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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
A bit of background...


The Robe and Demitrius and The Gladiators have held a very special meaning for me ever since I first saw both movies as a child, way back when Moby Dick was a sardine...early in 1955 anyway.


I clearly recall that wide eyed and in total awe, I sat in that huge cinema house totally spellbound viewing what for me were incredibly larger than life images (still are, or aren't they?).

Such warm memories still manage to conjure the thrilling sensations I felt when seeing such brilliant and deeply colorful images, as well as hearing gloriously beautiful Stereophonic sounds. Chills still run up and down my spine by merely remembering those experiences!


I saw The Robe again during the early 60s when I was a teenager and found that I was still thrilled by seeing that widescreen spectacle.

Since then I have seen The Robe a few more times, but mostly on regular, ordinary NTSC television sets. However, the glorious scope images were severely marred by panning and scanning, so I drew little excitement from watching the movie under such horrible conditions (recent broadcasting exhibitions of The Robe in its full frame, Academy aspect ratio version in AMC has changed all that and, since the movie was simultaneously filmed in that format, no image losses were incurred).


Anyway, it was with immense relish that I immediately bought the widescreen version when it was first released on laserdisc in the early 90s. Back then I thought to my self: "now I will be able to see The Robe images in all their panoramic widescreen glory!" Unfortunately that video transfer, much like the widescreen laserdisc versions of Ben-Hur (both CLV and CAV) looked simply awful...and rife with ugly colors that bled outside their normal physical boundaries, with a washed out and poorly timed Colimetry, low resolution, lousy contrast and its consequent deleterious effect on shadow detailing...not to mention a myriad of other bothersome artifacts. Not very film-like at all.

A subsequent remastered LD was re-issued towards the end of the 90’s, but didn't bother to buy it as some viewers reported seeing only slight improvements. By then the DVD format was about to become a practical reality anyway, so I assumed The Robe was about to see the light of day soon after.


A little bit of film history...


The Robe was one of the first few films to be shot in the then (circa 1953) brand new CinemaScope photographic process (well, sort of; actually anomorphic lenses were being experimented with years before by a French gentleman -Chretien or something to that effect- but it was actually B&L, the German optical company, who wound up finishing up the engineering development and manufacturing of a precious few CinemaScope photographic lenses during those exciting widescreen filming days.


Is worth noting that The Robe was filmed anomorphically using the full 1:33:1 silent film aperture size to capture the scope image, and that it was simultaneously shot full frame so that theaters not capable of displaying the CinemaScope format could still exhibit the movie to the cinema going masses.


The Robe also had the good fortune to be shot in the 3-strip dye transfer imbibition (IB Technicolor) process, one that produced absolutely stunning looking images.

I mention this because not long after Fox and other movie studios, except Paramount, which stuck with IB Tech for all of their films until the lab ceased doing business in the USA in the 70s (The Godfather II was the last American movie to be shot in IB Tech), opted for the 2-pack dye color process, one that proved to be very unstable overtime (it was developed by Eastman Kodak, thus acquiring such monikers as Metrocolor, Warnercolor, Eastman Color, et al).

The reasons the studios gave for switching color processes were due to economics; it was cheaper than having IB Tech labs doing their stuff, but many years later they found, to their own chagrin, just how terribly costly wound up really being because of the loss of many movies negative elements caused by instability of the organic dyes used in the 2-pack process, something that overtime resulted in film elements fading, color turning, and worse...


The DVD Transfer: The Good...


The anomorphically enhanced image, ratioed around 2:40:1 or less, is a vast improvement over existing widescreen video versions of The Robe spite of inherent flaws.


Finally gone are bleeding colors; they are now contained within their own physical limitations.

Colors run the gamut, and a palette of greens, blues, reds, yellows, oranges, browns, tans, whites, and blacks can be found with several hue variations in between.


Color timing seems correct, something that can be compared to samples available in the form of still photographs found in the chapter listing sheet and at the back of the keep case (disregard two of them, though; one is from another Fox movie: The Egyptian; the other is from the DVD’s own menu) and in the IB Tech color process information which can be found in the American Widescreen Museum's Website.

Overall colors appear well saturated and brilliant for the most part, only suffering to some degree in certain scenes.


The Bad...


Overall the image exhibits a softness which could be attributed in part to, but not necessarily be entirely blamed for, a rather low bit rate used to author the DVD transfer (God only knows how many generations the transferring film elements are away from the camera negative, so this could also be a possible source for the softness problem).

The problem manifests itself in appearing somewhat out of focus and on the blurry side even with close up shots. Yet there is enough resolution to allow a distinct, unequivocal visual differentiation between the DVD and laserdisc versions, favoring the DVD transfer in this regard.


In overall terms resolution is not of the sort that even Ben-Hur exhibits on DVD, and the latter has a wider aspect ratio thus lower vertical resolution. Do not expect to see the type of sharply rendered scope images we have become accustomed seeing from most widescreen transfers of modern scope movies.


On a more positive note, I detected but only a few digitally-originated artifacts (a bit of aliasing interline twittering and some mosquito noise here and there. Sure signs of bit rate starvation, imho), something that greatly aids The Robe looking more film-like that has with any video widescreen version previously available.


The ugly...


Unfortunately, shadow detailing suffer somewhat because of a rather poor rendition of contrast dynamics; minute details in darkly lit scenes seem to get almost lost in a foggy-like background, one that populates all darkly shot scenes. This could be attributed to blacks that were not reproduced properly (black levels appear more plugged up than I care to see), themselves arising from rather poorly rendered brightness.

Even so, improvements in these areas are large enough to undoubtedly make viewing the DVD transfer the preferable version.


To top it all, this DVD transfer has very visible, variable amounts of EE, which might have been over applied in an attempt to boost both resolution and the softness that has to be inherent to the film transferring element (IP, no doubt). The end result of this amount of EE use is to render the image with a hard edge (yet the image remains soft and somewhat blurry) which is more typical of video reproduction and less of real film.


A bit more of The Good...


The 4.0 surround sound mix might have been extracted from the original 4-track mag sound stems, yet some sweetening of the stems was apparently implemented as the original Stereo directionality of the front channels now seems to favor the center channel a bit more. This isn’t too bad even for a system where the main left and right transducing channels are separated 12 feet from eachother -Stereo tracking is still quite audible- but was definitely done to aid sound reproduction by average HT systems.


Dynamic range is only fair, but bass seems to sound more extended than I remember with the laserdisc soundtracks.

Surround sound activity is also fair, something to be expected from films of this vintage. Yet when called upon they serve the purpose quite well, as in the Crucifixion scene.

We must remember that back then the rear channel was used only for "special effects" to counterpoint specific scenes, and not as we’ve gown accustomed to hearing with modern mixes.


Summing it all up...


Short of having either the camera negative or the black and white separations (safety stems) available with which to produce a full restoration print -dye transfer imbibition processed to boot, which is currently possible as Technicolor labs still exists!- from which a transferring film element (IN, preferably) can source an anomorphic HD master, this is as good as it gets, unfortunately.

The image is far more viewable than you may infer by reading the above, so don’t be too put off by the negative aspects that I had to report about; it still beats the pants off the laserdisc versions, particularly the original widescreen transfer.


Yet I immensely decry the fact that Fox did not give us the full screen version included in the same package. That would have gone a long way in diminishing and soothing the pain of seeing rather subpar images!


Why the full frame version as well? Because by what I’ve seen in AMC’s airings, the image looks sensational, superbly sharp and highly detailed, with stunningly brilliant and deeply saturated colors, that is why.

Besides that version is quite valid since it too was shot simultaneously with the CinemaScope version, so having both available in one package would be simply thrilling.

Too bad that Fox could not have been more receptive and sensitive to their epic films fans’ desires...


-THTS
 

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One point of accuracy (semantics?), Frank.


IB Technicolor is a printing process, not a photographic format, at least in the case of CinemaScope. As far as I know, all CinemaScope films were shot on Eastmacolor stock with some IB Technicolor prints for theatrical exhibition.


All CinemaScope elements that are suitable for video transfer will be Eastmancolor. An IB theatrical print would make a horrible video transfer.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Robert George,


You might be right about The Robe not being photographed in true 3-strip IB Tech, at least in the case of the CinemaScope version. However, indeed there were cameras which utilized three film stock rolls at the same time with which to capture moving images.

I haven't been able to locate the necessary information regarding these cameras to provide referencing, so more accurate information has to wait a while longer.


In the meantime I urge you to check Marty Hart's Widescreen Museum and check the information on the dye transfer imbibition printing process; there are several photographic samples of The Robe that clearly shows a 3-strip method was utilize to derive the image from.


Perhaps Vern Dias would like to join us and get us straight in this regard. I am not above being corrected when wrong, so I welcome any and all opportunity to learn more about film technologies.


Obi, I never indicated that a theatrical IB Tech print should have been used for the video transferring of The Robe...only that I wished better transferring elements should have...just like with Ben-Hur.

Had Fox done a restoration of the movie from which to derive a new low contrast transferring print chances are that The Robe would have wound up looking more like the Ben-Hur DVD transfer, which actually is not a bad thing.

Who knows what film elements Fox wound up using for the DVD transfer, but whatever they used certainly leaves a lot to be desired. Unfortunately, what we were given is as good as it gets...


For video transferring, low contrast prints (preferably internegatives rather than interpositives) are what yields better image quality, thus are used for that particular application.

I think we both can agree on this point, right?


By the way...it was because Fox switched to the Eastman printing process that only a few precious IB Tech theatrical prints exists. That is why is so difficult to view The Robe on film anymore as all Eastman prints have faded. Yet I hope that sometime soon I get to be lucky enough to watch it again on IB Tech. That would indeed be a thrilling experience!...


-THTS
 

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I don't know what color process The Robe was filmed in but I do know that the DVD is simply awful. I saw the movie in the theaters when it first came out, I was 12 years old.

I ordered it on DVD as soon as it became available and couldn't wait to watch it. I have an LT 150 projector and an 8' wide screen, I was ready to be transported back in time to my youth. The image is just awful!!!

The same day I got The Robe I recieved a DVD of The Big Country, a wide screen western epic from the late fifties. The movie stars Gregory Peck, Charlton Heston and Burl Ives and a multitude of others. The movie won three academy awards and had great photography. This DVD must have been transferred by the same company that did The Robe, the transfer is terrible.

Why is it that some DVD transfers are almost HDTV like and others just reek, does it cost that much more to do a decent transfer?
 

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Thanks for the indepth review, Frank. After the disaster of Demetrius And The Gladiators, I was reluctant to purchase The Robe. It seems Fox has wanted to cash in on the renewed interest in Sword & Sandal films. Nothing wrong with that. I just wish they would have put more care into it. When an IB Tech film is released on video, the results can be mind blowing (Singin' In The Rain, Black Narcissus, etc). I would like to see this film get revisited, maybe by some other company that would release the widescreen and full frame versions. It would be fun to compare the two. It seems with these older films, it's a crap shoot. The image can look great or dreadful or anything inbetween.
 

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Hi, Frank!


Go here: http://www.technicolor.com/aboutus/index.html and click on History for all you want to know about the History of Technicolor.


From the site with credit to Technicolor:


"The advent of Eastman Kodak's single-strip color negative and printing film stock in 1949 beckoned the end of the Technicolor camera's hold on the color field. Smaller black-and-white cameras could now be loaded with the new color negative, freeing up productions from the constraints of the bulkier Technicolor cameras which were used for the last time on an American-made film in 1954's Foxfire."


There you go.


Vern
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
badgerfan,


I know what you mean! It is sort of a let down to see The Robe receiving such careless treatment from Fox's part, for crying at loud. You'd think they care more about such film gems rather than lavishing upon movies like the new Planet Of The Apes far greater care. Oh, well...I guess we're stuck with what they gave us, uh?


I think MGM used the laserdisc mater to transfer The Big Country on DVD...as I see similar problems shared by both versions (I still have the LD, so it is easy to compare them), including the lack of the original Stereo soundtrack.

I did a piece ("review") about this movie sometime ago, but if you're interested in reading what I had to say about the DVD transfer just do a search for it in this Forum...


-THTS
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Robert George,


I believe that presently am able to submit sufficient information (obtained under the generous guidance from Vern Dias) with which to help straighten the matter of whether The Robe was shot in 3-strip IB Tech or not. I am including it here for the benefit of those who might also be interested in this sort of thing as well.


From Technicolor Labs’ Website (and with full credit given to them), I quote:


"By 1932 ‘Technicolor’s "Process Number Four," a three-component imbibation process, had been developed, along with the first three component camera."


"In 1938, Technicolor developed a continuous developing machine for processing three-strip negative.


Released in 1939, Gone With The Wind was the first film to take advantage of the new, faster Technicolor film, cutting costs by fifty percent and allowing the use of smaller lighting units.

The introduction of the three-strip negative (three times the speed of previous negatives) for use in Technicolor cameras had an immediate impact."


"In 1941, Technicolor introduced Monopack, it’s multi-layer single film process."


"In 1950, Technicolor introduced a three-strip photographic system using uncorrected incandescent illumination with substantially lower light level."


"In 1953, Technicolor developed and built a contact printer with additive color for use in wide screen process."


"In 1954, with lenses from Superscope and Panavision, Technicolor set up printers for making anomorphic prints from flat negatives and flat prints from CinemaScope."


"The advent of Eastman Kodak’s single-strip color negative and printing stock in 1949 beckoned the end of the Technicolor camera’s hold on the color field. Smaller black-and-white cameras could now be loaded with the new color negative, freeing up productions from constraints of the bulkier Technicolor cameras which were used for the last time on an American-made film in 1954’s Foxfire."


Obi, it looks like you were right insofar as The Robe not been shot in 3-strip IB Tech; I was wrong and thus humbly submit am hereby corrected.

However, now you know that indeed there were 3-strip Technicolor cameras; it was not just a dye transfer imbibation (I guess I misspelled this word, too; that is how Technicolor Labs spell it) printing process!


I think we can now put this matter to rest since I believe you and I still agree that The Robe was indeed printed with the three-strip IB Technicolor method... :)


-THTS
 

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Hi Frank,


I have a new sealed copy of The Robe in its Widescreen Laserdisc edition. I'll take a look at it soon and see if it requires an urgent upgrading to the DVD.



Regarding the Technicolor issue, apparently most studios indeed switched to the cheaper Eastman Kodak process to access lighter weight and more nimble cameras, as well as cheaper processing - and that these masters were only partially salvaged by post processing by technicolor to reduce their dismal color caracteristics, but unluckily Technicolor Labs couldn't do anything to slow their rapid deterioration. I assume this was done with their "Technicolor contact printer with additive color for use in wide screen process". Correct me if I'm misinformed: you're the pro. :)


Cheers,
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Hi, Brett,


May I suggest something? Keep the LD of The Robe sealed and sell it!


The DVD is indeed superior to the LD versions image wise, in great part because it was anomorphically enhanced thus adding more badly needed vertical resolution. Yet even that couldn't fix problems that are inherent to available film transferring elements, unfortunately. However, the image from the DVD is far preferable to that of the LD version, that is why I suggest the above action.


Regarding the Technicolor stuff...there is nothing to be corrected; you've got it right! :)


Brett, am no pro...far from it. I am just an avid fan who utterly and deeply love movies, IB Tech and other film related technologies. I do thank you for the kind words, though...


Cheers!


-THTS
 

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Hold off on selling that LD! What may not be clear is that THE ROBE was remastered for LD a couple years ago. I happen to have that edition and it is much superior to the DVD, at least in non-anamorphic mode. Most of the problems that Frank describes on the DVD do not exist on the LD. In fact, it is razor-sharp with great color.


The earlier LD version of THE ROBE was done in the 80s and is probably the version Frank (and other reviewes) are referencing when doing their comparisons. (This often happens. Many people do LD/DVD comparisons with older editions rather than newer, remastered ones. Same thing happened with TERMINATOR TWO. Most did comparisons with the THX box set, instead of the later, remastered edition.) Although Frank mentioned he didn't buy the remaster (a danger in putting all your eggs in the DVD basket), it was a large improvement, in my opinion (although grain was quite evident). And I'll keep it over the DVD easily. No out-of-focus or blurry close-ups as there are on the DVD.


If you have the remaster, keep it as it is probably the best version of the film currently available.


BUT...be careful. Both LD editions have the exact same jacket and may even have the same catalogue number! So how do you klnow which one you have if it's sealed? If you bought it as part of Image's "Lasers for Less" promo, most likely you have the remaster. If it was bought new prior to 1997, it most likely is the old transfer. (I believe both versions have a DEMETRIUS trailer as well.)


Sound on the remastered ROBE has been improved as well.
 

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Well, I saw this disc in the store recently and for only pennies more than the cost of dirt I couldn't resist.


Frank,


Your original post pretty much says it all in terms of the picture and sound quality...the darker scenes being the most troublesome. This Academy Award nominated film certainly does deserve a better treatment. I'm assuming that the cost for this type of restoration, combined with a relatively low demand for this title will make the possiblity of a remastered version rather unlikely anytime soon. However, I thoroughly enjoyed watching this film...a must have, especially if you enjoy this type of period piece...a good warm-up for the upcoming Mel Gibson epic The Passion.


Howie
 

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Quote:
it most likely is the old transfer
Seems to me the best approach if you have the LD is to compare it to the DVD. If you prefer the DVD, keep it and sell the LD. If you don't, keep the LD.


This business about "trust ME when I tell you which is superior" doesn't work. Home theater people are perfectly capable of deciding which they prefer, and we all know what most have decided is better.
 

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Quote:
I think MGM used the laserdisc mater to transfer The Big Country on DVD...as I see similar problems shared by both versions (I still have the LD, so it is easy to compare them), including the lack of the original Stereo soundtrack.
The Big Country originally in stereo??? I ask because this is one of numerous productions from the '50s and '60s that has been difficult to confirm original sound mix and release status for. I've compiled a "4-track Mag Stereo" filmography, but it's a huge challenge to sort out the facts regarding many of these older films and whether they were or weren't originally mixed in stereo. I did have The Big Country on the list at one time but I since removed it. Do you feel it should it be returned to the list?
 

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No, I don't think "The Big Country" was ever released in stereo.


Back on the subject of "The Robe":


I watched a little bit of this DVD yesterday, and decided that the issue with lack of low level detail was because the transfer had been done with an incorrect gamma setting.


So, I cranked the gamma in my ffdshow filter from 1.00 to 1.30 and, like magic, details in the dark areas appeared from the shadows. After doing this, the image was definitely watchable.


Alas, I couldn't do anything about the EE.


Ah, the wonder of having an HTPC and the ability to apply filters to modify the video/audio in todays wonderful digital world. ;)


Vern
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
Originally posted by Vern Dias:


No, I don't think "The Big Country" was ever released in stereo."



Vern is right; The Big Country was never released in Stereo during the general theatrical release, but it appears that there indeed was stereo soundtrack stems available...something the Director's daughter didn't want included in the laser disk widescreen version and which was inferred to in the liner notes.


I suspect that was the case wit TBC as much as it was with Thunderball...which wound up with a spectacular-sounding stereo track in the special edition laser disk and DVD versions...


-THTS
 

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Quote:
Vern is right; The Big Country was never released in Stereo during the general theatrical release
Frank,

Then why did you state that it *was* in stereo originally earlier in the thread?


Quote:
...but it appears that there indeed was stereo soundtrack stems available [clip] I suspect that was the case wit TBC as much as it was with Thunderball
Actually, many people seem to believe not only Thunderball originally being in stereo but all of the post Dr. No pre-Dolby (Moonraker) 007 films having stereo mixes made if only for the London premiere engagements and perhaps a minimum number of other showings.
 

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Frank didn't say it was released in Stereo, just that the preproduction elements were available to make a stereo track. That doesn't meant that a stereo release print mix was ever created.


Vern
 

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Vern wrote:
Quote:
Frank didn't say it was released in Stereo, just that the preproduction elements were available to make a stereo track. That doesn't meant that a stereo release print mix was ever created.
Vern,

Frank implied the film was originally mixed and released in stereo by stating: "I think MGM used the laserdisc mater to transfer The Big Country on DVD...as I see similar problems shared by both versions, including the lack of the original Stereo soundtrack [italics mine]."


Now, perhaps I have misinterpreted the comment, or maybe Frank meant to state that the film's music score was recorded in stereo. But if that is the case, I think it would've been better to say just that rather than use the term "soundtrack," as most would interpret that to mean the final mix and/or release print format.
 
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