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How the West Was Won(1962)
Epic and episodic tale of the development of the American West from the 1830s through the Civil War to the end of the century, as seen through the eyes of the pioneer Prescott family. As the Prescotts struggle with danger and loss, and newfound love, the vast canvas of US history unfolds around them.
Filmed in breathtaking CINERAMA.
For more about How the West Was Won and the How the West Was Won Blu-ray release, see How the West Was Won Blu-ray Review published by Greg Maltz on October 2, 2008 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Directors: Henry Hathaway, John Ford, George Marshall
Writer: James R. Webb
Starring: Carroll Baker, Lee J. Cobb, Henry Fonda, Carolyn Jones, Karl Malden, Gregory Peck
» See full cast & crew
How the West Was Won Blu-ray Review
One of the most lavish Westerns of them all makes its way to Blu-ray with impressive AQ and PQ results.
Reviewed by Greg Maltz, October 2, 2008
Warner delivers the high-definition goods on its Blu-ray book edition of the epic How the West Was Won. The two-BD set features a version optimized for 2.89:1 aspect ratio on Disc 1 along with a "SmileBox" version on Disc 2 that offers the feel of the original Cinerama approach originally projected on curved, wraparound screens. Warner's BD package also includes a 40-page photobook with glossy, color pictures, production notes, actor photos, movie trivia, original drawings and memorabilia and more. Even without taking into account the vastly improved picture and sound quality of the 1080p, Dolby TrueHD 5.1 production, fans of the movie will find this package an important keepsake. It is a true labor of love from Warner--a step up even from the studio's other Blu-ray book editions, with great care and sensitivity shown for the historical significance of the film. No other western production before or after was as ambitious in scope. The cast boasted many of the biggest stars of its time, including John Wayne, Gregory Peck and James Stewart. One performance in particular seems inspired: Debbie Reynold's portrayal of Lillith "Lilly" Prescott, a doggedly independent woman who resisted settling in the country or going west until she found out she had inherited a gold mine. Reynold's good looks and strong vocals lent enormous entertainment value to the film.
How the West Was Won had its world premiere in London on November 1, 1962. Its U.S. debut was February 20, 1964. Video and audio characteristics are the main draw for me, with gorgeous landscapes and lush recordings of large ensemble instrumentation. Franklin E. Milton and the MGM sound department won an Oscar for "Best Sound". I find the character development and plot are the weak points of the film. It nevertheless earned James R. Webb an Oscar for "Best Story and Screenplay Written Directly for Screen". The story mostly follows three generations of the Prescott/Rawlings family through five distinct "acts": the settlers of the Ohio River valley; the gold rush (featuring wagon trains and Indian raids); the civil war; transcontinental railroad development; and the establishment of law and order in the Southwest. None of these subplots are particularly informative or even true to history. But each vignette is entertaining if not always set up or paid off. Part of the problem is that the entire movie had to be produced in 10 months, which made it impossible to use only one director. John Ford, Henry Hathaway and John Marshall each directed segments and the cinematography was handled by William Daniels, Milton Krasner, Charles Lang, Jr. and Joseph LaShelle. With so many key players involved, it's amazing the film has any cohesion at all.
The actors, directors and cinematographers involved are just the tip of the How the West Was Won iceberg. The film spanned 11 locations and involved 38 different departments at MGM-- 117 arts and professions and 253 skilled technical crafts. A big part of this effort was costume design. Pre-production tests involving Debbie Reynolds and Gregory Peck filmed at close range (2- 3 feet), proved that that machine stitching would be visible to audiences. To lend authenticity to the film, only hand-sewn, authentic fabrics and other wardrobe materials were used. The costume production for How the West Was Won is said to be "the most exacting assignment ever attempted for a motion picture". With detailed descriptions of such trivia, Warner's BD package--including both widescreen formats and the informative booklet--is an impressive keepsake to document all the work that went into this legendary movie.
How the West Was Won Blu-ray, Video Quality
In a word, the picture was stunning. That applies to both the 2.89:1 format and the curved screen smilebox simulation. For a 45 year old film, the Blu-ray picture quality is very good, defined and vibrant. Some interesting anomalies are visible--occasional strobing/flicker, some signs of two vertical seams linking three distinct areas of the film, and warping toward the sides of the picture. These anomalies are due to the original Cinerama production, so it may be instructive to describe this process. Cinerama involves three cameras aimed at different angles to capture 146 degrees of horizontal planes and 55 degrees of vertical planes--meant to simulate human vision. The idea was to project the film using three synchronized projectors onto a curved screen to create a wraparound effect. To maximize color vibrancy, the color film for Cinerama was manufactured by Technicolor, and the lifelike contrast really comes through in the transfer to 1080p.
Regarding the transfer, Warner produced a video master to capture the essence of the film's original "Cinerama Roadshow" exhibition. This representation was achieved by combining the three Cinerama filmstrips into a single, seamless 2.89:1 image that only occasionally shows visible signs of separation between the three areas. How did Warner accomplish this? The original negatives were each scanned at 2k resolution and digitally assembled to make a single 6k image. "Digital software was created specifically for this restoration to resolve camera alignment and image linearity issues inherent in the original photography," according to Warner. The studio developed the "SmileBox" version using a rendering application that treated the 6k image as if it was projected into a 3D wraparound screen, and output at 1080p for Blu-ray. Did it work? Yes. Some warping visible in the 2.89:1 format is alleviated or reduced in the "SmileBox" format. I don't wish to give the impression that the "SmileBox" completely fixes the warping issues, but there does seem to be slightly less of a fishbowl effect. Once the viewer becomes accustomed to this unusual display approach, it may be preferable, especially for home theaters with a projector and large screen. Check out Disc 2 and judge for yourself.
The resolution generated from this approach, while not perfect, is actually better than some modern films produced for Blu-ray release. Despite the problems alluded to earlier, specifically the warping effect, the definition and depth is good. Motion blur tends to retain an analog quality that I found less fatiguing to the eye than some DNR'ed movies, although it was difficult to focus on some details in landscape shots. Watch the stampeding buffalo scene. Definition of the animals suffers a bit, but static objects remain sharp. Skin color, foliage and other earth tones are rendered gorgeously, with a richness not achieved in other Westerns from that era, such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Costume textures and facial expressions are captured very convincingly, often with superb detail.
How the West Was Won Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Further lending credence to the Blu-ray production credentials of How the West Was Won, Cinerama features multichannel sound. In fact, it uses seven channels of audio, which begs the question why Warner didn't issue a 7.1 track that would have been a better approximation of the original production instead of the 5.1 track included on both discs. The bulk of the sound is anchored up front, with only minor ambient material assigned to the rear channels. Orchestral arrangements of traditional American folk music are the most notable aspect of the soundtrack, although rushing rapids, stampeding buffalo, galloping horses and chugging steam engines are also prominent at different points in the movie. But the importance of music becomes apparent at the film's outset as the overture plays, referring to the West as a promised land. The strings and wind instruments have an analog quality with extended treble, although there is no denying that the large ensemble performances sound muddy or constricted, especially when a chorus of voices--Dave Guard and the Whiskeyhill Singers--and the full orchestra is used. Voices sound crisp and retain all the actors' identifiable characteristics. I had to laugh when I heard James Stewart's voice which has so much presence, warmth and clarity, because he does tend to slur some words and speak in a folksy braggadocio style for his role. HT fans will also enjoy the deep bass that rumbles from the LFE channel. The subwoofer gets a serious, window- rattling workout that augments many scenes, including white water rapids and stampeding buffalo.
How the West Was Won Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The inclusion of the "SmileBox" version on Disc 2 and the quality of the booklet make me inclined to rate the supplements highly, but beyond these perks, the BD package is actually a bit short on supplementary material. Some fans of the film will miss the pressbook, souvenir book and photos and postcards that came with the DVD Ultimate Collector's Edition. Disc 1 of the BD set includes the documentary "Cinerama Adventure", describing the technology and its developer, Fred Waller. The Blu-Ray also offers an exclusive Smilebox version of the film, a "bent" aspect ratio made to mimic the curved screen of the original Cinerama process. The audio commentary involves reminiscences from filmmaker David Strohmaier, Cinerama's John Sittig, music expert Jon Burlingame, stuntman Loren James and movie expert Rudy Behlmer, who gives perhaps the most comprehensive comments of all, dutifully augmented by the other commentators.
How the West Was Won Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Ultimately, I felt torn about Warner's How the West Was Won two-BD set. Without taking anything away from the work that went into the original movie, I believe the production values of the Blu-ray book edition package may have outweighed the quality of the film itself. It's beautiful, visually and sonically, and the Cinerama scope is reproduced with great care. But I feel that other films in Warner's catalog--films with better acting, character development and plot lines--are more deserving of the attention to detail, treatment and transfer tendered to How the West Was Won. The clumsy manner in which the Civil War scenes were handled, for example, just begged for a more cohesive story. Ultimately, one must recognize the film's legendary status and importance in movie history. And that is why this BD book edition set is justified. Film buffs, western fans, collectors and even musical aficionados will find it a treasured part of their video library. And Warner deserves special recognition for delivering the curved "SmileBox" version in addition to the 2.89:1 aspect ratio. Large screens in particular will pay off the contents of Disc 2. It's a fun ride to the wild West and an interesting trip into yesteryear.
How the West Was Won: Other Editions
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How the West Was Won Blu-ray, News and Updates
• How the West Was Won Gets Non-Digibook, Single-disc Blu-ray - October 20, 2010
Warner Home Video has announced that, on January 4, 2011, it will re-release How the West Was Won on Blu-ray in standard packaging. This Cinerama-shot Western had been released in 2008, in a two-disc DigiBook edition. However, this re-release has only one disc ...
• Today on Blu-ray - September 9th - September 9, 2008
As a filmmaker, Quentin Tarantino has a following similar to that of a presidential nominee. Half of those who see his films praise his ability to seamlessly integrate over-the-top action sequences with stylized dialog in order to tell a compelling story. The other ...
• How the West Was Won Delayed Two Weeks - June 24, 2008
Warner Home Video has revealed that the upcoming Blu-ray release of 'How the West Was Won' has been delayed two week and is now scheduled to hit store shelves on September 9th, day-and-date with the DVD release. This newly restored and remastered film will be presented ...
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