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Senior Shackster
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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Although this is technically off topic, I thought I'd post it anyway for those
who are interested in film restoration.

"The Sand Pebbles" just completed it's restoration. It's historically important
in that it was the first film to restored at 4K resolution. Previous restorations
were all at the 2K resolution. What does this mean for consumers and archivists?

2K wasn't really enough to generate the full resolution of 35mm camera negative
regardless of whether it was flat or scope. For example, "The Adventures of
Robin Hood" restoration was at 2K and at a distance it looked great but if you got
too close to the screen you'd see the pixels that made up the image on film. While it was
technically sharper than the original nitrate 35mm Technicolor prints, the actual
grain structure was not as good. Kodak stated that to replicate a 35mm negative,
4K resolution was necessary. Three years ago, this was implemented on the first
feature to utilize it, namely this Robert Wise epic from 1966. Wise was supervising
the project until he died last year. He wasn't able to see the final
result which is quite spectacular.

"The Sand Pebbles" was his adventure based on the Robert McKenna novel which
I read as an adolsecent. It's interesting that the lead character, Jake Holman, almost
fits the description of Steve McQueen as described by the author. I belive it's his best
role right down to the reform school background of the character. It was apparently
a very difficult shoot in Taiwan with Red Chinese communist spies keeping an eye on
the proceedings from the mainland. They built an actual boat for the film which was
the most expensive 'prop' as of 1965. The engine was saved, the rest of the vessel
destroyed after the shoot. Fox had created "CinemaScope" in 1953 by purchasing the
lenses and patents from a French inventor. Basically, a standard 3 x 4 (square) image
was filmed with an anamorphic squeeze. When unsqueezed by the projection lens,
it generated a wide 2.35 image which impressed viewers and got them away from the
usurping television medium. Unfortunately, the original Baucsh and Lomb lenses distorted
the image to a great degree. Close ups made the actors look fat and wide shots made the
edges look skinny. In 1957, the Panavisio company corrected these problems and introduced
improved anamorphic lenses. However, Fox continued to use their substandard CinemaScope
units. Wise wanted to shoot "The Sand Pebbles" in 70mm but Fox rejected it because of
the foreign locations. So Wise insisted on shooting with Panavision instead of CinemaScope
units. The studio agreed and by 1967, they had switched to the other company and abandoned
CinemaScope for it's features. The last CinemaScope movie for them was "In Like Flint".

This movie was a Fox film and thus 'Color by De Luxe'. What this meant back in 1966
was that all prints (including the blow up 70mm Roadshow copy) were struck directly
from the 35mm Panavision camera negative. We're talking three to four hundred prints
struck from the original which really wore it out. In comparison, Technicolor movies only
used the camera negative to make a set of matrices for dye transfer prints. As a result,
their originals remained in much better condition.

In 2005, Fox decided to use "The Sand Pebbles" as their first 4K restoration. The extremelly
faded and worn camera negative was scanned into the digital machine at this resolution.
Then a frame at a time (at 182 minutes) was fixed which is why it took so long. The end
results are outstanding. As good as it looked back in 1966. You have to give Fox credit
for not stopping at the digital master. They also outputted a new 35mm negative (from which
this print was struck) as well as a new set of 35mm black and white separatons (a black and
white negative of each primary color) for the future. Unfortunately, not all
studios are taking this final step. That means as video formats change, they'll
have to go back to the old and worn elements and start from scratch which
is penny wise and pound foolish. All digital restorations should have an outputted
35mm hard copy for the next century to ensure it's survival. Nothing in the
digital domain is archival, only film elements have the possibility of longevity.

I walked up to the screen and didn't see any pixels at this resolution. It look exactly like
a 35mm print struck from the camera negative. And they restored the old four track magnetic
mix to both Dolby Stereo and Digital Stereo on the print. So "The Sand Pebbles" is preserved
for at least another 75 to 100 years (the estimated survival of modern estar film stock).

At some point in the future, Fox will release the HD version on Blu-Ray. Hopefully, they will
also change their current position to release it on HD DVD. At least there are restored 35mm
prints available to screen as well as the Special Edition DVD which is derived from the same

On a personal note, this was one of my favorite movies since I saw it at The Hollowbrook
Drive In located in Peekskill, New York back in the summer of 1967. I was ten years old at
the time. I even purchased the Super 8 sound digest of the film when it was sold in the
seventies. Unfortunately, this movie was never re-issued and didn't play the Revival Theaters
in the seventies or eighties. All original prints had faded to red by then. Now it's fully restored
to the director's vision...almost. The Roadshow print shown at The Rivoli was about fifteen
minutes longer. This 70mm faded print was included on the recent Special Edition DVD. It looks
terrible but you can what was cut...and why it was cut. The final release version or "theatrical
release" as described by the studio works fine. Most of what was removed were extra scenes
with McQueen and Candice Bergen which really didn't work. The two actors didn't spark any
chemistry on screen. Outside of this problem, McQueen is excellent because he's basically
playing himself.
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