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Monday, November 23, 2015

2 and 1/2 Years in The Making, 60 Years Getting Here on Blu-Ray

This Island Earth Arrives from German Galaxy

Albuquerque Hardtops Cede TIE To Outdoor Open
There's been fierce debate over a just-released German Blu-Ray of this sci-fi favorite, "Favorite" a relative term ones of certain age might affix, those well predating Star Wars and special fx strides to leave TIE among stores of antiquity. I'll cop to sentiment guiding my way, outer space explored on comic book terms much preferred to self-serious meditations that today define the genre. This Island Earth has death rays, saucers, buckets of color, all of what we'd call "eye candy" for lack of better descript. So now to the contested disc --- should you risk the cost, let alone shipping from overseas? To that I say mine is fine, proviso a tech ignorance that won't fully grasp bit rate, "single layer," aspects best not  confronted here. Agreed the transfer would be better if Universal revisited negs w/unlimited fund, but why wait on slim chance for that? Execs in charge were raised from Star Wars start-point at best (many would call SW primitive, in fact), modern consensus that sci-fi began there. We who cling onto This Island Earth are nigh unto pension and make up less meaningful a market per day. It says a lot that Euros must again be our benefactors where US classics are concerned. TIE looks better on German Blu-Ray than it has on any stateside disc, and that's all I need to know.

If Someone Sent You an Interocitor, Could You Build It?

This Island Earth was calculated risk by Universal in the mid-50's, being upgrade on science-fiction and outreach to an audience beyond monster-seekers. To hedge the bet and have something at least to advertise, there would be mutants (mu-tants, as Jeff Morrow calls them) among distant planet dwellers; otherwise This Island Earth was idea-oriented and didn't rush its jump from Earth to "Metaluna" and back again. As for U's risk being calculated, they surely knew fate of earlier sci-fi's that overspent, word out/around by 1954 that budgets must be kept down when dealing with far-flung content. Insight to then-reality comes courtesy Aubrey Solomon's book, Twentieth-Century Fox: A Company and Financial History, published in 1988, still in print, and part of the Scarecrow Filmmakers series. Solomon found memos that reflect how skittish the majors, at least cooler heads at Fox, could be when dealing with a genre where spending had to be kept in check ...

Writer Phillip Dunne brought Zanuck a "science-fiction adventure" story called Saber Tooth in 1952. They developed a screenplay over the next year before Samuel Fuller got involved to do another draft. By October 1954, Fox realized it had a project that would cost two, possibly three, million to produce. Zanuck regarded science-fiction as "basically "B" pictures," and felt Saber Tooth at estimated price might be too great a gamble. One of his execs called a Paramount contact to see how latter had done with War Of The Worlds, which by late '54 had played most of theatrical dates: "he told me the picture cost $1,600,000, and while it opened big, it soon fell off. It did fairly well abroad and they will make a slight profit. He asked me why I wanted the figures, and I (20th's Sid Rogell) told him we were considering a big science-fiction picture which may cost as much as $2,000,000. He (Paramount's Jack Karp) said he thought we must be nuts to even consider such a thing." Zanuck called off Saber Tooth and it never was made. The finished and approved screenplay is presumably still on file at Fox.

Next Question: If Someone Sent You a Space-O-Rain,
 Would You Wear It?

12/4/56: FJA Stands Ready To Serve
Your Out-Of-This-World Needs
Universal rolled dice and finished This Island Earth for release in 900 theatres over a month period beginning June 15, 1955. NY opener at the Broadway's Victoria had seen Earth reach $22K in a first three days (the week's total a "smash" $38K), unusually solid for sci-fi. Chicago's McVickers venue was concerned that Earth appeal would be mostly to "moppet trade" (Variety), and so tied-in with the Salerno Biscuit Co. to let in kiddies gratis so long as they brought a box-top plus Mom, Dad, or both, to buy an adult ticket. U-I and McVickers figured $8,000 in free advertising thanks to the cookie pitch, and opener week took $28K, another "smash," said trades. Subsequent play gave mixed result, "terrific in Detroit but limp in Baltimore," was Variety verdict for two of keys. The outer-spacer was oft-bedmate to U-I's Abbott and Costello Meet The Mummy, topping the bill for some sites, in support at others. Pay-out overall for This Island Earth ($1.7 million in domestic rentals, said Variety) wouldn't inspire follow-ups as ambitious, "weirdies" to come cheaper than what went before: The Deadly Mantis, The Mole People, and eventual stoppage of the series. MGM would be similarly burned on Forbidden Planet, cold truth suggesting that sci-fi should stick to basements. It stayed there another decade before 2001, Planet Of The Apes, others, initiated rehab and run-up to game-changer that was Star Wars.


Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Hard to imagine ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE MUMMY playing the top half of a double bill with this. As a kid when I saw A & C MEET THE MUMMY I felt let down. Not so with THIS ISLAND EARTH. I have a lot more to say. too much for this post. Google REG HARTT CINEFORUM for it and more great poster art from THIS ISLAND EARTH.

10:19 AM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Seems the lesson the majors took from the mid-fifties till late sixties was sci-fi needed the Jules Verne or H.G. Wells brand to nudge into A movie budgets. Or, in a couple of cases, Ray Bradbury. Pal's CONQUEST OF SPACE was another under performer that pretty much sealed that deal. THIS ISLAND EARTH is one of those odd items that's achieved classic status and yet is still sniggered at and parodied by many of its most ardent fans! Dan Akroyd says it was the inspiration for the Coneheads, and it was the somewhat surprising foundation for MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000: THE MOVIE.

Me, I love it, look forward to seeing it in Blu-Ray!

10:37 AM  
Blogger Brother Herbert said...

"This Island Earth has death rays, saucers, buckets of color, all of what we'd call 'eye candy' for lack of better descript."

These are precisely some of the reason(s) why it was chosen to be the sacrificial lamb for MST3K: THE MOVIE.

10:59 AM  
Blogger Brother Herbert said...

And in yet another sad coincidence:

11:04 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Someone at the time said that Universal required a color feature as basis for MST3K: THE MOVIE, and the MST3K team went along because otherwise ... no movie. Add fact, of course, that Universal owned This Island Earth. Does anyone recall how the 35mm prints of MST3K: THE MOVIE looked? I never wanted to see it, the idea of a wiseacre and robots ridiculing their betters not being one that appealed to me.

11:59 AM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

Some people sniggered when Stu Stock and I included TIE in our 1982 book, "Twenty All-Time Great Science Fiction Films." The truth is, the "mu-tants" and the Metaluna sequence sealed the deal for kids at the time. "War of the Satellites" has its low-budget charms, but TIE had space ships and war and color! A '50s kid would have wet his pants if the SF films of the day could have taken advantage of even a few of the SFX available to filmmakers of today.

1:34 PM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

Yikes! Available only in Region-B coding!

(Is Faith Domergue not one of the most beautiful actresses of the '50s?)

1:45 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

Have to confess, I was always a little disappointed with this one. Mainly because of the final reels: After all the buildup, we get what feels like a rushed tour of the embattled alien planet ("That was a recreational building"), with a single mutant and an almost perfunctory confrontation with the alien rulers (the idea of taking over Earth seems to come out of nowhere). The very end was effective, though.

My imaginary remake would either get them to the planet a lot sooner and play out more of the story there, or keep the whole thing on Earth, maybe importing a few mutants and having the nice guy alien sacrifice himself by intercepting the incoming invasion.

Don't remember if MST touched on this, but the white-haired aliens all reminded me of late-period Van Johnson. A nightmare episode of Fantasy Island.

1:49 PM  
Blogger James Corry said...

As John said: Don't wait for Universal to do a full restoration (fat chance on THAT....) of this film. Get the German blu-ray. Yes, it's Region B. Yes, it could look better (with a full restoration, which the film needs/deserves), but, barring a miracle, this is the best version we're going to get.

8:59 AM  
Blogger Dave K said...

I did see MST3K: THE MOVIE in the theater and remember thinking they didn't knock themselves out to make EARTH's picture quality match the new stuff. You could rationalize that they wanted it to look like an old movie but, of course, the original MST3K was at its best when the movies were at their worst, so the whole enterprise was kinda flat.

9:14 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

About five minutes of any MST3K is usually enough for me, although I will say they sometimes get off some clever lines.

9:26 AM  
Blogger john k said...

I am totally underwhelmed by the German Blu-Ray-color way off in parts and
a very user "unfriendly" menu.
Despite disabling German subs they do pop up from time to time.
This Blu-Ray is nowhere near high def versions of old Universal flicks from
top notch German imprints Explosive Media,Koch Media and Anolis.
We may not have to wait too long for a top notch restoration,Elephant in France
have THIS ISLAND EARTH slotted for 2016...I am betting this will be on Blu Ray.
Elephant are doing great work,no "forced" subs very user friendly menus and wonderful
transfers. Recently got their Blu-Rays of SON OF FRANKENSTEIN and FRANKENSTEIN MEETS
THE WOLF MAN and they are jaw dropping!
Also for 2016 Elephant have promised a whole raft of Universal Horrors,and at last
THE CREATURE WALKS AMONG US on Blu Ray.Elephant have an on-going deal with Universal
and have many old favorites in the pipeline,including NIGHT PASSAGE which hopefully
will be a Blu Ray release.
Returning to German Blu Ray's the recent Turbine Media release (DVD/Blu Combo)
of Universal's Invisible Man films gets my highest recommendation (includes the
A & C entry)Top notch transfers lovely packaging and ain't cheap
but worth every penny.

9:31 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

It would be great if Elephant releases Universal's 3D Classics on Blu-ray. I have field sequential versions of IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE and REVENGE OF THE CREATURE and the Sensio DVD of TAZA, SON OF COCHISE. All are great. Seeing Monument Valley in color and 3D is dynamic.

When MGM released Kubrick's 2001, A SPACE ODYSSEY word at the time in the industry was that Kubrick had sunk MGM by making a near silent film with classical music instead of "science fiction" music for a score.

By forcing MGM to charge more for 2001 than was charged for standard films Kubrick ensured that the public viewed his film not as kiddie fare but as a film for adults.

The film went into theaters and just stayed there. MGM had nickel and dimed on the color not expecting the film to last as long as it did with the result that the color faded drastically during the run.

As for the music, I got the cd of the Alex North score MGM forced Kubrick to create. North was shocked when he went to the premiere and found out not a note of what he wrote had been used. He completely missed how integral the music Kubrick chose is to the film.

THIS ISLAND EARTH and FORBIDDEN PLANET should both have been released at a higher ticket to establish that they were not kiddie fare.

10:24 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer was among those lucky enough to see "This Island Earth" theatrically:

"This Island Earth" was another film that I saw at a "kiddie matinee" and a favorite. I loved the way the mystery was developed, with unusual electronic devices being delivered or the plans for an "interocitor," all very strange and yet not far out of the ordinary. For a boy playing with a plug in electronic boards or a dad tuning in the signal of Sputnik on a short wave radio, this was something that could happen tomorrow. It was a door opening to the story and I gladly walked in. Possibly Metaluna didn't quite justify the buildup, but I was aware only of a kind of tragic grandeur to the ending of the film.

As an adolescent, I encountered it from time to time on television and always appreciated it for its humanity and solid scripting, and for the clever way the story was developed. I knew what was on the other side of the door now but never regretted retracing my steps. Later, I also developed a better understanding of Forrest J Ackerman's exhortation to "keep the Faith." Certainly I would have, had the opportunity ever presented itself.

Much, much later, I went into Philadelphia to see the MST3K re-release, partly because I loved MST3K and partly because I still enjoyed "This Island Earth" and wanted to see it on a big screen again. It was not a very happy marriage, however. Mike and the 'bots were a distraction--this was a very different attraction than they'd usually be subjected to on the Satellite of Love--and though the film was cut down and the print soft and faded, they should have just settled down and enjoyed it.

I don't think that I'd have any trouble doing so, even now.

12:28 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer adds more on movie-going during the late 50's and into the 60's:

The theaters I went to growing up in the Levittowns of Pennsylvania and New Jersey offered Saturday matinee programs heavy with science fiction films. There would also be a few westerns or offerings from the evening show, if they were suitable for a juvenile audience and the theater had a big tab to cover (such as "The Alamo" or "Spartacus"). I also saw a couple of Abbott and Costellos ("Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy" and "Abbott and Costello Meet the Keystone Cops") and a Jungle Jim. Almost all the films, however, were major studio productions, usually two or three years after their original release, with a smattering of Japanese rubber monster pictures tossed in (though to my discerning mind, even then, they could just as easily have been tossed out).

Those theaters were run by the regional Fox organization, and what neither of them showed at matinees were horror films. That type of show was strictly off the program. The closest they came was with "The Blob," and that proved too intense for the kiddies who'd come in with their mothers to watch "Ma and Pa Kettle at Home," the first half of what was a double feature. The steady diet of Hammer horrors you were ingesting was entirely unknown to me and probably why I found pictures like "Frankenstein" and even "Face of Marble" so unnerving when I encountered them for the first time on television. Had I been able to see "Children of the Damned" in early 1964, it would have been at the Mount Holly Theater, which was where I later saw a double feature of "Five Weeks in a Balloon" and "The Head" on the last public celebration of my birthday. "The Head" would certainly have been considered unsuitable at either of the Fox theaters.

Why, then, were you immersed in blood and gore at the Liberty in North Carolina and I was spared? Maybe it's related to why I wasn't able to see "Children of the Damned." The commercials I'd seen for it were weird and fascinating and my friend Andy and I were all set for the show, when my mother got a call from Andy's mother that morning. Of course, that never bodes well, when mothers get together like that. It seemed that the film was on the Roman Catholic Church's condemned list, apparently for good reason, and though my own family was a Lutheran one, that was that.

So possibly there was a strong Roman Catholic presence where I lived, which mitigated against what would be shown, if it was horrific, and possibly this was a lingering expression of the power the Church enjoyed when it made Hollywood get serious about enforcing the Production Code with its boycott of the Warner theaters in Philadelphia in 1934. Or as Joseph Breen chortled at the time, Harry Warner wept tears "as big as turds" when he saw the box office returns from Philadelphia and begged the Church for mercy.

I still believe, however, that your mother would have removed you from the theater during "The Flesh Eaters," had you ever been able to see it. Even with what she did let you go to, that one would have been a little too grim.

NOTE FROM JOHN: Dan's mention of "The Flesh Eaters" arises from a recent screening when he was down to visit. It was the first time anyone in our group of four had seen it. All agreed that here was a show unjustly ignored, if not reviled --- much better than we expected, and surely a scare-maker for those lucky enough to be there in 1964 when "The Flesh Eaters" came out.

8:19 AM  
Blogger James Corry said...

This is for John Knight: John where do you find "Elephant Video"? I've looked all over the 'net and I can't find it anywhere. From your comments about the Universal horror films of the 40's I'd love to be able to get these! I wonder where their HD transfers came from? Anyway, any info. re: Elephant Video would be welcome!

12:47 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer tempers initial enthusiasm for "The Flesh Eaters":

Did I give my endorsement to "The Flesh Eaters"?

Well, maybe I did, but it was a highly qualified one.

The story was trash and the holes in it were laughably large. Or perhaps it would be better to say that the plot was as substantial as the mooring of that seaplane before the storm.

What I will grant, however, is that this film was no mere bomb of the Dwain Esper or Edward D. Woods variety. That awful script had some clever touches in it, the photography was first rate, deep and sharp, the visual compositions were often very imaginative, and the acting was actually pretty good, especially by Rita Morley as the wash-up actress, and a lot better than the picture deserved. I understand that she was very active on the soaps that were telecast live from New York at the time.

And that girl who opened the picture was awfully pretty.

I don't know that I'd want to see it again--maybe the first five minutes--because it was rather grim, but I don't think anyone who got to see it in 1964 went away disappointed. It made its promises and delivered on them.

Unfortunately, we may have to have another go, if we want to really see it. I understand that there is a scene of nude girls being pushed into a tank of the critters during an atrocious Nazi experiment, and that the ending was actually in color.


8:15 AM  
Blogger john k said...

For The Attention Of James Corry.......

Hi James,

Elephant Films Website is

They seem to have some sort of deal with Universal whereby if Universal can supply
a high-def master they will issue a blu ray,otherwise it's a DVD only release.

As mentioned before the Blu-Ray's of the two Frankenstein films are top-notch.

For early 2016 they have announced DARCULA'S DAUGHTER,SON OF DRACULA and HOUSE
OF DRACULA...these will be on blu-ray if Universal supply high def masters.

Elephant used to mainly be a TV series box set outfit but now have concentrated
more and more on features.

I should imagine their 2016 release of THIS ISLAND EARTH will be from a new
high def master supplied from Universal

It's worth bearing in mind that Universal are rumored to be preparing
UNIVERSAL MONSTERS 2 which should include all their second string monster hits.
It's just that at my time in life I'm not prepared to wait.

10:34 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Craig Reardon has done a careful analysis of "This Island Earth" on Blu-Ray, and generously supplies this detailed report (Part One):

Hi John and Interested Parties!

I got my copy of "This Island Earth" as well as "A Matter of Life and Death" from Germany today. I looked at both, and have some opinions to express in a general spirit of goodwill and movie loving enthusiasm. Robert A. Harris, the distinguished motion picture restorationist, has recently likened digital restoration of movies to principles the venerable Adobe Photoshop offers for the restoration of still pictures. I'm quite experienced using Photoshop and I think it gives me an opportunity to understand why some Blu-rays work so well and others don't. This doesn't make my opinions authoritative, so with those admissions, I'll continue!

A lot of people must love "This Island Earth" as much as I do, to have pitched in and bought this same Blu-ray from Ostalgica of Germany, and I can now understand the divided opinions. Even my own opinion is divided! The thing has a mixture of vices and virtues, but personally, I strongly I think they all trace directly to the transfer Universal must have provided them with, versus malfeasance on the part of the German home video company. I think they're nevertheless catching a good portion of hell for that, but unfairly. But it's a gut feeling. Ostalgica includes among the "Bonus" features a gallery of imagery including old posters and lobby cards from America and other countries in color, plus production stills. Most of these look to be accurate in color and are razor sharp. I don't know of course, but why would this be the case when the feature itself is not as crisp and well-defined, unless it was because the transfer file they were provided by Universal had those defects inherent within it? This transfer is frankly out of date. I mean it's not up to HD standards, especially as they've evolved over the past several years. The least of its problems, first of all, is the color. Many scenes and individual shots are vivid and more than adequate, and yet as many others are suddenly pallid and substandard. The randomness with which this occurs suggests it's simply due to the print source. I was initially inclined to conclude that these irregularities were all in the print Universal used as its source when they made this transfer, and that they did very little or nothing to attempt a full digital restoration when they did. I even figured the transfer employed on this Blu-ray is the same one used for the previous DVD. However, then I got out my copy of Universal's own DVD of "This Island Earth" dating back about ten years. I discovered it is nearly identical to an encoding included on the Blu-ray in 4:3 AR. The DVD is in full frame and among other things it shows evidence of a lot of print wear reproduced in the transfer. The copy on the German Blu-ray, same thing. When I switched back to the 1:78 AR option, it was immediately apparent that almost all the print wear so apparent in the 4:3 version is absent in the widescreen version here. This may have additional pertinence as regards the overall image quality. The thing that bothers me most about this transfer is that it has a somewhat posterized look, often indicative of a very low bit rate. As a result, it doesn't appear to strongly benefit from being encoded in HD. Bit rates seem confusing 'till you realize it's merely a matter of the glass being half empty.

6:18 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Part Two from Craig Reardon:

If you do a transfer of any piece of film, for example an old 35mm slide or negative, and you set the scanner to record at a certain number of pixels, or dpi (dots per inch), or lines (horizontal) of resolution--the usual methods of measurement--you're going to get a 'file' that will reflect the numbers you specified. If you specify small, even puny numbers, something in the kilobyte area rather than megabyte (KB vs. MB), you automatically limit the size your image can be viewed at before deteriorating. If you were to use thousands of little tiles to recreate a loved one's face, versus only a few hundred, you would expect the larger number to create an image that is smoother and more accurate. That's exactly the case with scans that record at higher bit rates, each 'bit' of information being analogous to a color tile in a mosaic. If you use a very small or stingy bit rate, i.e., fewer "tiles"--pixels, in this case--it will only look decent if seen at a quite-small enlargement, or, on a small display (like a small TV screen versus a big screen.) Otherwise, you will begin to perceive the individual 'tiles', or pixels; and the actual pixel constructions themselves will become apparent to you, and will look jagged and rough. That's what I see in this transfer when I walk right up to my 4K TV and look something such as the actors moving and talking in medium close-up or wider shots. I will admit that no Blu-rays nor movies benefit from being viewed from inches away! But mediocre scans like this one will seem much rougher seen from close distance, versus higher-quality scans. Tight closeups always fare better because they're simply using all the pixels in that lower bit rate to construct a face, vs. wider shots where an entire body, film set, or landscape is portrayed, and where that same fixed number of pixels is going to be stretched too far to render everything smoothly and accurately. I found that watching this HD encoding of "This Island Earth" was generally unsatisfying due to this. However, this is the right juncture to return to the one strongest discrepancy between the 4:3 version and the 1:78 version, that being the predominance of print damage in the full frame and the virtual absence of it in the widescreen. It's more than possible that a DNR (digital noise reduction) program was applied to the widescreen reformatting, presumably done by Universal on the cheap. This sort of pushbutton software provides the desired result of rinsing away the scratches and dings and dust, but it often takes away desirable elements along with them, such as fine detail. The odd thing here is that there still appears to be authentic looking grain in the picture, and yet it's somewhat posterized and digital-looking in spite of it. Ultimately, not knowing what's been done and by whom, you can only speculate.

6:19 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Part Three from Craig Reardon:

However, I don't think it's merely a matter of my own opinion that this marvelous and bold 1950's sci-fi gem deserves a proper modern scan which will capture what's on Universal's surviving film materials without compression of any sort, which would ideally require a 4K scan. Then, working from this, they should do a proper restoration: banishing any print or negative damage, and amplifying the color where necessary to its original and accurate (even if, by the standards of the 1950s, frequently somewhat garish) levels, but certainly all at a consistent level. The picture is still in copyright and only Universal can do this an do it properly. As far as the indication of this version originating in what would nowadays be considered an inadequate scan at an inadequate bit rate, and one which appears to have bypassed a critical restoration, whenever it was done, it isn't necessarily even a matter of the the age of the original film itself, but one of other factors known only to the Universal home video division. In support of this theory of mine, I bought Universal's Blu-ray of "Weird Science" some months ago, a movie I originally worked on and which dates from 1984--still, a full thirty years 'younger' than "This Island Earth". And I assure you all that it looks relatively similar in regards to the indifferent processing and lack of digital sweetening, and even more similar in the sense you get that it was compressed vs benefiting from full resolution of the original film materials. I'm convinced that this Blu-ray of "Weird Science" therefore also derives from an old transfer--and quite possibly the one it was given all the way back in the '80s for the film's earliest home video appearances on VHS and laser disc. I'm going to bet that both these transfers were originally made so that they were just able to look well on DVD, which has about the same resolution as laser discs had: 480 horizontal lines, vs. the earliest HD standard of 1080 horizontal lines of 2K resolution--which is still the maximum resolution Blu-ray discs typically employ. Those owning the Blu-ray discs of such magnificently restored and encoded titles as "The Ten Commandments", "Lawrence of Arabia", or Universal's own new restoration of "Spartacus" know that those 1080 lines are fully capable of conveying a breathtaking picture to your TV display. So it's a combination of an good, uncompressed transfer, a suitable restoration, and an encoding by the licensing video arm which maximizes the bit rate available on the disc, vis-a-vis the file of the movie.

It seems to be getting better all the time, but at least for awhile even many of the major studios didn't seem to anticipate the future of home video quality. I'll withhold his name, but a respected film historian I know who's consulted on many excellent film transfers told me that when Disney--which has the money--years ago transferred several great titles from the library of David O. Selznick that they now own through their connection with ABC, they obtained beautiful transfers restoring the vibrant color to such Technicolor titles such as "The Garden of Allah", "Duel in the Sun", and "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer"---BUT! For some bean-counting reason they would NOT authorize 1080 scans! Therefore all these titles were scanned at the miserly rate of 480 lines and brought to DVD video accordingly, with nothing there to upgrade to HD. This frustrating approach, and yet Disney subsequently poured millions into brilliant scans and restorations of most of their own beloved classic titles on Blu-ray disc.

6:20 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Part Four and Conclusion from Craig Reardon:

Versus the mysterious shortcomings of the Blu-ray of "This Island Earth", the Blu-ray of "A Matter of Life and Death" is something else again. To begin with, it's a moderately fair comparison w/ "This Island Earth" if only because this particular Powell and Pressburger classic is not in pluperfect, flawless condition, unlike the final versions of the stunning resurrections done for P & P's "The Red Shoes", "Black Narcissus", and "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp", all via participation of Martin Scorsese's Film Foundation. I may be wrong, but I don't think the Film Foundation has been involved with the restoration, such as it is, of "...Life and Death". I think Sony, which owns the title, did it in house. I wish someone would correct me if they know differently. That said, this movie looks relatively fantastic on Blu-ray. This suggests to me that the file of the picture is a fat one and that it was adequately encoded on the Blu-ray, so the end result is that we see something very film-like, not something plagued with obvious compression artifacts like the transfer of "This Island Earth" (or "Weird Science", for that matter.) The Technicolor looks convincingly generic, i.e., like 3-strip Technicolor looks when you see a well-preserved print, gorgeous---and I once did see such a print projected of this picture. The wear visible in the film on Blu-ray is nowhere near enough to negatively affect the overall experience, due to the large bit rate and good looks of the film. This is more what we've come to expect as the norm in excellent film presentation on Blu-ray. Yet, here's an interesting point. I consulted the technical readout option on my Oppo video player and compared the bit rate of the "Matter of Life and Death" Blu-ray, credited to a German home video company called Epix (and Britain's ITV), with the rate on "This Island Earth". Result? Virtually identical, in fact often favoring "This Island Earth". This is why I suspect Universal's supplied file to be the culprit behind fan dissatisfaction with aspects of "This Island Earth", versus Ostalgica's encoding or presentation.

I might add that although I agree Ostalgica's menu is a bit counterintuitive, I did not ever experience having the soundtrack default to German, nor to seeing subtitles pop up unbidden. So that's good. Once I selected English for the soundtrack it not only provided the English soundtrack but also changed the main titles from German to English as in the original.

I hope what the fan who wrote Glenn Erickson says about Elephant Films of France is true: that they are acquiring new rescans of the '50s U-I sci-fi / horror gems. I'm very pleased with the B & W U-I sci-fi's, but I'd happily re-purchase "This Island Earth" in an improved version...and why not? After all, I've already re-purchased everything in my home video library, at least two times! I'm glad now I skipped VHS collecting, but I began back with laser discs, moved to DVDs, and then fell under the spell of HD and Blu-ray. When the holding companies upgrade any of my favorites, I'm a goner--I have to have it!


6:21 PM  
Blogger James Corry said...

Got the info. John Knight, thanks!!


9:38 AM  
Blogger john k said...

The master for the German Blu-Ray of THIS ISLAND EARTH was supplied by
Hollywood Classics. They are a UK based company who supply films to everywhere
but the USA of titles from Universal,MGM/UA and Fox among others.
Lately the trend seems to be with European companies dealing with the major
studios direct.
Koch Media in Germany seem to have been dealing direct with Universal for some time.
Elephant are also dealing direct with Universal and the correct Universal logo
and intro appears on all their Universal DVD's and Blu Ray's.
I might add that there is a fair bit of "sparkle" on the Elephant Blu Ray of
FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN but I don't mind that at all-it's a very great
improvement over the DVD.
SON OF FRANKENSTEIN is pretty much imperfection free.
I have e-mailed Mr Erickson regarding my opinions of THIS ISLAND EARTH and
mentioned how good the Elephant Blu-Ray's are.
I sincerely hope Elephant's 2016 version of NIGHT PASSAGE will be on Blu Ray as
that film is perfect for the format.
It also seems Elephant have other Universal Horrors lined up including The Mummy
films with the A & C entry which I hope will be on Blu Ray.
Sidonis in France have entered into a deal with Sony and have a whole raft
of Columbia Westerns slated for 2016-17
These include GUNFIGHTERS (1947) the only Randolph Scott Columbia Western
not available on DVD.
Sadly Sidonis DVD's have "forced" French subtitles that cannot be removed
by your DVD remote.
Explosive Media are another top-notch German imprint who are dealing with Sony
direct. Their recent Blu-Ray of the Euro Western A MAN CALLED SLEDGE is simply
sensational. For 2016 hopefull they will release Boetticher's wonderful
It's been rumored that Koch are dealing with Sony direct as well and
Boetticher's RIDE LONESOME is also up with the Blu Ray treatment in 2016.
These CinemaScope Westerns look amazing in high-def.
It seems to me that the Ostalgica Blu Ray was sourced from a master lurking
in Hollywood Classics "dead dog files" and I am convinced that the Elephant
version will be from a brand new HD master.

9:50 AM  
Blogger James Corry said...

Sounds like good news John (Knight)! It is a shame though, I feel, that we must buy/obtain these wonderful films from a European botique label. These films should be made available here in the States for a wider audience. How many people besides die-hard collectors are going to bother to seek out (or even have any knowledge of) a company such as "Elephant Video"? If major companies such as Sony/Columbia and Universal are sub-licensing these films to companies overseas, they could/should license them to companies such as "Twilight Time" and "Kino Lorber" or some other domestic company who would reach a wider buying public. But, on the other hand, I guess we should be grateful for getting anything at all......the studios could just as well sit on these assets and not do anything with them.......


10:29 AM  
Blogger MMM said...

Appreciated the review of the DVD, which I will be purchasing. Just got done updating my music notes regarding THIS ISLAND EARTH's score for the future McFarland book, "Universal Terrors, Volume 1," which will cover Universal-International's science fiction/horror scores from 1951 - 1955. The second volume will cover that studio's sci-fi/horror scores from 1956 - 1960. We expect these two books, which are mainly written by Tom Weaver, to be as good as 2014's "The Creature Chronicles." For those who aren't aware, our Monstrous Movie Music label did a complete re-recording of THIS ISLAND EARTH's classic score over a decade ago, composed largely by my friend Herman Stein, with minor assistance from Hans J. Salter and Henry Mancini. I have some of the original mono music tracks from THIS ISLAND EARTH, taken from Herman's own reel, but too many details of this amazing score have not survived the ravages of time, not to mention the dubbing process in getting the music from Universal to Stein all those decades ago. - David Schecter

9:25 PM  

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