Todd-AO". The AO stood
for O'Brien's "American Optical" company. O'Brien suggesting filming at 30 frames
per second rather than the standard 24 frames per second to give smoother movement
on the projected image.

Did the process work better than Cinerama on a deeply curved screen? In my
opinion it did. While the field of view was slightly less than Cinerama, you didn't
have the panel joins and the bug eyed lens generated an interesting effect of
the viewer being sucked into the picture which worked even on a flat wide screen.
You could get dizzy watching it.

The first film in Todd-AO was "Okalahoma!". Todd was very disappointed with the
results. It was shot rather convensionally like a filmed stage play. I saw it in
a new Todd-AO 70mm print in 1982 and while it was razor sharp, there were only
a few sequences that used the moving camera for the peripheral effect (i.e.
"Surrey with the Fringe on Top"). Because of the lack of 'you are there' shots,
Todd filmed a short subject to be played before the feature entitled, "The Miracle
of Todd-AO" which was basically a condensed verion of "This is Cinerama" including
the same Atom Blaster roller coaster. (The short is contained on the special
edition double disc DVD of "Oklahoma!")

Todd decided to produce his own Todd-AO feature as a follow up so it could
illustrate the way he intended the process to work. However, rather than
just making another travelogue, he wanted to contain all of the elements he
thought would bring audiences into the cinema in droves. He chose a public domain
book, "Around the World in 80 Days", since he preferred to frame his effects within
a narrative context. He hired David Niven to play Philleas Fogg and it became his
defining role. To guarantee good notices in the Spanish speaking market which
was considerable back then, he hired Mexican Comedian, Cantinflas, who was
known as the Hispanic Chaplin. Next he lined up character actor, Robert Newton
as Detective Fix and in a quirky bit of casting sexy Shirley McLaine as the Indian
Princess who turned in a very good performance.

The book was short on plot so he went around Hollywood using his considerable charm
to persuade every famous actor he could to appear as a guest star in what he promised
to be a groundbreaking movie...more spectacular than Cinerama. Over 50 celebrities
appear in little roles in the film. He coined the phrase 'cameo's (Gems) which stuck
and it became a formula for later epic productions like "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad
World" and "The Blues Brothers" years later. Veteran composer, Victor Young, was
lined up to do the lyrical score. The theme also became a hit single on the radio.

This was one of the biggest budget films of the era and it was actually shot twice.
One 65mm camera ran at 30 frames per second for the 70mm Todd-AO prints.
Another 65mm camera ran at 24 frames per second for the 35mm anamorphic
reduction dye transfer Technicolor prints. Obviously, the current DVD is derived
from the 24 frames per second version.

The movie was released to great acclaim in 1956 and won numerous Oscars
including Best Picture. Todd proved that his system was superior to others
and 70mm as a format lasted until 1997. The Cinerama three panel process
was gone in 1962, ten years after it was introduced. Fox abandoned their
55mm format for 70mm for their big titles from then on and other studios also
adoped it for their Roadshow releases.

Is it an effective show? That depends on your perspective. If you like
IMAX type of travelogues on a huge screen, this movie works great and
is a better system since it's wide instead of square. You will get the
peripheral illusion if you project it. The stereo sound on the disc is
adapted from the original six channel mix and is good but they eliminated
the directional dialogue and put it through the center channel only.
Otherwise, it sounds great. If you're a film buff, you'll recognize many
of the cameos in the feature. Peter Lorre, Trevor Howard, Ronald Colman,
Buster Keaton, Charles Boyer, Marlene Dietrich, Red Skelton, John Carradine
and many others pop up in the most unusual places which was a great
source of amusement back in 56' as well as 1968 when I saw the picture
for the first time. Even if you don't recognize them it's still a fun flick with some
of the most breathtaking Technicolor you've ever seen. In fact, it was
the first movie I purchased as a film collector back in 1985 and a great
example of showing how "Glorious" 35mm Technicolor was as a process.
It was one of the films that inspired me to write my book, "Technicolor
Movies" published by McFarland and Company in 1993 (www.mcfarlandpub.com).

As for the DVD itself, it hasn't been fully restored. I did a side by side
comparison with an original 35mm Roadshow Technicolor print.
Warner made a new 35mm anamorphic color Interpositive from the 65mm
negative shot at 24 frames per second. The color is great but there is
still some dust on the image. Not a lot, just here and there. It should've
been digitally cleaned up. Another issue are the bugs and dust on the
actual bug eyed lens used for the travelogue shots. It was always
there on the image but is a distraction and I would've preferred they
cleaned that off too. The lens was so enormous (it had it's own
tripod) that it had the tendency to attract airborn particles when
the camera was attached to a train or boat. Fortunately this is
the complete, uncut version shown in Chicago which runs 179
minutes. Todd trimmed the film by the time it played the Rivoli
in New York City by removing the chase scene of Cantinflas
being pursued by Indians but it's in this disc. Also restored is
the complete prologue which was removed for the 1968 re-issue.
Like Cinerama, Todd hired journalist Edward R. Murrows to introduce
the movie and give a history of cinema showing clips of the ancient
silent film, "A Trip to the Moon" in 1.33 and sound coming out of
the center channel only. When the rocket ship blasts off, the screen
expands to the full ratio of 2.21 x 1 and the other channels kick in.
It was Todd's version of "This is Cinerama" and is lots of fun and
quite effective. I always like the changing aspect ratio gimmick.
It worked effectively in "Superman" in 1978 for the title sequence

If you try to show this DVD on a standard monitor, you'll probably
find it a boring and padded travelogue. It simply doesn't work
outside of the large screen Roadshow format it was intended for
which you can simulate to a large degree with a DLP and 8 or
10 foot wide screen.

The movie had a tragic and bizarre ending. After winning the
Oscar, Todd and his biographer, Art Cohen, flew a private plane
purchased from Howard Hughes across the country for a promotional
tour. It crashed and they both were killed. Ironicially, the title
of Cohen's book about the producer was called "The Nine Lives
of Michael Todd" and it was published post-humously by the
author's widow. It's a fun read since Todd was a real character...
part conman, part showman. Even weirder is the fact that Todd's
wife at the time, Elizabeth Taylor, was going to accompany him
but got sick and couldn't make the trip. The name of the plane
that crashed was called "The Lucky Liz". A creepy coincidence.

Had Todd not been killed at age 49, he was planning a 70mm version
of Don Quiote with Liz as Destemona and Cantinflas as Sancho Panza.
It was never made. He was also negotiating with the Russians to make
an epic version of "War and Peace" to be photographed in Todd-AO.
That fell through but was later picked up and made in 1968 in the
Russian 70mm format (they claimed to have invented it naturally).
It won the Oscar for best foreign film that year.

This two disc special edition of "Around the World in 80 Days" has
some interesting suppliments including commentaries and a
kinescope of the Premiere party at Madison Square Garden. You
really get to do some time traveling with this presentation which
I highly recommend if you're in the mood for this type of experience.
Again, don't expect a conventional narrative feature film. It's a
spectacular 'show' but you'll have to make sure you present it
properly at home to fully enjoy it.

As a sidebar, be warned of a severely cut 2 hour and 20 minute
version which was re-issued by Warner Bros. in the early eighties.
It was occasionally shown on TCM in the past. Most of the travelogue
footage was removed in this cut. On the other hand, if you just
want to watch it as a regular 'movie' that version might work best
for you.

Also, there is one error in the uncut DVD. In the middle of the
India travelogue sequence there's an inexplicable fade in and
fade out which doesn't belong there. I assume there was some
negative damage for that shot which showed a naked kids
jumping into the river. Either that or it was censored. It's
in the 35mm Technicolor prints.

I talked to a friend who used to have a completely faded 30
frames per second Todd-AO print and he said there are minor
differences in the performances of the two versions. For example,
Fogg orders 'roly poly pudding' in that copy of the film.

For those who like to track different versions of movies in theaters
and in home video/broadcast below is a handy reference...

1956: 70mm 30 frames per second Todd-A0 70mm print with six
track stereo and a Perspecta sound encoding on the rear
channel to split it into three directional tracks. Technically
nine channels when you factor that in. Running time was
179 minutes plus intermisssion, entre acte' and exit music.
After Chicago Todd trimmed the chase scene reducing the
running time to 175 minutes for later Todd-AO engagements.

1957 35mm Technicolor dye transfer anamorphic prints derived from
the 65mm negative that was shot at 24 frames per second for
'general release' in neighborhood theaters.
Both 4 track magnetic prints (with a Perspecta encoding on
the rear channel expanding it to six channels) along with standard
optical mono prints. While they claimed they had a Perspecta
mono channel on the leaders, I checked them through a decoder
and they were straight mono copies. All 35mm prints from this
year ran 179 minutes and contained the chase scene along with
the intermission, entre acte' and exit music.

1959 16mm anamorphic mono Kodachrome reversal prints were made
reduction printed from an original uncut 35mm anamorphic dye
transfer print. No 16mm dye transfer anamorphic prints were made
on this film even though 16mm Technicolor copies were available
for most films made in this process for non-theatrical rentals.

1968 70mm Todd-AO 30 frames per second re-issue prints with six
track stereo. It's probable that the rear channel contained the
Perspecta encoding but it was a defunct process so it's unlikely
that any theater was set up to decode it. The film was re-cut
for this release. The prologue with changing aspect ratios and
"Trip to the Moon" clips were removed. Edward R. Murrows just
introduces Jules Verne and they dissolve to the movie. The
intermission was removed along with the entre' acte. The exit
music was used as an overture. 35mm dye transfer Technicolor
anamorphic mono prints were made of this version. The running
time was reduced to 167 minutes.

1970's I don't have the actual broadcast date but a pan/scanned
167 minute version was shown on television.

1980's On laserdisc and VHS the 175 minute pan/scanned Chicago version was
released on laserdisc in two channel stereo.

1983 Warner Brother purchases the rights from Liz Taylor (who ended
up with them after Todd died and the UA contract expired). They
re-issue the film in a 140 minute version. Some of the prologue
is restored but not the "Trip to the Moon" clips. The intermission,
entre acte' and exit music are gone. Most of the travelogue footage
is cut. This version is released in 70mm (from the 24 frames per
second negative) and in six channel stereo (minus the rear channel
Perspecta encoding) and in 35mm anamorphic and 16mm anamorphic
mono sound. This is the same year that Warner Brothers was restoring
"A Star is Born" which made a bizzare contrast. Butchering one classic
and restoring another. To matters worse these 'low fade' new prints
show negative fading with yellowish fleshtones. The worst presentation
of the movie I ever saw.

1990's TCM broadcasts a letterbox version of this 140 minute cut of the film.
I don't know if it was in two channel stereo or mono.

2005 Warner Brother releases a standard edition anamorphically enhanced
widescreen DVD in 5.1 sound of the complete 179 minute pre-Chicago
Roadshow derived from the 24 frames per second negative. Excellent
color and sharpness but some artifacts like dirt and bugs on the lenses
an artificial fade in and fade out during the India travelogue sequence
which is what this review details.

According to some reports by associates in the industry, the 30 frames
per second version is 'lost'. Not technically missing since they have
the elements but the cost of restoring them is so great and the problem
of installing 70mm projectors than can run at 30 frames per second
makes it cost prohibitive. So what audiences saw in 70mm back in
1956 may never be shown again in any format. Fortunately the second
negative looks very good and with some digital clean up for blu ray,
could be considered one of the definitive versions of the film.

In summary for this special edition: Picture quality A-, sound design A, cinematography
A +, music score A +, performances A, story and screenplay B.


Other than the two narrative features, "How the West Was Won" and "The
Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm", the three panel travelogue features
fell into the public domain. While negatives, separations and the fullcoat mixes
exist, it's unlikely they will ever be officially restored (digitally morphing the
join lines like in the upcoming Western) because of the PD status. So how
can you see them? Well they made a new three panel print of "This is Cinerama"
which is occasionally shown at the Cinerama dome in Hollywood. Reportedly the
color was faded and didn't match from panel to panel but the peripheral illusion
was still there. On the Warner disc of "How the West Was Won" will be the
documentary "Cinerama Adventure" which will show color corrected clips of
the travelogues in the smilebox process (curved screen illusion) but with the
panel joins noticeable. I haven't seen it but have heard excellent reviews.
Otherwise, the only way to see the travelogues is in the bootlegs floating
around eBay. Just type "Cinerama" in the search engine and they'll pop up.
Apparently someone had a camcorder handy and taped three panel presentations
at a film collector's house. There is flicker and the six track sound has been
folded down to 2 channel. It's barely watchable but if you just want to get
a feel for the content you can try them. "This is Cinerama" has some color
even though the three panels don't match. "Seven Wonders of the World",
"Cinerama Holiday" and "Windjammer" are completely faded. I saw all of them
on these bootleg PD discs and while they certainly don't look good, I'm glad
I screened them just to see what they were about. They're pretty campy
and I can imagine how spectacular they were in their original presentations.
The funniest bit has Lowell Thomas walking up to a woman who stares at
the enormous Cinerama camera and asks him what he's up to. He exclaims,
"I'm looking for the Seven Wonders of the World" which made me laugh out
loud because it was so rediculous. In any event they look like they were fun
to screen in their original format and it's a pity it's unlikely they will be shown
again. Aside from the PD status, just to color correct the three panels to
either make a new print or transfer them digitally would cost a small fortune
due to the differential fading on the aging Eastmancolor negatives. They have
black and white separations as back up but transferring them one at a time
and then blending them would exceed the cost of the productions back then.
I guess the only hope would be for one of the archives to restore them in their
'Orphan Film' programs (films that need restoration and preservation but the
producing companies or distributors folded) but that seems unlikely too because
they don't fall into the 'art film' category but into the 'historical curios' venue.

Last edited by Richard W. Haines; 11-26-08 at 08:01 AM.
Richard W. Haines is offline  


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