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Old 02-17-2009, 08:28 PM   #1
Grubert Grubert is offline
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Default Warner talks classics: A Star Is Born for 2010, Kane for 2011?!

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[...]

Anybody who knows DVD classics knows George Feltenstein, senior vice president of marketing/theatrical catalog for Warner Home Video. A major Golden Age film fan himself, Feltenstein has been the driving force behind hundreds of classic releases from the days of VHS on through laserdiscs and into the digital era. His unrivaled passion and commitment to classic film has helped cement WHV's reputation as the genre's leading producer, and developed a loyal consumer following for the studio. And guess what? He's just nuts about Blu-ray.

"I don't think you'll find anyone on the planet complaining more about the lack of classic releases on Blu-ray than me," Feltenstein said in a recent phone interview from his Burbank office. As a consumer himself, he personally thinks it's "horrible, ridiculous, and frustrating" that more pre-1970 titles are not available on the format, and believes "thousands upon thousands of people" haven't made the Blu-ray leap because few of the titles on store shelves interest them. (Feltenstein also feels the film industry hindered the public's adoption of the technology because it failed to clearly and accurately communicate the format's vast superiority over standard DVD during its early stages.) As an industry executive, however, he understands all too well the studios' quandary over whether to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars on a per title basis to remaster classic films and that's what it costs if you need to start from "scratch" when demographic research shows "typical" buyers could care less about the classic genre. And, Feltenstein adds, "The fact that we are in a recession-slash-depression and the world's economy is going to hell in a hand-basket doesn't help things."

All that said, Feltenstein, who dubs himself WHV's "in-house Blu-ray cheerleader," believes WHV has recently made some "bold and aggressive" moves regarding classics, and hopes other studios will follow suit. He cites next month's releases of the biblical epic 'Quo Vadis,' and two Best Picture winners, 'Gigi' and 'An American in Paris,' as a "litmus test" for classics, even though they are "very, very risky titles to put out in this marketplace, which mostly caters to new theatrical releases." (20th Century Fox will also hop on the classic BD bandwagon next month with 'The Robe' and 'South Pacific.')

That trio, however, is just a warm-up for what Feltenstein calls a "murderer's row" of classic releases later this year that will include such AFI 100 masterpieces as 'Gone With the Wind,' 'The Wizard of Oz,' and 'North By Northwest.' Hitchcock's thriller underwent a $1 million restoration, while 'GWTW' and 'Oz' both of which were remastered in 2K Ultra Resolution three or four years ago for splashy DVD releases have been completely overhauled once again to make sure they meet all of Blu-ray's exacting standards. "What was perfection two to three years ago is not now," Feltenstein says. "We thought 'Gone With the Wind' would be good to go on Blu-ray with what was done previously, plus $200,000 for dirt cleaning. But to look perfect, we had to start all over from scratch at enormous cost. I took it to management and there was no hesitation. Having a film like 'Gone With the Wind' on Blu-ray will set a new standard and pave the way for more classic releases."

According to Feltenstein, WHV has been mastering its classic films in 1080p since 2002, long before Blu-ray's official dawn, but he's quick to point out that even those relatively new transfers still must undergo expensive, time-consuming dirt and scratch removal to make them suitable for Blu-ray. Regular 1080p remastering is fine for standard definition, he says, but HD quality requires additional work. "Blu-ray demands perfection and our consumers demand that these films achieve the best possible image quality. I assure you they will, but there will always be people out there who will nitpick and find something wrong with them."

Perfection, he explains, doesn't mean compromising a film's original elements, such as grain structure, and Feltenstein is adamant that WHV does not condone such tampering, nor does it allow The Motion Picture Imaging Group, the company that produces its transfers, to artificially enhance images or apply digital noise reduction to achieve a more modern, sleek look. Black-and-white films of the 1930s and 1940s tend to exhibit more grain than movies made in the '50s and '60s, and sometimes that grain looks amplified when projected on a high-def display. When doing transfers, Feltenstein says, "we keep the grain, but get rid of every piece of non-photographic originated dirt we can."

Oftentimes, 1080p remastering shines a beacon on basic rudimentary production techniques used in classic films. Mattes, backdrops, and rear projection work are more noticeable, and special effects can lose their mystique. When upgrading 'Top Hat' (1935), Feltenstein was shocked to see how dirty the floor was on which Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers danced. That dirty floor will be clearly visible when the Astaire-Rogers films make their Blu-ray debut in 2010, as will the wires that support the Scarecrow in certain scenes of 'The Wizard of Oz.' Age-related specks, scratches, and grit, however, will be erased.

Sound issues have also drawn ire from many consumers hungry for high-def audio on Golden Age films. Some have complained about the lack of a Dolby TrueHD track on 'Casablanca' and the upcoming 'An American in Paris.' Feltenstein insists he will always try to fashion an HD audio track, but only if it can be created naturally through the film's original multiple channel recordings. Both 'Casablanca' and 'An American in Paris' were recorded in mono, so monaural tracks were used on their respective Blu-ray discs to preserve each film's authenticity.

When discussing the criteria for selecting suitable titles for Blu-ray release, especially this early in the format's lifespan, Feltenstein notes there are still "hundreds upon hundreds of wonderful classic films in the Warner library that still haven't even seen a standard DVD release." At this time, he says, limited audience titles will not immediately come out on Blu-ray, such as a collection of Esther Williams movies WHV is readying for later in 2009, because projected sales would not effectively cover costs, which can quickly spiral into the stratosphere. Dirt and scratch removal on existing 1080p masters is expensive enough, but some films require new intermediate elements from the original negative, while others demand a full photochemical restoration before a new master can be created. Authoring, compression, menu creation, and design also inflate the price tag. "Even replicating the physical Blu-ray disc is expensive," Feltenstein says. "So it's not just the cost of making the master that determines whether we go forward." As a result, the studio is currently prepping its most iconic titles for Blu-ray and holding off on more specialized material.

Does that mean some titles, especially those antiques with heavy grain and scratchy audio, will never see a Blu-ray release? "Just because it can't be perfect doesn't mean it shouldn't be on Blu-ray at some point," Feltenstein says. "Some titles will take longer than others, but a film's vintage will not keep it from Blu-ray. Because we've been mastering in 1080p since 2002, we have gorgeous high-definition masters on more than 250 black-and-white 4x3 movies. They're just not the kind of movies that will lure people into Blu-ray. Remember, it was about five years into the DVD era before it became financially viable to go deeper into the classic library; we are about to begin year number four of Blu-ray in a few months, and I believe our plans for Blu-ray library marketing are in line with what we did and continue to do for DVD. But right now, we have to try and find the right classic film that will really show off the technology."

And Warner has plenty of those on tap. In addition to the Astaire-Rogers canon in 2010, Feltenstein said the 1954 'A Star Is Born' with Judy Garland, currently being remastered in 6K resolution, will also see a 2010 release, and 'Citizen Kane' will celebrate its 70th anniversary with a Blu-ray bow in 2011. Other titles in the pipeline include the 1959 'Ben-Hur,' which was already remastered in 1080p, but is being redone because, Feltenstein says, many viewers were displeased with the standard DVD transfer. 'Singin' in the Rain,' previously mastered in 1080i in 2001 is unsuitable for Blu-ray in its present form, so it's gone back to square one for a "profusely expensive" 1080p makeover. 'The Music Man,' 'Doctor Zhivago,' and 'Meet Me in St. Louis' also will see high-def releases in the next two to three years. And in honor of its 40th anniversary, 'Woodstock' will arrive on Blu-ray later this year in limited numbered editions with two hours of recently discovered performances. The classic concert film was originally shot in 16mm, so beware, there will be noticeable grain.

[...]
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Old 02-17-2009, 08:34 PM   #2
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can't wait for some of these classics......... unfortunately it looks like I HAVE to wait
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Old 02-17-2009, 08:41 PM   #3
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pleasantly great article coming from HDD..props to them.

I'm glad to see the classics are going back in for a more thorough scrubbing...I hope the edges don't come out shiny in the process....
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Old 02-17-2009, 08:58 PM   #4
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Nice to see WB taking a more Criterion Collection approach to their remasters before releasing to the public. Anxiously awiting most of the titles mentioned.
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Old 02-17-2009, 09:18 PM   #5
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I look forward to all the titles mentioned coming from Blu and salute WB. Gone with the Wind and Wizard of Oz will be real showcases of Blu. But I am willing to bet they will get outstanding reviews at first, and then someone will say, "Naw, they used DNR a tiny bit, so these are crap. Take them back, do them again!" and others will then join in with that as "their" opinion.
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Old 02-17-2009, 10:34 PM   #6
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Thanks OP - great read.

North by Northwest is my most anticipated title of those mentioned, by far. I sincerely hope WB is also prepping Dial M for Murder and Strangers on a Train.

I don't have much interest in the classic musicals mentioned, but I am curious to see what Woodstock will look and sound like.
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Old 02-17-2009, 10:35 PM   #7
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yeah..."A Star is Born" is only getting a 6K restoration...they really should use 8K like "Baraka". Can't believe they're releasing crap like this.
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Old 02-17-2009, 10:48 PM   #8
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Mr. Feltenstein's concerns are certainly something that I share as well. I would agree that a sizable group of people have not adopted Blu-ray yet because there was a genuine lack of important classic and arhouse titles during and immediately after the war. This being said, I believe that there has been plenty of movement on the market. I am also very encouraged to see that my thoughts are shared by someone so high up the ladder at Warner.

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Old 02-17-2009, 11:00 PM   #9
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This looks as much about spin control as anything else in the wake of the Amadeus release. Talking about classics two years down the line distracts from the current mediocre quality that Warner has been serving up on Blu-ray so far. I believe that Warner is run like a corporate conglomerate more than any other studio (read: bottom-line profits are the only thing that matters) with a bloated infrastructure of executives that hinders decisive actions to correct certain problems. Whatever goodwill Warner accumulated pushing the dvd format is long gone with consumers and they better realize that or it will affect their bottom-line in the future.
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Old 02-17-2009, 11:02 PM   #10
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2011 for Kane...

BUT I WANT IT NOW!!!
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Old 02-17-2009, 11:20 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by gonzo nixon View Post
yeah..."A Star is Born" is only getting a 6K restoration...they really should use 8K like "Baraka". Can't believe they're releasing crap like this.


are you serious?!

or did my sarcasm meter not go off correctly?
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Old 02-17-2009, 11:21 PM   #12
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Thought his response to using (lossy) DD for mono soundtracks was rather lame (i.e., like he didn't know what he was talking about actually). Mono or not, old or new, lossy is... lossy. With more bits you get much more of the original analog sound; lossy means you lose. (Compare DD to Dolby TrueHD for example.)

Similary, thinking that WB is one of the worst offenders with respect to DNR, or if that in reality is not the case, the amount of compression they use to cram everything onto those 25G discs certainly takes its toll.
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Old 02-17-2009, 11:53 PM   #13
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I was thinking the same thing about lossy audio; Criterion has no problem with lossless mono and stereo, so what's up with that. Then again, given the age I'm sure there's not that big a difference between 192kbps 1.0 and 1.0 TrueHD on, say, 'An American in Paris.' I can live with it.

What most excited me was that finally a Hitchcock movie is coming to HD!!!! The first of many, I hope. Can't wait for 'A Star is Born' either, although I'm bummed to see it's going to be another year...that restoration was supposed to be finishing up right now, according to the original story.
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Old 02-18-2009, 01:39 AM   #14
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I was really expecting that we'd see BEN-HUR this year but doesn't look like that will happen. In the meantime i'm excited for NORTH BY NORTHWEST when that's released.

I hope that Universal will do the same for classics like VERTIGO and REAR WINDOW.
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Old 02-18-2009, 02:05 AM   #15
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Default Warner classics

Speaken of Warner Home Video and classics and blu-ray, where is Forbidden Planet, it was released on HD-DVD. I would think it would have been released on blu-ray by now ! ! ! So, WHAT'S THE HOLD UP WARNER ? ? ?
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Old 02-18-2009, 02:22 AM   #16
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casablanca was awesome, bring on KANE!

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Old 02-18-2009, 02:23 AM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by EManT2200 View Post
Speaken of Warner Home Video and classics and blu-ray, where is Forbidden Planet, it was released on HD-DVD.
Perhaps my take on classic is a bit different, but I certainly would rather see them spend a good amount of time working with MK2 in France and release Charlie Chaplin's films on Blu-ray, considering how flawed their white DVD sets were. Their Garbo and Hitchcock sets would also be greeted with great enthusiasm by many who haven't yet switched to Blu-ray.

Still, I truly hope that Chaplin's films are released on Blu-ray.

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Old 02-18-2009, 02:42 AM   #18
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They're teasing me! A Star is Born, Meet Me in St. Louis, Citizen Kane, and Singin' in the Rain are some of my absolute favorites of all-time. I want those Blu-Rays now! Now in 2-3 years!!!!

Although I guess I should be happy that they are taking the time to get them right. I'm still anxious though!
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Old 02-18-2009, 03:50 AM   #19
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I just hope they release my favorite film noir, The Big Sleep (1946) in the next two years!!!
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Old 02-18-2009, 03:53 AM   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by gonzo nixon View Post
yeah..."A Star is Born" is only getting a 6K restoration...they really should use 8K like "Baraka". Can't believe they're releasing crap like this.
Is that a serious statement?

6k is incredible!
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