RASPUTIN cannot be killed!

It’s been a while since we posted! We’ve been busy finalising the StudioCanal UK releases of THE PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES and THE REPTILE. Marcus Hearn has worked his magic yet again and the new documentaries for these titles are truly excellent! Also, as many of you have pointed-out in various posts here and elsewhere, these two films, unlike DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS, were shot 35mm 4-perf, so the film grain has proven much easier to work with in digital space than the much larger grain of a 2-perf Techniscope negative. We’re very pleased with how they turned-out and we sincerely hope you like them!

This week we reviewed the raw 4k scan of THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, in addition to a D3 tape from the BBC of their legacy broadcast version of the title. As we tweeted yesterday, sadly the raw 4k scan does not include either the Close-Up of the eyeball or any additional footage from the acid bath scene, however the D3 does contain the CU of the eyeball. Although the results may not prove successful, we are going to perform a test on upscaling the D3 footage to HD in order to see how it integrates into the 2k restoration from the 4k scan. We’ll let you know how we get on!

And now on to the most exciting news! On Monday we reviewed the final grade of the RAPSUTIN restoration at illuminate Hollywood (they grade first and restore second). They’ve done a terrific job with the raw 4k scan which they created in January (from the 35mm 4-perf CinemaScope Interpositive or I/P). Firstly they attended to some printer flashes (from the printer that created the I/P from the cut Original Camera Negative) and sprocket jumps (caused by the edit joins in the cut neg). Then, based on conversations two weeks ago during which we established the colour palette and contrast parameters, the colourist created a truly gorgeous grade, with rich, earthy peasant browns, Imperial whites, golds, blues & greens and the classic Hammer Technicolor reds of costumes, stained-glass and blood. We also made the decision to wield a very soft touch over a key day-for-night sequence (which appears to have been shot in full daylight) leaving all the detail visible and very deliberately not “crushing” the blacks in a vain attempt to fake these into appearing as night-time scenes. And to any fans worried about grain, you’ll be pleased to hear that we have retained the original grain throughout, only applying very light reduction at a couple of moments to dimly-lit frame elements which were distractingly noisy (and neither of these feature cast).

Again, as we tweeted, one of the most remarkable aspects of watching the film without audio (apart, of course, from Lee’s mesmerising Rasputin) is the extraordinary power of Barbara Shelly’s performance. In story terms, and just as in DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS (as noted in Rev. Peter Laws’ perceptive review of the film in this month’s issue of “Fortean Times”) it is Shelley’s character, Sonia, who travels the farthest, enabling the actress to showcase the extraordinary range of her emotional authenticity. Both Helen and Sonia are genuinely tragic characters, but the supernatural, archetypal mythology that underpins the DRACULA narrative at least allows Helen some form of redemption. Sonia gains no such peace in life or death, rendering her arc tragic in the original Greek sense. This makes it even more frustrating that we are close to accepting that the footage of her suicide, if indeed it was ever filmed, is lost forever (although we are still pursuing a couple of avenues).

The other element that stood out in terms of the “lost” footage is a smouldering log, which suddenly appears on the stone floor toward the end of the mortal struggle between Rasputin and Ivan (Francis Matthews) – a clear indication that there is definitely footage missing from this final fight (again, we think lost forever, though the same avenues apply).

Finally, as mentioned in our original post below, we are planning – bandwidth and release-partner permitting – two full versions of the entire film: one in 2.35:1 as originally intended, and one in the full-width aspect ratio of 2.55:1, to enable fans to see, for the very first time, the entire frame, as shot, throughout the entire film (call it the ultimate extra!).

We’ll post again soon in more detail regarding our hunt for “lost” footage across all the titles listed below in our original post regarding…

DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS — smoke & horrors

As we discussed on this blog previously, DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS was filmed in Techniscope aka 2-perf, which utilises only half the frame of a standard 35mm film cell in order to create a 2.35:1 image without the expense of anamorphic lenses and by using half the amount of film stock one would use shooting full-frame 35mm.

The center sequence in the opening flashback scene of the film is from the 4-perf negative of DRACULA aka HORROR OF DRACULA. That film was shot on the full 35mm frame and intended to be screened at 1.66:1. To make it all fit together, the filmmakers reduced the size of the flashback scene from DRACULA and added a diamond-shaped smoke-effect mask. The result is that there’s a real issue with the grain: it is very tight and crowded due to the shrinking of the 1.66:1 image. In addition, the overlay of the larger and more exaggerated grain of the 2-perf smoke effect creates all sorts of problems once the image is digitised and compressed. The problem we faced when encoding is that the overall composited picture in this scene had marked white noise and very distracting movement where the MPEG-4 (Blu-ray/HD) encode struggles to keep up with the grain in the film. The DVNR used on this scene (definitely not a blanket filter across the entire film as previously posted) resolved this issue, albeit with some “posterization”. On balance it was felt that this was the lesser of two evils.

However, so many of you have commented about this scene, that we, along with StudioCanal, decided to see if there was another way to filter and encode the picture. We did some research and have found an alternate encoding software package that will enable us better to tweak the opening sequence and create an improved encode. We have already completed several tests, and although it’s not perfect (it never could be, due to the workflow from 2-perf OCN to encoded Blu-ray) we feel that we have obtained a better result with less posterization. StudioCanal will replace this scene on the revised discs (with sound synch corrections) which will be available in April. We hope you like it!