I recently purchased the Rodgers & Hammerstein Collection on Blu-Ray. This is the first Blu-Ray I have ever owned. (Fitting, since The Sound of Music was the first DVD I ever bought). I don’t have a blu ray player, but my gentleman friend does, so when the collection was on sale as an Amazon “Gold Box” deal, I couldn’t resist the temptation to buy it. The collection has come under some user-generate criticism for the uneven quality of the restoration/color correction. Two films (The Sound of Music and South Pacific) had been received top-notch restorations individual releases prior to the creation of this collection. Carousel, The King and I, and State Fair have been “color corrected” with what appears to be questionable success (I have not yet look at them). Oklahoma! is given two releases. One, a “Road Show” version, is taken from the 70mm Todd-AO print, while the other is based on the Cinemascope print. I, along with my patient gentleman friend, watched the Todd-AO print, which one reviewer dubbed “the jewel of the collection.” (Click here for information on why the film exists in these two formats.)
The Todd-AO “Road Show” version is indeed stunning–the difference in picture clarity and brightness between the two prints is almost indescribable. But it left me wondering, how much of what we call “restoration” or “color correction” is revisionist history? There was a definite “digital” feel to the Todd-AO restoration that made me question its authenticity, even if it didn’t hinder my appreciation. We briefly checked out some scenes from The Sound of Music, and while I could see details in the picture (particularly the landscape) I had never seen before on DVD, there was something…off about the coloring of the people in the scenes I saw, almost as if they were filtered by Instagram. Have I spent so many years looking at the “wrong” thing that I’m just having trouble with the “restoration”, assuming that just because it’s different it’s incorrect?
I heard a Diane Rehm interview from the 1980s in which Shirley Temple Black commented on the then-popular trend of colorizing movies, criticizing the practice for its tendency to flatten the original cinematography, replacing the depth and shadows with artificial pastels. Could current “restorative” practices be accused of similar crimes? I suppose home-viewing of any movie is an adaptation, I watched The Sound of Music on pan-and-scan VHS tapes (two of them) before it was “restored” for DVD. Now it is “re-restored” for HD Blu-Ray, and I wonder if the restoration is becoming less about making the film look as good as it did in 1965 and more about making converting the movie into what we think it should look like today? And is there anything inherently wrong in that? Perhaps the movie should match the medium, leaving us that watch to remember that even if the camera doesn’t lie, the processing might bend the truth a little bit.