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Christopher Jacobs wrote:The Blu-ray has a beautifully-restored HD picture that looks brand-new, the colors more vibrant and Technicolor-looking than I've ever seen them on 35mm reissue prints, the last of which I'm pretty sure was annoyingly hard-matted to 1.85:1 (I know that CINDERELLA was cropped in the last 35mm print I saw). The disc has a fine soundtrack in both a well-restored version of the original mono and a very nicely remixed 5.1 stereo surround soundtrack. It is packed with great bonus features, the best of which is an in-depth 75-minute documentary about Lewis Carroll, the story, and the film, which runs concurrently with the film picture-in-picture in lieu of an audio commentary track.
ALICE IN WONDERLAND (1951) on Blu-ray --
ALICE has been recolored so that the colors' original balance and relationship to each other are gone and cannot be restored by adjustment, the backgrounds have been digitally frozen, and the foreground characters have been rotoscoped off and redeposited on these backgrounds so that they appear to jitter a bit now, because they are still affected by natural cinema weave, unlike the now-frozen backgrounds. And to cap it all off, the original optical effects have been replaced by new digital effects. And lest you think I'm cuckoo, here are some posts from the Home Theater Forum by Stephen Worth, one of the foremost classic animation experts worldwide, regarding the re-creation of ALICE...
First, a post by Worth in response to a glowing review and defense of Disney's "restorations" by restorationist Robert H. Harris:
Whoever told you that cel densities made it impossible to accurately match colors is making it up. I happen to be one of the two or three leading authorities on animation cel restoration. I own two of the three paint mills Disney used to manufacture all of the paint from the black and white era all the way through Oliver and Company. I have the proprietary Disney paint formula and manufacture the Disney paint using the original pigments, some of which haven't been made in fifty years. I've interviewed numerous ink and paint ladies and was trained to make the paint by Disney's former chemist.
The correction for density shifts were done on the cel, not in the camera. The ink and paint department had a set of letdowns for each color in the palette, and they calculated how far down in the stack a cel would be and used a color that matched visually the same at the bottom of the stack as it did at the top. This means that production cels can vary slightly on shots with more than five levels (a very small percentage of shots)
However, in the Disney Animation Research Library is a book with the main color models for every character in this picture. I've seen this myself because I consulted on a project about 15 years ago that involved the Alice color palette. That book gives them everything they need to do an accurate color balance. The models are not corrected for density shifts. They are the colors that Technicolor was instructed to match.
Disney worked with Technicolor to match to their swatches of paint as carefully as the process could. They provided samples of every color of paint they used to Technicolor and had them do wedge tests to try to match them precisely. When Technicolor was unable to precisely match the color on the cels, the ink and paint department would adjust slightly to bring the color within the range that Technicolor could manage. They did not make gross adjustments of the Technicolor timing to create effects. The color schemes and lighting effects were keyed into the artwork.
Arguing that it is impossible to know what the original colors were on a film shot and painted on nitrate stock may be justifiable. Disney may not have approved prints or a complete set of model cels from films earlier than Cinderella. But Alice was shot of safety stock and used triacetate cel stock. They have plenty of reference on what colors are correct. This is a smokescreen thrown up to make excuses for the fact that they never intended to follow the original look of the film in the first place.
The plain and simple truth is that people who could never make a film like this themselves are second guessing the creative decisions of the people who did. Sure, this film is a "product" that is owned by a corporation who has the legal right to paint it in dayglo colors if they want to. But the Disney films are also important cultural creative landmarks, and as such, there is a moral obligation to preserve and restore them. Disney is great at preservation. Their film elements are in better shape overall than any other studio. But they are the worst at restoration.
How do they get away with passing off heavily altered versions of their films as being "restored"? Well, you answered that yourself. Most people today have no idea what these films looked like in the first place. The old timers who made these pictures are almost all dead, so they can't complain. The audience doesn't know. Who is left to defend the films against revisionist meddling?
That is the job of archivists, film scholars and preservationists. Unfortunately, at Disney those people answer to executives and marketing people, not their own moral compass of the right and wrong way to restore a film. Disney is spending a great deal of money on these intrusive techniques. I can see how film preservationists, who normally aren't the best paid people in Hollywood, would get seduced by the paychecks. I'm sure they justify it to themselves by saying that the original elements are safe and someone can always come back in the future and do a proper job of transferring these films.
That's great for them. The audience and the legacy of the people who sweat blood to make these great films are the only ones being cheated.
And another one from Mr. Worth on ALICE:
Disney has the main color model books in the ARL in Glendale. Those books contain samples of every color palette for every character in the picture without any variation for cel density. They have ample color reference on the psot-nitrate features. The reason they don't use it has nothing to do with cel density corrections. They don't use it because they don't intend to follow the original colors. They're goosing everything up to nice bright colors to please the executives and marketing people.
Also, in restoring cels, I've run into many examples of cel density corrections. It almost always involves very light colors, particularly eye whites. The darker and more vibrant colors aren't affected by cel density the way whites and very pale blues and violets are. They were usually not adjusted for density shifts.
For instance, on Alice cel density corrections would involve primarily her eye whites and the white of her petticoats. It would not affect the blue of her dress or flesh color. Her hair had four or five different colors which were used for lighting effects. But the overall hue was cool on all the hair, not yellow orange like in the screen grabs.
The reason Alice's hair leaned towards the green side was because many of the backgrounds in Alice were painted with cool colors. Seen over blue green or blue violet, the hair appears to be warmer, just under a specific lighting condition. The color modellists at Disney would work warm against cool, brilliant against grayed and dark against light to create contrasts, but the overall desired effect was to make the character mesh into the background and appear to be seen under the same light. The recoloring shifts individual colors independent of the colors around them, which results in the loss of the carefully balanced original color harmony.
His thoughts on the Blu-ray:
Wow. I watched Alice last night. I have no idea what I was seeing. There were so many weird digital anomalies that I've never seen on a bluray before. The color balances are all messed up. The colors of the characters are massively boosted, but the backgrounds aren't as much. So if you use saturation to tame the characters, the backgrounds would go flat. The hues seemed like they had all been shifted to primaries by the boosting too. There was no variety in hues. The backgrounds were rock solid video freezes, but the characters still had film weave, so there was a subtle jitter to the animation. On top of that, the hyper sharpening has made the lines shimmer a bit from frame to frame. Disney was always famous for the accuracy of their inking. But the lines here jiggle all over. The textures were completely smoothed over on a ton of the backgrounds, and in a multiplane shot the whole scene went blurry with super concentrated grain smoothing, then snapped back to sharpness in the static shot that followed. A friend who was watching it with me said that he could see the aliasing around the lines change color in one scene, and I thought I saw a fast pan strobe.
But by far, the weirdest thing was the way every single one of the optical effects had been replaced by digital ones. There was a scene where the camera looks down into water and the ripple glass had been replaced by some sort of high contrast whispy remnant. A lot of the fades which had been timed to have slow ins or outs were replaced by completely evenly timed ones. And all of the double exposed effects like smoke were redone with sharpened edges and a weird sort of digital opacity. I can't even describe the problems with the opticals in words. I'll have to watch this a few more times and figure it out.
I have to agree that this is something entirely different than the original film... A digital hybrid. There isn't a name for what this is. Very strange.
On the Disney "restorations" in general, with particular mention of mucking about with PINOCCHIO, PETER PAN, SNOW WHITE and SLEEPING BEAUTY:
More than any other studio, Disney's distribution prints were very carefully timed at Technicolor. Disney had a very special relationship with Technicolor going all the way back to the earliest days of three strip.
It's interesting that the transfers of the thirties three strip shorts on the Warner Archive collections look so much better than Disney's features. Even on DVD-R they look more like three strip technicolor than most parts of Fantasia.
Not all of the transfers Disney does have inaccurate colors. Dance of the Hours was quite good, albeit over scrubbed for the textures. The absolute worst color balance I've seen is the Pastoral sequence, which was originally in very soft pastels. Now it's in electric screaming primaries.
I haven't seen anyone mention yet, but the fireplace in Gepetto's workshop originally had a ripple glass effect of heat distortion. That has been totally removed in the recreation. The ripple glass in the underwater sequence has been altered significantly too. It's interesting that Disney is spending great amounts of money to remove effects that cost Walt Disney a great deal of money in the first place. Those ripple glasses were manufactured by Zeiss in Germany specifically to Disney's specifications. They cost a small fortune and no other studio had anything that compared. They were used on many Disney productions until the mid 70s when Don Bluth went looking for them and found them shattered and abandoned on top of a cabinet in the multiplane room.
Tinker Bell's glow was double exposed on top of her body originally, but in the most recent recreated version, they're underneath her. Apparently the people who were rotoscoping her off the backgrounds weren't able to maintain that so they just scrubbed it all off and matted a bit of the old glow back in underneath the cleaned up image of her.
The process used to clean up these films involves digitally rotoscoping the character off of the backgrounds. The background and characters are cleaned up separately, and then the characters are recomposited back onto freeze frames of the backgrounds. This results in rock steady backgrounds under characters that still have a little bit of weave from the gate. Originally, Disney animation looked super smooth, but this has added a tiny bit of jitter to the animation. Most people wouldn't notice this, but the animators I've spoken to all complain about it. It's really bad in parts of Snow White because they had problems with the nitrate cels shrinking slightly under the hot lights in the camera room. The weave in the characters exaggerates the fluctuations in the original animation.
As for judging color with different kinds of projector illumination- that isn't really a serious problem. As long as the relationships between the colors are the same, the eye adjusts for shifts in overall color. The big problem is when individual colors are adjusted independent of the colors around them. This totally messes up the harmony of colors. When I first got the Sleeping Beauty bluray, I kept fiddling with the remote trying to get the colors back into line. But it was impossible because individual colors on the characters had been changed so much. It's funny, but the orange fairy is a dozen different sets of colors in the recreation, but none of them are orange.
Worth's response to someone who said "how do you know what these films originally looked like in original release?"
I have seen original IB Tech prints and production artwork on just about all of Disney's features. I know how the colors should look. I know a lot of other people who have as well. For animation fans over 40, it isn't all that rare, particularly in Los Angeles where we regularly have screenings of films at UCLA and The L A County Museum of Art.
Disney is seriously mucking with their animated classics, not just by messing with the colors and backgrounds but also by painting out and replacing original optical effects with "much better all-new super-sparkly digital effects that look killer on my HDTV" that really don't, actually.
The suits responsible for the decisions which led to the digital rape of Disney's animated classics for our home viewing displeasure should burn in a flaming cauldron of animation cel paint for all eternity.