More UK release dates confirmed and some notes about aspect ratios

Restoration work at Pinewood Studios on THE PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES and THE REPTILE (both films scanned and restored in 2k then mastered for Blu-ray; both films directed by arguably Hammer’s most underrated director, John Gilling) is now complete, and on May 7th StudioCanal release both features as double-play Blu-ray/DVD editions, enabling fans, at long last, to be able to watch two of Hammer’s finest films in glorious HD, and in the original aspect ratio of 1.66:1. Both releases feature brand new half-hour documentaries directed by official Hammer historian Marcus Hearn, featuring interviews with original cast and crew, critic Jonathan Rigby, broadcaster Mark Gatiss, as well as experts on Bray studios (Wayne Kinsey) and Hammer’s music (Professor David Huckvale). Pre-order them here and here.

Which leads us to the subject of original aspect ratios (OARs) as promised in our first post. To keep it short (one could easily write several thousand words on the subject!) Hammer/Exclusive films (with a few exceptions) were shot and presented in “Academy” ratio (1.37:1) up until The Curse Of Frankenstein in 1956-57, which was shot to be presented at 1.66:1 (and that film will finally be presented 1.66:1 when we release our restored version). In the UK, Hammer’s films were from then on intended to be projected either at 1.66:1, or at 2.35:1 / 2.40:1 (if the film was shot in one of the varieties of scope used by Hammer over the years: “Hammerscope”, Techniscope, CinemaScope or Panavision).

Confusion over aspect ratios often emerges when the ratio of 1.85:1 is described as the “original aspect ratio” of a Hammer film, as it often has been, particularly Stateside. Actually, things are more complicated simply than 1.66:1 being the correct OAR and 1.85:1 being incorrect. This is because, by the mid 60s, and in reaction to the spread of TV, many US cinemas and cinema chains had adopted 1.85:1 as the standard presentation ratio due to its more “cinematic” appearance. For this reason, in 1965 Hammer’s film-makers would have been conscious that their films would be projected at 1.66:1 in the UK and 1.85:1 in the US, and would have taken account of this when framing their shots. Often full-frame prints would be sent out with projectionist’s notes describing how the film should be presented. Sometimes (more often in the US) the InterNegative would be hard matted, meaning that prints were subsequently created at the desired aspect ratio with no masking required in the theatre. So the upshot is that it’s perfectly acceptable to describe the OAR of Hammer’s films from the 1960s onwards as 1.85:1 in the US. In the UK, cinemas took much longer to convert to 1.85:1 projection, meaning that in the UK 1.66:1 was the OAR for the majority of Hammer’s titles other than those shot in scope.

For all our restored films not shot in some flavour of scope, we will be presenting them in the UK OAR of 1.66:1, which is not only both the original shooting ratio and the UK presentation OAR, but also the aspect ratio (other than full-frame “open matte”) which displays the maximum amount of the frame as shot (for many of our films for the very first time).

As an aside, when we were at one of our US restoration partners illuminate (fka HTV) we hung reels of the CinemaScope-shot RASPUTIN and viewed them unmatted. The full frame picture is ~2.55:1 with a marked concave effect at each side. Watching a camera pan unmatted made those in the room feel very queasy indeed, a horizontal motion-sickness if you will. Although it would be most unpleasant to watch the whole film like this, it’s remarkable how much extra information is contained at the left and right of the frame when not matted down to 2.35:1 (the film’s intended presentation ratio). We will however present as an extra a single reel mastered “open frame” so fans can compare the film “as shot” with the final presentation version.

For more on aspect ratios, visit Wikipedia here.

Hammer Blu-ray discs catalogued

Someone posted here suggesting a full list of Hammer Blu-ray releases from Hammer and all our partners. Anyway, here is such for English-Language territories. The catalogue codes are arbitrary and our own! For reviews, and to purchase, you know what to do… ;-) Let us know if we’ve missed any!

HM-BD-001 — PARANOIAC — Region Free (thanks Matthew Harrison for correction) – 2.35:1 — Eureka Entertainment (Universal) — July 2010

HM-BD-002 — VAMPIRE CIRCUS — Region A — 1.66:1 — Synapse Films (ITV) — December 2010

HM-BD-003 — THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH — Region Free (thanks Stuart Hall for correction) — 1.66:1 — Legend Films (Paramount Pictures) — May 2011

HM-BD-004 — THE VAMPIRE LOVERS — Region B — 1.85:1 — Shock Entertainment (MGM) — August 2011

HM-BD-005 — QUATERMASS AND THE PIT — Region B — 1.66:1 — StudioCanal — October 2011

HM-BD-006 — DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS — Region B — 2.35:1 — Hammer/StudioCanal CAT OPTBD 0634 — April 2012 (corrected pressing June 2012 CAT OPTBD 2472)

HM-BD-007 – THE PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES – Region B — 1.66:1 — Hammer/StudioCanal – June 2012

HM-BD-008 – THE REPTILE – Region B — 1.66:1 — Hammer/StudioCanal – June 2012

HM-BD-009 — TWINS OF EVIL — Region A — 1.66:1 — Synapse Films (ITV) – July 2012

HM-BD-010 — THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN — Region B — 1.37:1 — Hammer/Lionsgate/Icon — October 2012

HM-BD-011 — THE DEVIL RIDES OUT — Region B — 1.66:1 — Hammer/StudioCanal — October 2012

HM-BD-012 – THE MUMMY’S SHROUD – Region B — 1.66:1 — Hammer/StudioCanal — October 2012

HM-BD-013 – RASPUTIN THE MAD MONK – Region B — 2.35:1 — Hammer/StudioCanal — October 2012

HM-BD-014 — DRACULA — Region B — 1.66:1 — Hammer/Lionsgate/Icon — March 2013

Welcome!

We’re on LA time and it’s almost midnight, but here’s the very first post on the Hammer restoration blog!

We’re coming to the end of a highly productive two weeks in Los Angeles, in which we’ve been meeting with some of our US restoration partners: Warner Bros., Paramount Pictures, illuminate Hollywood (fka HTV) and Warner Bros. Motion Picture Imaging (MPI). In the US, we are also working closely with Twentieth Century Fox (Hammer’s original studio production partner on a raft of titles in the mid-to-late 1960s) and Thought Equity Motion, but there’s only so many hours in the day!

There’s plenty of exciting news from this trip and we’ll be posting a full report next week when we’re back in London.

Meanwhile, a few things to mention immediately:

Firstly, we have to thank StudioCanal for the exquisite job they did restoring QUATERMASS AND THE PIT. This benchmark title trailblazed the current Hammer restoration project in superb fashion. If you don’t have a copy, you should remedy that right now by clicking here.

Secondly, StudioCanal have recently announced their second restored Hammer title coming to Region B Blu-ray (on March 5th). This is the chilling DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS, restored at Pinewood from 2-perf cut negative, scanned and restored in 2k. DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS will be presented in all its Techniscope glory, in the original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. And if that isn’t enough, Pinewood have restored the original UK title cards to the film! On top of all that, official Hammer historian Marcus Hearn has produced an all-new half-hour documentary specially for this edition, featuring Barbara Shelley, Francis Matthews, Mark Gatiss, Jonathan Rigby and others. Click here to pre-order.

Thirdly, Hammer and StudioCanal are in the final stages of completing restoration on THE PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES and THE REPTILE at Pinewood. We’ll post a full report on this soon, with a fascinating in-depth look at the thorny subject of original aspect ratios (for those who care about that kind of thing!).

Finally, and for long-time Hammer fans maybe most importantly, we can exclusively announce that Hammer’s forthcoming “definitive” version of Terence Fisher’s 1958 Gothic masterpiece DRACULA will receive a World Premiere Screening on Saturday 18th February at 3pm at the flicker club as part of the VAULT festival in London. Tickets will be available online here and will go on sale soon.

Recently-discovered footage that was originally cut from the British version has been restored by Molinare to the BFI’s wonderful 2007 restoration courtesy of The National Film Center at The Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo. The Japanese footage features an extended and particularly gruesome death scene for Dracula, as well as a moment considered too erotic by the censors of the day.

In total, we will be restoring over 30 titles, and we plan to keep you up-to-date every step of the way, from material selection right the way through to release!

More soon…