Daily Blog – John E. Johnson, Jr. – March 24, 2008: HIGH DEFINITION TV PROGRAMMING GONE WILD.

Over the Easter weekend, I saw that ABC was broadcasting its annual presentation of The Ten Commandments, the 1956 film with Yul Brynner and Charlton Heston. It’s a masterpiece.

A couple of years ago, it was listed as being televised in HD. Of course, I was very excited because I had not watched it in high resolution since I first saw it at the theater as a child.

Well, it was in widescreen, but it was not HD. It was simply scaled to 1080i from 480i NTSC. That is not high definition.

So when I turned it on this weekend, I was not surprised to see that was not even in widescreen and not in HD. Of course, Revenge of the Zombies, the 1940′s movie I blogged on last week, is in HD so I could always go back to that one to see what an old movie in HD looks like.

Hollywood seems to be paranoid about delivering their old classics in HD, either on TV or on DVD. I don’t understand the logic in this. They are not showing them in major theaters as re-releases, so there is no argument that the HD versions would keep us from going to the theater to watch them. And, for the millions of consumers who have purchased their new HDTVs and subscribe to HD satellite or cable, we tend to turn away from programming that is not in HD.

Eventually, all programming will have to be in HD. No one will watch anything that is still in old NTSC 480. And, that means all the old good stuff too. That means The Ten Commandments. Why put it off? I understand that Ben Hur (1959) will be released in Blu-ray next year (2009). Why has it taken so long for one of the finest motion pictures ever produced to get to us in high definition? If they can take the trouble to give us Revenge of the Zombies . . . .

3 Responses to “Daily Blog – John E. Johnson, Jr. – March 24, 2008: HIGH DEFINITION TV PROGRAMMING GONE WILD.”

  1. ovation Says:

    The “marketing geniuses” who decide what to release are all 17 years old and think only their great grandmas would watch a film made before 1995 (unless it’s a cheesy sci-fi/horror flick that can be made fun of) and they prioritize schlock–either that or a collection of drooling gibbons is let loose in the film vaults and they just convert whatever random titles emerge.

    Warner has done a better job than any other (they do have the biggest catalogue)–of the 50 or so HD DVD titles I have, about 40 are Warner titles and they include Casablanca, The Searchers, Bullitt, Grand Prix, Mutiny on the Bounty (1962), The Adventures of Robin Hood, 2001–A Space Odyssey–though I still await Lawrence of Arabia, Ben-Hur, North By Northwest, Rear Window, To Catch a Thief (I’m a bit of a Hitchcock fan, as you might have guessed) and many more with some impatience (in “blu”, of course, now the “war” is over).

    The “big” catalogue titles will come–but the more obscure ones took over a decade to come to DVD (still no African Queen, for example–and that is simply criminal), so it will take time. Meanwhile, I’m sure the “Chucky” series will have had double releases in HDM before we see Bogie and Hepburn in SD, never mind Blu-ray.

  2. ender21 Says:

    The only practical reason I could suppose is summed up as: quality. Besides being an ISF Calibrator and HT consultant, my full-time occupation is in digital post-production. In addition to new releases, we’ve worked on many digital restorations… Bladerunner, Oklahoma, South Pacific, The Alamo, and the upcoming Baraka BD release (screened it last night and it looked FANTASTIC). There are rumors of a full-blown, 65mm-sourced digital restoration for Lawrence as well (though that won’t preclude a BD release from earlier transfers)…

    If I’m one of the rights-holders for any of the “great old movies,” do I spring for the time-consuming and more expensive task of restoring my great old movie or opt for the easy way out by telecineing a faded piece of film, complete with whatever blemishes it contains, and hope that a quick and dirty clean-up process makes things “good enough?” Even the easy method can be painstaking and time consuming.

    As a purist who gets to see just how good the Sound of Music, Bladerunner, or Baraka looks sourced at high resolution and then cleaned up properly, I say it’s worth the wait. If the effort is going to be lackluster at best and they’re *still* dragging their feet on releasing them, then shame on them.

  3. George Leroy Tirebiter Says:

    I still haven’t entirely forgiven Warner’s for putting the last nail in the coffin of HD-DVD, but I have to admit that their reissues are superb. The HD-DVD of Casablanca was beautiful and set the standard for extra features. Even the SD version of Strangers on a Train was excellent. It put to shame even some Criterion Collection reissues I have seen recently, and these have a deserved reputation for quality. I’d pay a significant upcharge for a TCM in HD, but I guess there aren’t enough of us to make this viable.

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