Grover Crisp, Senior Vicepresident for Asset Management, Film Restoration and Digital Mastering for Sony Pictures Entertainment, was recently interviewed by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits. In the interview, Crisp discusses in great detail the restoration of Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver (due out on Blu-ray on April 5) and the challenges of film restoration in general.
The full interview is a great read; what follows is only a summary of the main points.
Crisp said that Taxi Driver was only the third film that SPHE has submitted to a "full 4K workflow with no downrezing" (the other two being Dr. Strangelove and The Bridge on the River Kwai), in which "the resulting HD master used for the Blu-ray authoring was derived directly from the final 4K files." This procedure "preserves the essential resolution of the 35mm negative," explained Crisp. Indeed, he said that over the years, Sony has arrived at the conclusion that in a new hidef transfer film should be scanned "at 4K at a minimum," and that "regardless of what the particular element is" (CinemaScope or flat, color or black and white, etc.). He pointed out that larger formats such as 65mm "may require higher resolutions." Crisps admits that the 4K workflow is somewhat challenging, "but it is something that can be controlled."
Scorsese and Taxi Driver cinematographer Michael Chapman were "both involved" in the restoration process; Crisp noted that this is something that Sony does "if it is at all possible." Scorsese insisted that the restoration should look like "a product of the time and place in which it was made," with no attempt to modernize the look or the color palette, with special mention of the shooting scene at the end of the film. Crisp starts by saying that Scorsese "feels it best to leave the film as it is." However, he also explains that there are more issues beyond just "pumping" the color back into the scene which made it impossible to put the color back in.
The biggest technical challenges during video restoration included "enormous scratches running through some scenes," specs of dirt and lost frames due to a torn negative.
The audio restoration was completed at Chace Audio by Deluxe in Burbank. The best element for Taxi Driver was the original mono magnetic master with split dialogue, effects and music. However, Crisp also found the original 4-track stereo recordings of the score on audio tape, which was incorporated into the process. Scorsese had "his own audio experts" create the 5.1 track from the restored elements.
Hunt also raised the hot issue of grain or noise reduction for Blu-ray mastering. Crisp said that at Sony "we don't take the position that grain is an automatic 'problem', and we usually just leave it alone." They are aware of all the digital tools available to alter the grain, but "unless there is a really compelling reason" to do that, they don't. He proudly adds that that decision hasn't earned them negative Blu-ray reviews; "just the opposite, it seems."
Crisp didn't shy away from the ongoing DNR debate. "I really do not like the super clean, waxy look that is often the result of over-processing," he said. "It not only buries detail, but it gives the film an odd feel to it, an artificial feel, that I think detracts from the achievement of the filmmakers and is distracting to discerning viewers, all of which ultimately just cheats the audience. Most filmmakers know what they are doing with the resources at hand and our job, after all, is to replicate the vision of the filmmaker, not to impose our own aesthetic outlook on a film. People are entitled to their opinion on this subject, and lots of people have opinions on this, but we try to take a fairly authentic and neutral approach to every title - and they all differ in certain ways - so that each title looks, feels, sounds, like a product of its time and place, while trying to make them look their absolute best on Blu-ray. And, that's kind of what it's about, you know? I don't think Taxi Driver is a particularly grainy film, so there was really nothing to do in that regard."
Regarding future catalog releases from Sony, the VP informed while the negative of Lawrence of Arabia has already been scanned (at 8K), restoration is not completed yet and "will certainly take a year to complete." Other projects in the works include The Caine Mutiny and The Guns of Navarone.
BigNick, it was sticking out a mile that we wouldn't see LoA until 2012, its 50th anniversary.
I'd rather have it sooner, but if it's going to take that long to get it perfect, so be it.
And I can't wait to see Taxi Driver, one of my favourite Scorsese films.
My Fair Lady belongs to CBS, and the rights are handled by Paramount, which is quite stingy concerning catalog titles. As they plan to release "Breakfast at Tiffany's" first, you'll probably have to wait at least until 2012.
West Side Story is a MGM/UA title and Fox handles the video releases. There has been no announcement so far and actually, the whole MGM/UA catalog could change hands this fall (a switch to Sony has been mentioned).
kudos to Sony for putting the effort into their top shelf titles, but I'm actually more interested to know if they are ever going to release any of the Columbia films from the 30's, 40's and 50's on blu-ray.
Overall, they have been a massive fail as far as catalog, and it doesn't seem like there are any changes planned.
1 or 2 big older classic titles a year doesn't cut it Sony.
Ditto, thanks to Sony to their dedication to putting quality in the restoration while respecting the history of the film. Like many, have TD on pre-order, and will definitely do the same for Lawrence (more Lean is always good), Caine (a classic Bogey performance) and Navarone (great cast and action).
Sony does have access to a large classic catalog, and I too would also wish for more frequent releases. But not knowing what Sony has budgeted and what resources they set for this product area, I would not fault them if they remained faithful to quality for their classic films rather than submit to what other companies do - taking the easy road of quick releases with little or no effort in restoration and presentation.
What gets me is that "Taxi Driver was only the third film that SPHE has submitted to a 'full 4K workflow with no downrezing' . . . in which 'the resulting HD master used for the Blu-ray authoring was derived directly from the final 4K files.'"
This is only the THIRD film that Sony has properly restored? How about ramping-up production a little?
Congratulations to Sony, Martin Scorsese, and Michael Champman for truly caring about film preservation and restoration. Being the film buff and purist that I am, I want the film to look amazing without taking away from the natural essence of the film. Why can't more companies have this kind of mentality whilst undergoing a restoration? I know a lot do, but some very important people (AKA the directors) are "too busy" too overlook their own restorations and the end result is a shitty transfer. Pre-ordered this day one and I can't wait to see the quality transfer. I'm glad that this will not become Taxi Driver : Ultimate Hunter Edition.
Wait a minute, guys. I'm really okay with this movie looking a little grungy! I mean, it suits the subject matter that this movie should exhibit "grindhouse" wear (to a certain extent). The only thing I would have appreciated would be restoring the color that was deliberately toned down on the ending shootout scene (to avoid an X rating). Though they seem to indicate here that that could not be done.
When I buy a Bluray of a film I'm wanting to experience the way that movie was designed & made from the get go. When I purchase "The Social Network" on BD I want to see the digital cinematography & how that works with the overall feature.
But when I purchase a movie made in the 70s or 80s I don't want to see the tools the filmmakers used "scrubbed clean" so they're more modern.
These guys sound magical & I hope they'll work on some other Scorsese films. How about Mean Streets & The King of Comedy!?
"The best element for Taxi Driver was the original mono magnetic master with split dialogue, effects and music. However, Crisp also found the original 4-track stereo recordings of the score on audio tape, which was incorporated into the process. Scorsese had "his own audio experts" create the 5.1 track from the restored elements."
I would like to have had the original mono track as well as an isolated score but happy to see the Criterion commentary track on there.
Very stoked for the film, and the commentary. Hope it's not super-expensive in Canada; some stores look like they plan on selling it for a ridiculous $22 up here when our dollar is worth more than the American atm. Sigh.
CandyStalker: No..it should not look grungy in terms of looking like a grind-house print. It should look exactly as it looked on opening day when the film premiered.
And kudos to Sony and Scorcese: It's been obvious for years that Scorcese cares about preservation and restoration of all films, not just his own, but it's unusual for a giant corporation like a Sony to care about anything but short-term profit. So they should really be congratulated, even if they only use such an approach for the most important films in their library. From the interview, it would seem like Grover Crisp is a guy who really cares about the craft and whose ego is centered around doing the finest work, not making the most money.
I would sincerely hope that Sony does get the rights to the MGM/UA catalog that WB doesn't already own (via the Turner acquisition).
it does kind of burn me up that after 4 years Sony has only done 3 of these "super" restorations.
I mean what the hell have they been doing?
Basically what it sounds like is they pretty much did nothing at all for 2 years and then finally started working on Dr Strangelove.
I'm actually shocked that Lawrence STILL isn't finished yet.
clearly the reports from 2006 that they were working on it were totally false.
Most likely they didn't even start working on the scan until 2009 or so.
Sony really needs to be able to work on more than 1 restoration at a time.
I mean, good grief.
Warner has stated that they have between 10 and 15 restoration projects being worked on at any given time.
Blu-ray is Sony's baby--why have they been so apathetic when it comes to older catalog releases?
really makes me angry that they haven't done more in 4 years, and that they apparently have 0 intention of releasing any 30's or 40's classics on bd.
They do not deserve to control the Columbia catalog imo.
shame on them.
I ordered it the moment I saw it, and at $12.99 OMG that's just amazing! I REALLLY hope that, like the laserdisc version 100 years ago, that they have an isolated music track. A fitting elegy to Bernard Hermann!
Does Sony only have one group that works on a classic title? Considering that they only released a handful of catalog titles in the last half of 2010, you'd think LOA would have been given restoration treatment during that period.
"if it is at all possible." Scorsese insisted that the restoration should look like "a product of the time and place in which it was made," with no attempt to modernize the look or the color palette, with special mention of the shooting scene at the end of the film"
The best news I've heard in a while in regards to blu-ray, don't mess with the original masterpiece! Get out of here with that James Cameron reduce the film grain BS!
They had the colors desaturated for the shooting scene so the blood was not so red to achieve an 'R' rating. Scorsese actually liked the change eventually but the DP regretted the alteration. They could fix it today but Marty probably won't. I don't think they should. The theatrical version should stay the same. They could show that one scene in the extras section with the enhanced colors if they want to bother with the extra cost.
I agree with literally everything that was said in this article, and I am glad Sony is giving classics such as Taxi Driver, Kwai, Navarone, Arabia, Stranglove and Mutiny the transfers they deserve - full restorations.
Nice excerpt in that it helps readers understand the studio's process for restoration. Personally, I'm very much looking forward to seeing Taxi Driver, one of my favorite Scorcese films (if not my favorite) on blu and this 4K restoration, plus the so-low-it's-a-steal price, sweeten the pie tremendously. I've had this on preorder since it became available to do so in 2008. I'm not surprised this is one of the handful of films Sony has given such attention to, given the clear importance of film preservation to Scorcese (which only adds to my respect of him).
My main concern is why does Sony do so few of such restorations when it has numerous classics in its control, via the Columbia Pictures library? On this point I can understand the sentiments of the poster Arkadin, above. Some other studios, like Warner, Fox and Criterion (and Disney to some extent) seem to release old, but restored classic films that look and sound wonderful far more frequently than Sony (though I'm not sure they all go through as thorough a process as Taxi Driver or Dr Strangelove did). Actually, I consider Sony as, by far, the major US studio that's least likely to take risks on home video or with new films in development or in any other aspect of the film business and it shows in the sorts of new films it greenlights and in the lack of classic titles on blu. (The wonderful Sony Pictures Classics unit seems to be the lone exception to the rule against risks and ambitious and artistic filmmaking.) Back on point, Sony needs to understand that there is a substantial market for newly restored classics on blu.
On the other hand, one of the best things Sony has going for it is that, if a release is from Sony, it's almost guaranteed to have the best picture and sound quality available. This studio rarely disappoints in that regard. Someone just needs to light a fire under the studio's decision-makers to encourage them to restore and release their classics on blu much more frequently.
The MAIN CRITERION in any digital restoration should be to exactly replicate the viewer's experience of watching a pristine original print when the film was initially released to theaters.
On the subject of GRAIN, if the digital process picks up the grain in the film too obviously, then that should be carefully softened out - I tried to watch French Connection on blu-ray, but the grain was so pervasive it distracted from the movie. Probably because the original film stock used in the production was faster (and therefore grainier) due to not using artificial lighting in achieving the cinema verite look. It would have been better on DVD.
Finally, if a film (or anything for that matter) is exhibited digitally in a theater, the preview and advertising materials should clearly disclose the resolution standard used.
I wouldn't go there, Tiny, in regards to the French Connection, that is one instance where Friedkin retinkered with the original cinematography and -effed it up.
it's my understanding but it's been very vague about what this digital projection really means: a true 4K harddrive release/presentation or the bluray image projected onto the screen - the latter is a crap shoot and doesn't represent visually or truthful advertising what and how 4K technology should look like on the big theater screen (or that bluray resolution is 2K, and not true 4K). Sony has released a select few 'newer' films in 4K harddrive form, so there's no reason why the release of a classic like Taxi Driver would NOT get the same treatment. Warners did a press screening of 'North By Northwest' for distributors/theater owners in DLP's new 4K chip - that's a film that should have also been giving a limited theatrical release.
Digital theaters look for alternate programming, it would make perfect sense for the studios where the 4K restorations/new transfers can now be fully replicated and seen as such, being booked by theaters that want to show classic films looking their absolute best.
I just saw this in the theater in San Francisco a few hours ago. It is grainy, like the original, and pretty gruesome and grimy. I mean that in the best way! I've seen it in the theater before, but the first thing that struck me was that is sounds really great. The score has never sounded better, and I did catch nuances of little things I hadn't heard before.
I am glad they did not try to "fix" the grain, this was just a straight out restoration, preserving the spirit of the original. Can I say again that it sounded great? I can only say it was like taking your beloved mopar classic to get a tune-up, but when you got it back, you only noticed the special little things they did when you drove it around...radio sounds better, no static, all the little dings are fixed and unnoticeable, engine is smooth, no pings at all...it's the same car you dropped off last week, only somehow, now...it's perfect.
well done. looking forward to owning this one on blu-ray.