Doctor Zhivago (Warner Home Video Blu-ray)
When the new restoration of Doctor Zhivago was unveiled at the Tribeca Film Festival in April, it was an unalloyed triumph, not only for the late director David Lean, who adapted Boris Pasternak’s novel of revolutionary Russia on his usual huge cinematic canvas, and his accomplished cast, led by Julie Christie, Omar Sharif, Geraldine Chaplin, Rita Tushingham, Ralph Richardson, Tom Courtenay and Alec Guinness.
It’s also a big win for the Warner Brothers team led by Ned Price, which painstakingly restored the 45-year-old film, which can be seen in all its glory on the new Blu-ray release. While at Tribeca, Price discussed what went into making Zhivago once again look dazzling.
Question: When you first began working on the restoration, in what shape were the original film elements of Doctor Zhivago?
Ned Price: Zhivago was a little bit of a victim of its own success and popularity. It’s still the fifth largest moneymaker ever—it’s constantly in sale and revenue for the company. The negatives suffer when they go into reissue, because the condition is not very good since you may have to create new printing elements. David Lean wanted to shoot it in 65mm and he was told he couldn’t, so the major markets received 70mm prints which were a blowup from the camera negative to ensure sharpness. So as a result, there were at least three reissues, and the perforations of the film started to pull, stretch, get damaged and break. As they started to break, the negative was turned over on the other side and those started to pull also. So the stability of the film’s image was compromised. When we first approached the restoration in 1999-2000, we couldn’t get a stable image, so we had to use an interpositive for that restoration. The color was quite compromised and the image was faded to a large extent.
Q: What was the difference this time?
NP: We went back to the original negative, and we now have facilities which can now stabilize the image. When you print from a camera negative, you have splices that can tear because it’s quite fragile. There were tears that were repaired with tape, and other sections where there was so much damage that they had to make dupe sections and cut those into the camera negative. So we had to go back and replace all of those dupes digitally—we scanned the masters and were able to achieve much superior results with those duplicate sections. The camera negative travels with its paperwork from the MGM lab, which keeps excellent records. So we know all about the dupes and when they were done over the years.
Q: What was the standard for restoring the film to its original splendor?
NP: A film as carefully designed, constructed and crafted as Zhivago gives us an advantage because it only wants to look the way it was intended to look. The colors were very specific: the royal purples, the bright reds, those are your keys and they tell you how everything else is supposed to fall into place. If you decide that the lighting should be more yellow, but it wants to be cold, other things will pop up and colors will go awry and you won’t be able to do it. It helps make things easier. We were lucky enough to get a print that the director had seen so we knew what he was looking for and how he wanted it to look.
Q: Can you talk about how you and your team work on restoring films?
NP: We work on about 43 films at any given time, in various stages—finding negatives and locating materials. The reason is that it’s kind of like a rolling curve—the hardest part of restoring is getting the story of the film from start to finish, where you can see the trail of the material and find every element you need. To preserve the film, you have to preserve the lineage and the history—like censor cuts, cuts made in another country, or subtitles in a reel—all this litany of information. When we’re done, we preserve everything on the shelf, whether it’s audio or picture.
Q: Any word on the other Lean film in the Warner library, Ryan’s Daughter, and when it might be coming on Blu-ray?
NP: The restoration was completed top to bottom with 65mm elements: we remixed the feature and protected all of the elements. It’s on the schedule but nothing specific yet.
originally posted on timessquare.com