Savant Column

Saturday February 24, 2018


The Warner Archives Collection has been announcing new HD remasters of popular titles: Fritz Lang’s final American pictures Beyond a Reasonable Doubt and While the City Sleeps, both in theatrical SuperScope proportions. Bob Furmanek followed up the announcement with the news that the aspect ratios may be slightly off — Sleeps was adapted for Superscope only for foreign use. Misinformation has been around since the laserdisc days, and I remember preferring Superscope only because I hated these pictures in flat full-frame, with what seemed like acres of empty composition above and below the relevant action.

The WAC news also includes a new widescreen scan of Warners’ 1957 The Black Scorpion, with the same extras as earlier editions. I think that will leave 1959’s The Giant Behemoth as the only Willis O’Brien feature monster movie not on Blu-ray.

We’re also reminded that a new Blu of Nathan Juran’s Jack the Giant Killer is on the way from Kino. There’s no date yet but Tim Lucas has tipped us to the fact that he’ll be providing a commentary. I’ve kept mum for years on inside information that MGM has had the elements for both the standard and ‘musical’ versions safely vaulted away. Now we’re going to get a good comparison of the two. Stephen Sondheim may have to take a back seat to ‘musical’ Jack’s superior lyrics: “Jack! Jack! Climb up the monster’s back!”

I hope that Kino does something to improve the presentation over the old DVD. Effects wiz Jim Danforth has explained the problem several times over the years. The negative for Jack was left in a non-standard condition after initial release. It was assembled for Technicolor printing, and inter-cut footage in two completely different formats. To get maximum negative area for Project Unlimited’s visuals, the effects shots were all done with a ‘silent ap’ camera setup, using the full 35mmm frame area. When making their separation matrices, the Technicolor people adjusted their equipment to shift between the two differently-sized images, the standard photography and the animation work.

Unfortunately, TV prints and the previous MGM DVD just printed the negative straight without adjustment for the non-standard effects shots. That’s why the effects have looked cramped and cropped. As much of the ‘extra’ image gained was the soundtrack, the left side of the frame was hacked off — just like a silent movie that’s been reprinted for sound, severely cropping the image all around.

It’s difficult enough just to explain the problem. A fix on video is not likely to be cheap, so I don’t know how reasonable it is to make a fuss about this. I’m just hoping that somebody on working the video prep will go to the trouble of straightening it all out.

Yes, we saw Severin’s two-disc Jack the Ripper disc last Tuesday, the instantly-OOP limited edition with English, American and uncensored French versions. I think I’ll wait to review it until it’s reissued (I think that may be happening eventually). The Baker/Berman Ripper has been a wanna-see title for most of my life, so it shapes up as a major cross-it-off-our-list picture. Our reaction was mixed — for a semi-authentic Ripper romp, the Michael Caine TV Movie Version is still my favorite.

Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson