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Monday, July 29, 2019

Sci-Fi Favorites With Bells On

War Of The Worlds and This Island Earth Never Had It So Good

Watched both these as fresh transfers, War on TCM, Earth a new-released Blu-Ray. Neither have looked better … ever. War of the Worlds is long venerated by my age group. Paramount had it back in theatres during the mid-sixties, leased to NBC for 2-21-67 broadcast, then did new ad accessories for a 1977 combo with When Worlds Collide aimed at theatres drunk on Star Wars and kin. Earlier upgrade for War of the Worlds exposed wires to hoist up Martian spacecraft, a trauma to some who didn’t like fx tricks laid bare. Latest tweak restores the illusion by erasing 53’s flaw, which wasn’t evident then due to IB Tech prints softer than dead-sharp imagery we are heir to. I can enjoy War, wires or no, being not a purist one way or the other. What pleases me is less movie magic than how Paramount creates a 50’s sound stage other-worldliness of theatre fronts (Samson and Delilah is playing, so why do townfolk bother about saucers landing nearby?), a campground with fire and tents where you can feel walls around Gene Barry and companions, then a square dance flavored by hot dogs and way of life that won’t be back. No wonder space invaders wanted us in 1953, life so serene as it appears to be here.

This Island Earth has a trick I never expected to see/hear on Blu-Ray, Perspecta sound, an ersatz stereo where voices could be heard from left or right according to player placement, a neat trick even if it won’t achieve high-fidelity as practiced by 20th Fox in their multi-track releases. Perspecta was used by Paramount, MGM, Universal, others, as cheap alternative to true stereo. Theatres got a decoder to play back Perspecta as recorded on otherwise ordinary soundtracks. The Liberty had Perspecta, probably before stereo (MGM was enhancing tracks to some of their cartoons in the early 50’s), but the control panel, which looked like an elaborate ham radio, was put to storage and left there even unto the mid-70’s when I came upon it and wondered what-heck “Perspecta” was. There was a collector I met in the mid-80’s who put me wise. Turns out it was a simple process … you could get gear from Radio Shack and build your own decoder, so he said, not reckoning with my utter lack of tech skill. What perked ears was Michael’s assurance that any 16mm print of a Perspecta release that had a variable density track would play back with separated sound, provided you had a decoder. So here I apparently was with 16mm tracks I could bounce all over the room, only rub being lack of a device to rightly do it. Being not science-geek enough to construct that, I let Perspecta remain the stuff of collecting dreams. Now that comes true thanks to effort of master minds Jack Theakston, Greg Kintz, and Bob Furmanek, their study, then application, of Perspecta enabling us to experience the process anew after sixty-five years. This Island Earth is available from Shout! Factory, War Of The Worlds had on Blu-Ray and even 4K.


Blogger coolcatdaddy said...

Perspecta was a cleaver solution for using a mono optical track for simulated stereo. It used low frequency tones as a control track to direct the sound left, right, or center, with a notch filter to keep the control tones from going out to the theater's speaker system.

Perspecta was also used in several Japanese movies - Criterion remastered Kurosawa's "Yojimbo", "Sanjuro", and "The Hidden Fortress" with the original Perspecta tracks on an alternate 3 channel track on the blu-ray.

6:58 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Did not know that about Criterion. Kudos to them!

7:37 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

I first saw WAR OF THE WORLDS in a theatre in the 1960s. Half way through the movie a restaurant next door to the cinema caught fire. The theatre had to be evacuated. Talk about realism.

8:06 AM  
Blogger Matthew Clark said...

Nice still from This Island Earth. Faith Domergue said in an interview, that the jumpsuit she had to wear in these scenes was so tight, that she just didn't bother with any underwear.

12:14 PM  
Blogger James Abbott said...

While most opt for Forbidden Planet (or War of the Worlds), I think This Island Earth is the real Fifties science fiction masterpiece.

1:50 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

The only movies I ever heard my father talk about seeing on their original release were "The Scoundrel", "Island of Lost Souls", "International House", and "War of the Worlds". It had a big effect on him.

3:10 PM  
Blogger William Ferry said...

I think the Perspecta logo appears on some Scope Tom and Jerry cartoons IIRC.

4:17 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

Opportunistic re-releases took a new shape in the video era. Big new movies were often anticipated by VHS and DVD editions of earlier takes on the same material. Many were the usual PD titles repackaged yet again. Some were newly made knockoffs of whatever Disney was doing. But some big players opened their vaults.

I'm not sure we would have gotten VCI's restored Green Hornet serials without the big-budget comedy reboot; likewise Warner's Nancy Drew programmers or a fresh release of the Moore-Silverheels Lone Ranger movies. When Universal rolled out sets of the classic monsters, they were tied to the launch of a hoped-for Van Helsing franchise. We may not see the deceptive packaging of years past, but whatever's big today can't help but influence what gets brought up from the basement.

No matter that many grabbed the tails of falling bombs instead of comets. I got a shelf load of what had been largely unavailable or overpriced.

4:34 PM  
Blogger Brother Herbert said...


Many pre-Scope Tom & Jerrys carry the Perspecta logo too. From the Tom & Jerry filmography page on Wikipedia:

"[...] Many pre-1952 cartoons were reissued with Perspecta Sound, which was introduced in 1954. MGM also reissued its cartoons before the introduction of Perspecta Sound. Because of the 1965 MGM vault fire, original film elements of pre-1952 MGM cartoons are now lost, leaving only the backup prints in existence (usually the altered reissue prints), although some prints survived, like pencil sketches."

And here is Cartoon Research's notes on MGM cartoon reissues and Perspecta:

5:32 PM  
Blogger bufffilmbuff said...

I have seen the Perspecta Sound credit on most MGM films from '53 or so on until around 1960. It apparently did not mean some of these shows did not have true 4 track mag stereo sound as well. I remember seeing an ad for a Brooklyn showing of GIGI which says it was it "True stereophonic sound" so someone must have gotten wise to Perspecta---and there is a credit for it on GIGI's title cards. I watched THIS ISLAND EARTH on the blu ray last weekend and enjoyed it though the sound movement seemed a bit gimmicky... though real stereo releases of the time did have directional dialog and effects. There is apparently a 4K restoration of WAR OF THE WORLDS available for streaming, I think on ITUNES, which according to posts on Home Theater Forum is even better than that shown on TCM. Isn't it great that people like Jack Theakston and Bob Furmanek are bringing us these tech marvels from the fifites? They deserve an Oscar.

11:10 PM  
Blogger stinky fitzwizzle said...

Matthew Clark, now Stinky finally has a reason to watch This Island Earth!

11:47 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Read the book. Find out what the movie could have been. It's good however like a lot of movies it could have been so much better:

6:53 AM  
Blogger MikeD said...

Looks like they used Faith Domergue's keister as the model for the Metaluna guy's head.

8:09 AM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

Stinky: You mean Faith Domergue, right? Gr-r-r, Ruf-f-f!

This Island Staten.

9:27 AM  
Blogger stinky fitzwizzle said...

Beowulf: Yes.

The Beowulf, Man

6:29 PM  
Blogger radiotelefonia said...

I really hate WAR OF THE WORLDS. I remember seeing it with some enthusiasm along with other friends when it was announced on a broadcast TV channel. The thing that got me, and my friends, upset was the abrupt ending that, even if it does make some sense, it feel like a big anticlimax even though things like that actually happen in our real lives as well.

2:11 PM  
Blogger J. Theakston said...

As usual, I'm late to the party, but glad you enjoyed the Perspecta track, John. It was a lot of work, but the lion's share of the credit really ought to go to Greg Kintz, who did the final mastering and all the technical wizardry that was necessary for this to even happen. We had a heck of a lot of trouble getting the thing to work (contrary to some "experts," decoding the system properly isn't so easy), but the end result was truly worth it, as THIS ISLAND EARTH is one of the system's more aggressive mixes.

An interesting tangent about Perspecta—it was developed by Bob Fine and "Red" Eberenz at Fine Recording, Inc. in New York. Loews Inc. (as well as Paramount) sunk a considerable amount of money into the system, but on the West Coast, MGM was looking at other options. Red related a story to me that Douglas Shearer was trying to push for the ERPI stereo system––three variable density tracks in the space of one––and that at the press screening for Perspecta Loews put on, Shearer had his friends sabotage the equipment so that the screening (and the system) were a failure. Loews caught wind of this and relegated Shearer to a testing stage for the rest of his career.

3:31 PM  
Blogger RobW said...

This beautiful restoration of War of the Worlds is available to buy in 4K on iTunes for about $10.00. You can also download a 1080p version to keep
on your computer.

8:13 PM  

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