PictureAs already mentioned, the Cinerama process involved three images projected simultaneously onto the same screen. If one of those images became scratched or worn, then it would look out of place against the other two. And that's largely what has been available for the home market so far - the picture actually looked like three separate images - which really wasn't the idea.
The other problem facing DVD authors and broadcasting studios is the fact that this film was made for showing in Cinerama equipped theatres. Panning and scanning was out of the question as two thirds of the picture would be lost - thankfully Warner have got it right on this release.
Presented in super wide 2.89:1 which leaves the majority of screen black, and encoded at 1080P using the VC1 system, the two versions of this film available in this set have probably never looked better - and that includes watching them on the Cinerama screen.
The best news is the fact that the majority of the join lines between the frames have all but disappeared. There are still some visible - the first scene in California springs to mind where the picture is quite distinctively split into three segments and the middle one is twice as bright as the outer two. But thankfully these instances have been kept to a minimum and if I'm honest, that's probably the worst of them.
All scratches and tears have been removed (apart from some dirt on the camera lens in the very first scene) and the amount of detail on show is breathtaking. Colours are bright and solid throughout - with the blue of the sky being the predominant colour.
I think there has been some DNR applied to the picture as it's squeaky clean all the way through and grain seems to be absent all the way through. This may upset purists but in the documentary that I'll go through in the extras section, it's often mentioned that the Cinerama camera would pick up more detail than normal cameras - so maybe it was grain free from the beginning...
Warner has tried to replicate the Cinerama experience by providing a “Smilebox” presentation. This is where the picture is curved the way it would have been on the Cinerama screen. It doesn't work for me and I would recommend sticking to the “flat” version. Though the Smilebox picture does seem to be a little bit narrower than the widescreen version.
All in all then, a fine picture spoilt by some dirt on the camera lens and a little bit too much blue sky for my liking - I think I'd better start saving for a new anamorphic projector as well as this did look a bit out of place with the majority of 84 inch 16 x 9 screen being covered by the black bars.
SoundCinerama was as different in its sound presentation as it was with the picture. As with SDDS today, Cinerama used five speakers across the front soundstage but only two to the rear. As there is no home format that can reproduce that (yet), Warner have provided us with a Dolby TrueHD soundtrack in 5.1 along with a lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 version to compare it to. For the purpose of this review, I listened to the lossless TrueHD track.
And straight from the off, as the overture kicks in, you know that the score at least, is going to sound fantastic.,
And that's about how it goes for the duration - the epic score is given centre stage.
Dialogue is a little low at times and sometimes drowned out by the music. The surround channels are used to show off the score again but very little else goes by way of the rear channels.
When you think that there should be bass, there isn't any. In the white water rafting scene in the first part, waves crash against rocks and as you hold your breath for the low frequency thump, it never comes - likewise with the stampede. The buffalo sounded more like a herd of kittens wearing slippers than the proud giant beats that once used to roam the prairie. Pretty poor effort - it just doesn't sound right
ExtrasReleased at the same time as an SD boxset, this Blu-ray set is already down in the marks department as it lacks some of the nice goodies provided with that set - still, lets have a look at what we do have.
A Commentary by Filmmaker David Strohmaier, John Sittig, Rudy Behlmer, John Burlingame and Loren James. Five people sitting watching a movie that they obviously love and love to talk about.
Involved is the authority on Cinerama, a brilliant film historian, a guy who knows all there is to know about film scores and a stuntman who was in the film - where could it go wrong?
Well, for the first ten minutes I was going to turn it off and listen another day - but it just got better and better as it went on. For the first time in my life, I found a commentary more interesting than the film it was based on! The guys involved are so knowledgeable - it's like watching the Discovery Channel for a week. Highly recommended.
Cinerama Adventure (97mins SD) is a brilliant documentary about the history of Cinerama. It shows footage and stills of how Cinerama nearly came to be in the silent era plus loads more. Worth the price of the disc alone - brilliant!
Smilebox presentation is a Blu-ray exclusive feature that attempts to show the film with its original 146 degree curve. I use a large (by British standards anyway) projection screen to view the films I review - and it didn't work for me. I became distracted watching the curve rather than the film.
It's a great idea to include it to show folk what it could have looked like back in the day - and you may like it. But I didn't I'm afraid.
Theatrical Trailer adds nothing really other than to show just how much work has gone into the restoration - the picture quality is abysmal.
The discs also come in a kind of book cover that includes 36 pages of how the movie was put together and includes some great black and white photos of the cast and crew.
However, film buffs everywhere will love the Cinerama documentary - in my opinion it raises the set from an “avoid at all costs” to worth buying for the documentary alone.
VerdictNot the epic it thinks it is, How The West Was Won is an ordinary western that even it's huge cast of Hollywood A listers fail to raise to the heights of say The Searchers. But - that's not what it was made for. From storyboard to screen, this film was made to show off the Cinerama system to it's audience that were now bored of sitting at home watching a tiny screen. The public wanted something different - and Cinerama gave them just that - it seems that nobody cared about the actual quality of the material they were viewing.
The same can't be said about this Blu-ray package from Warner though. With a picture quality that has all but eradicated the problems that Cinerama brings with it, it looks fantastic - though it did at times have me pining for the anamorphic projection system I saw demoed this week - the picture is so wide, it leaves huge black bars at the top and bottom of the screen.
The sound quality is not so special though and quite frankly is poor.
The extras concentrate more on quality over quantity and what we have is a very good commentary, a brilliant documentary and an alternate version of the film.
Western fanatics should rush out and get this now - those of you that are not to fond of the chaps in the chaps may want to have a look in for the Cinerama documentary - in my opinion, it's worth the price of the set on it's own.
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