DVD restoration shows how "West" was done

Thu May 1, 2008 3:26am EDT
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By Thomas K. Arnold

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Warner Home Video is gearing up for one of its most ambitious catalog releases ever.

"How the West Was Won," the sprawling 1962 MGM Western epic boasting an ensemble cast that includes Henry Fonda, John Wayne, Gregory Peck and James Stewart, will be released August 26 in three newly restored and remastered versions.

What made the project a bit more cumbersome than others is the fact that "West" is one of just two narrative feature films produced in the original Cinerama three-panel widescreen process, a costly proposition abandoned after just one other simultaneously shot MGM feature, "The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm."

During its initial theatrical run, "West" -- a winner of three Oscars, including best original screenplay -- was shown in theaters specially equipped with three synchronized projectors on extra-wide, slightly curved screens. Later, it was presented on traditional screens with the three separate panels optically joined to form a standard widescreen image, leaving two vertical "join lines" clearly visible on the screen.

The join lines are noticeable as well on the original DVD edition of the film that Warner released in July 1998, barely a year into the format's life cycle.

The film has been a consistent seller for Warner, and George Feltenstein, the division's senior vp classic catalog marketing, has long wanted to produce a special edition. But he didn't want one with those nasty join lines, he said, so he went to the technicians at Warner Bros. Motion Picture Imaging for help.

That was about five years ago. Technicians did, in fact, develop a complicated software program to eliminate the lines, and about 18 months ago they began an exhaustive frame-by-frame restoration only now being finished.

"The film has always been extraordinarily successful and popular, with the cast being what it is and the story being so inspiring," Feltenstein said. "But we always felt that to really do it justice we had to find a way to bring the panels together and eliminate those join lines so it looks gorgeous. We tried and tried, and ultimately we found a way. The results are truly astounding."   Continued...