'How the West Was Won' Restored for DVD, Blu-ray1 May, 2008 By: Thomas K. Arnold
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 to the home entertainment market in three newly restored and remastered versions Aug. 26, two of them on DVD and one on Blu-ray Disc.
What made the project a bit more cumbersome than others is the fact that How the West Was Won is one of just two narrative feature films produced in the original Cinerama three-panel widescreen process, a costly proposition that was abandoned after just one other simultaneously shot MGM feature, The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm.
During its initial theatrical run, How the West Was Won — winner of three Oscars, including best original screenplay — was shown in theaters especially equipped with three synchronized projectors, and shown on extra-wide, slightly curved screens. But later, it was presented on traditional theater screens with the three separate panels optically joined to form a standard widescreen image, leaving two vertical “join lines” clearly visible on the screen.
These join lines are quite noticeable as well on the original DVD edition of the film, which was released by Warner Home Video in July 1998, barely a year into the format's lifecycle.
The film has been a consistent seller for Warner, and George Feltenstein, the division's SVP of 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 join lines, and about 18 months ago they began an exhaustive frame-by-frame restoration that's “just being finished as we speak,” Feltenstein said.
“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.”
Feltenstein notes that in all showings subsequent to the film's original theatrical run, be it in regular theaters, on television or on home video, “people have had to put up with those awful join lines.”
“It was a fact of life; no one
ever bothered to fix it or even make any attempt to explain to audiences why the picture looked funny,” he said.
The new and improved How the West Was Won, sans annoying join lines, will be presented on all three home entertainment editions of the film: a special edition DVD, an “ultimate collectors edition” DVD and a Blu-ray Disc edition.
The Blu-ray Disc edition also will come with a second version of the film that replicates the original Cinerama experience.
“Dave Strohmaier, considered the world's foremost expert on all things Cinerama, calls it the SmileBox version, because it uses the shape of the original Cinerama screen and expands out with a curve so it looks like a frown on the bottom and a smile on the top,” Feltenstein said. “It's almost 3-D, and it allows anyone who has a home theater system to recreate the Cinerama experience.”
Feltenstein said Strohmaier, whose 90-minute documentary “Cinerama Adventure” is featured on all three How the West Was Won home entertainment releases, has been intimately involved in the production of the DVD and Blu-ray Disc packages.
In addition to the documentary, other special features on the DVD and Blu-ray Disc include a film historian commentary, a vintage making-of feature and the original theatrical trailer. The ultimate collectors edition comes with a 20-page theatrical press book reproduction, 10 behind-the-scenes photos and 10 postcards. The Blu-ray Disc edition is packaged in a “Digi-book” that resembles a small hardcover book and includes 32-page of press materials and behind-the-scenes photos.