March 23, 2010 / 10:56 PM / 8 years ago

Classic "Africa Queen" finally sails onto DVD

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - It may seem improbable, but perhaps not out of character, that classic movie “The African Queen” finally made its way into the modern age on Tuesday with a new DVD that took six, arduous years to create.

Improbable, because when DVDs first began trickling into the marketplace more than a decade ago, Hollywood’s studios rushed to refurbish old movies and sell them to new audiences. “The African Queen” would have been a natural.

But not out of character, because making the 1951 romantic adventure was fraught with peril in the East African jungle where its location scenes were shot.

To hear its star, Katharine Hepburn, tell it in her book “The Making of The African Queen” (1987), shooting was complicated by huge Technicolor cameras. Insects and snakes infested the crew campground, and there was a nasty case of dysentery.

Yet, the tale of a missionary named Rosie (Hepburn) and a crusty boat captain Charlie (Humphrey Bogart) who found love on a quest to sink a German boat was a hit in theaters. It earned Bogart a best actor Oscar and became an instant classic.

In the 60 years since its making, “The African Queen” has become one symbol of Hollywood’s golden era of moviemaking — even if it played mostly on television.

“There is no doubt that when working on a film like this, you’re being entrusted with film history and a lot of people’s memories,” said Ron Smith, vice president of restoration at Paramount Pictures.

Smith’s team of specialists restored the movie using advanced “4K” digital technology, which seems fitting for the movie because it was the first complete film that utilized Technicolor, an advanced color filming process in its day.

He said that the more his team dug into restoration, the more flaws they found with the original that had to be “cleaned up.” Retaining the natural look of scenes using miniature boats or the rapids of Africa’s Ruiki river proved to be a challenge with the increased sharpness of digital transformation.

“They (the original filmmakers including director John Huston) were cutting the shots together, and you have to try to make it look like one long scene and they aren’t. You have to try really hard to make it smooth,” he said.

Still, after six years of work, the team succeeded, and while the DVD and Blu-ray discs are obvious highlights, a box set comes with still photos of Bogart, Hepburn and Huston.

But perhaps the most intriguing part of the box set is the inclusion of Hepburn’s 1987 book, subtitled “How I went to Africa with Bogart, Bacall and Huston and almost lost my mind.”

Because, even as she writes what seems to be that damning subtitle, Hepburn concludes her book with this: “Now what do you suppose ever happened to Charlie and Rosie? Where did they live? Did they stay in Africa? I always thought they must have...and lived happily ever after.”

Editing by Jill Serjeant

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