‘The Red Shoes’ pirouettes on to American Region A locked Blu-ray with a very impressive restored 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 transfer, framed in its original 1.37:1 aspect ratio as the latest entry into the Criterion Collection.
I’ve had a UK DVD version of the film as part of the Powell & Pressburger Box Set for some time and by comparison, the Criterion Blu-ray is like getting new spectacles after years of wearing the wrong prescription. The difference hits you right between the eyes. Not only do we get a massive increase in sharpness and detail, but the image is just so stable with no print breathing (like constant variations in film processing) or image weave. Gone too are any marks, scratches, blotches and other damage. The colour looks wonderfully strong with fully saturated reds (take a look at the scarlet word ‘Colour’ in the title that proclaims ‘Colour by Technicolor’) and the solid blacks. I had to keep reminding myself that the film was released in 1948. There’s a very fine level of grain due to the three strip process that in no way affects the clarity and detail. Jack Cardiff’s superb lighting is allowed to shine in a way that provides real ‘eye candy’. There’s only one shot in the movie that looks odd and that’s a close up a dressing room door which is affected by a strange moiré pattern. The restoration work done by Robert Gitt of the UCLA Film & TV Archive and Warner Bros Motion Picture Imaging has really been worth the 2 years labour of love. The film world owes everyone who worked on it, as well as those who supplied funding, a huge debt of gratitude.
The audio on the Criterion release of ‘The Red Shoes’ comes in an amazingly clear and crisp uncompressed LPCM mono track. Dialogue is impressive, but it’s the orchestra as it plays Brian Easdale’s memorable score that really astonishes. No wow, flutter, hiss, snap, crackle or pop offends the ears – and it was originally recorded in 1947! I just can’t get over how good it sounds. There’s no screechy treble, no distortion – phwoar! I’ve never got so excited about a mono track in my life. There’s nothing to give away the period of the recording. It may only be mono sound, but you couldn’t commit sacrilege and release this with a modern surround mix. If only every film of this vintage was treated with such care.
Souvenir Booklet - A nicely produced 28pp, A5 booklet accompanies the Criterion release of ‘The Red Shoes’ which includes Cast & Crew details, an essay by film writer David Ehrenstein as well as in depth details of the restoration and transfer of the film for its release on Blu-ray.
Commentary - Recorded in 1994, this audio commentary by film historian Ian Christie links interviews with stars Moira Shearer & Marius Goring, lighting cameraman Jack Cardiff, composer Brian Easdale and Martin Scorsese. Great for long time fans of the movie.
'The Red Shoes' Novel - Recorded in 1994, Jeremy Irons reads excerpts from Powell & Pressburger’s 1978 novelisation of ‘The Red Shoes.
Restoration Demonstration (HD, 4 mins) - Martin Scorsese gives us a brief description of the digital restoration work with examples of the damage done to the negative by time. We get to see before and after shots. The most impressive is the re-registration of the 3 strips of original camera film. Wow!
Profile of ‘The Red Shoes’ (HD, 25 mins) - Produced in 2000, this fascinating documentary features interviews with film historian Ian Christie, Cinematographer Jack Cardiff, camera operator Chris Challis as well as family members of the film’s original production team.
Thelma Schoonmaker Powell (HD, 15 mins) - Martin Scorsese’s collaborator and editor, Thelma was married to Michael Powell from 1984 until his death in 1990 and was subsequently a key member of the restoration team. Interviewed at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival she discusses Powell, the film and its restoration. She reveals that ‘The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp’ is the next Powell & Pressburger film to be restored.
Stills Gallery - As it says on the tin, the stills are broken down into sections covering the Cast & Crew, Shooting in London, Paris & Monte Carlo, shots from deleted scenes as well as production and costume designs.
Scorsese’s Memorabilia - Martin Scorsese is a lucky man. He owns the red ballet slippers worn by Moira Shearer in the film as well as Emeric Pressburger’s personal copy of the script and annotated technical design storyboards for the key ballet sequence. There’s also a souvenir silk scarf from 1948, Red Shoes wallpaper and other collectable items. We get a look at them via a collection of stills.
'The Red Shoes' Sketches (HD, 16 mins) This animated film, constructed from production designer Hein Heckroth’s original colour storyboards and set to Brian Easdale’s score, was used as the ‘animatic’ for the Red Shoes ballet in the film. The sketches can be compared to the finished sequence by using the alternate angle feature on the Blu-ray. On the alternate audio channel, Jeremy Irons reads Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale ‘The Red Shoes’ that was the inspiration for the ballet.
Theatrical Trailer (HD, 2 mins 30s) -This very British trailer gives us some idea of how the unrestored movie might look. In the style of the period, it’s full of wipes and captions just like trailers used to be.
That all time Powell & Pressburger classic ‘The Red Shoes’ is the latest addition to the Criterion Collection on Region A locked Blu-ray with a very impressive looking digitally restored 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 transfer, framed in its original 1.37:1 aspect ratio. We now have a clean, sharp image devoid of any defects with beautiful, vibrant Technicolor photography. The audio too is impressive for its lack of age related noise but it also sports wonderfully clear dialogue and great presence in Brian Easdale’s score. A nice brace of extras including a commentary from film historian Ian Christie, an interview with Thelma Schoonmaker Powell and a look at the restoration work make this one for the serious film buff. The film itself has great performances from Moira Shearer, Marius Goring and Anton Walbrook in the tale of the young ballerina who has to choose between love and her career.
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