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New HD scan of classic film provides a sharper image.
on March 17, 2014
Blackhawk Films has moved distribution over to Flicker Alley and this new HD transfer shows much improvement over the pervious, still good, Image DVD.
To understand this presentation, I will give a brief history lesson. In the 1920's 35mm was on Nitrate film but 16mm was on safety film.
Universal Pictures fortunately saw a value in the secondary markets and created a 16mm home movie division called "Universal Show At Home". These 16mm safety films were created directly from the 35mm Nitrate Negatives. The original tints from the 35mm theatrical run were also used in these early 16mm home movie prints. The print for this Blu-ray was manufactured in 1926.
Sadly when Sound Films over-threw Silent Films Universal, as well as many other studios, saw no value in their library of silent Nitrate films and had them destroyed. Many films that had not made it to the home movie market were lost.
The only surviving materials for this title are the 16mm tinted prints.
THE VIDEO QUALITY: While 16mm is not as sharp as 35mm, with the proper scanning it can give a very good Blu-ray image. And here it does. This is the best quality 16mm HD scan I have seen. Many times I felt I was watching a 35mm print. Since these early 16mm prints were made directly from the 35mm Nitrate Negative they are much sharper than the conventional 16mm prints that were made for Television (TV prints were made from 16mm safety negatives). It is apparent that by 1926 the original 35mm Nitrate negatives had suffered some wear in their brief 3 years of existence. Small white negative scratches & blemishes can be seen in many scenes. These were already in the negative in 1926, Flicker Alley's Press Release claims that "Visible Wear in the source material is diminished with a moderate amount of digital restoration." The film does not look like it was attacked by DNR, so their moderate amount keeps the details in the image.
The Image is quite stable with few jumps & sways. I imagine some image stabilization was used.
The sharpness varies. Outdoor shots look quite sharp like a 35mm print would be. But indoor shots tend to be a little softer. That is the nature of the original 16mm film print. I doubt we will see anything better until a lost 35mm print is uncovered.
THE AUDIO QUALITY: This is a modern soundtrack, not a vintage Victor recording (there was non for this film) so it sounds crisp & clear. The score was arranged by Donald Hunsberger, conducted by Robert Israel, and the orchestra was recorded in the Czech Republic. It seems a but too happy and not representative of what most audiences would have heard in 1923.
THE BONUS MATERIAL: Most of the bonus material from Blackhawk's old DVD distributed by Image Entertainment has been carried over here. All are in standard definition except the photo gallery which has been re-scanned in "Dynamic HD". The 20 page souvenir program is a digital reproduction on the disc.
Missing from the previous DVD are the 3-D original stills! I will have to keep my old DVD just for these.
THE MOVIE: This Lon Chaney version is still THE best movie version of this story. And it is the film that put Universal up with the other major studios. This was officially a "Universal Super-Jewel" picture, which meant that Universal spent a lot on the production for a quality movie. Sure the acting in silent films tends to be over-done, expressions fill in for the missing sound, but Lon Chaney IS the best hunchback.
Until a 35mm nitrate print turns up, or technology develops to remove white negative wear without compromising the details in the picture, this is the best there is!