Recently I had the opportunity to watch two classic films brought back to life by way of restoration. Yeah… thankfully, Hollywood isn’t only looking to preserve its film collection by way of remakes. The classics ”Doctor Zhivago” and ”The African Queen” have been painstakingly cleaned up and made ready to be viewed in all their glory.
John Huston’s classic ”The African Queen”, which led to Humphrey Bogart’s only Oscar win, is packed with adventure, romance and booze. Ron Smith, vice president of restoration at Paramount, discussed the process of getting the film ready for its restored debut on DVD. Years ago, an original print of the film was located in London at Romulus Films. To prevent damage to the print, the negative was digitized and sent to Los Angeles. It was then meticulously cleaned up, removing dirt and fixing scratches three times on each frame because it was shot as a three strip negative – one strip each for the blue, red and yellow colors. When projected together, the film had color. Some of the frames were stretched, so that also had to be corrected. Once it was nearly completed, the film was then show to the film’s cinematographer Jack Cardiff, and changes were made based on his feedback. Audio was also a time consuming process as pops and crackles could be heard.
”Doctor Zhivago” has also gone through a restoration process. On the film’s 45th anniversary, a new print is being released. The re-release will be among the films shown at the Tribeca Film Festival this year.
David Lean’s epic romance has withstood the test of time, with Omar Sharif starring as the morally conflicted Yuri Zhivago and Julie Christie starring as his love interest, Lara. I had seen a previous version at the Egyptian theater in LA and don’t recall specific changes to the new print, but the colors do seem more vivid.
The people that work in restoration deserve to be commended in their efforts to keep the library of film history alive and well and viewable by generations to come.
Both films are now available on DVD and Blu-Ray