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Ultra-Resolution DVD

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by Bill Desowitz
First Singin’ in the Rain, then The Adventures of Robin Hood and now Meet Me in St. Louis. The list of Technicolor classics to get the “Ultra-Resolution” software treatment from Warner Bros. Pictures for DVD just keeps growing and getting more impressive. And few directors worked in Technicolor more artfully than Vincente Minnelli, who was ably assisted on this beloved 1944 MGM musical starring Judy Garland by cinematographer George Folsey and art directors Lemuel Ayers, Cedric Gibbons and Jack Martin Smith. This charming slice of Americana set against the World’s Fair of 1903 has never looked more gorgeous, thanks to cutting edge digital wizardry. The two-disc special edition of Meet Me in St. Louis is available April 6 through Warner Home Video, with a slew of memorable extras, just in time to commemorate the film’s 60th anniversary.
Warner Bros.’ proprietary Ultra-Resolution digital process allows today’s viewers to see parts of the images that were not visible previously and in sharper detail than conventional Technicolor dye-transfer release prints. According to Rob Hummel, senior vice president of technical operations, Ultra-Resolution continues to improve each time out.
More than 70 years after the introduction of Technicolor, Ultra-Resolution begins with scanning original Technicolor three-strip black and white records (this was before the advent of color negative) at 2K resolution. Each record contains red, green and blue color information.
The black and white records are then combined electronically to create the final color images at original 12-bit color depth, which are also electronically re-registered, steadied and cleaned before the final DVDs are produced. “The main thing is,” Hummel says, “to restrain yourself as you’re going through the process, because there is so much color information there in these Technicolor negatives. You can go over-the-top if you’re not careful.”
Working with a staff of about a dozen, Hummel strives to achieve the original Technicolor look as closely as possible, using vintage reference prints as a guide. With Meet Me in St. Louis, you can see the flocking on the wallpaper and fully appreciate the striking beauty of the lighting (during the famous Halloween bonfire scene and tearful climax, as two examples).
After painstaking R&D, Ultra-Resolution is remarkably hands-off. “From a re-registration standpoint, it was like a dozen shots in Meet Me in St. Louis where [we] had to do a second pass because it didn’t re-register properly. Sometimes you’ll find that the magenta record is not quite good enough, so you have to rely on your blue record or the yellow record as your reference. You’re generally relying on the fact that magenta, because it wasn’t the bi-pack layer, was the layer in the best condition. But sometimes, the way nitrate negatives age, you find that there is some distortion there, and you have to try and re-reference it or manually go in and try and define what you want the shape to be for the other records to fall into. Is Judy Garland’s face really that squeezed? No.”
“What we’re experiencing is that the image quality that has been sitting on these Technicolor negatives all of these years is remarkable when you’re able to line them like this.” Maintaining registration and resolution was a constant nightmare for Technicolor during the three-strip period from 1935-55, which has been exacerbated over the years by shrinkage and damage.
What evergreens are next to get the Ultra-Resolution treatment for DVD? Later this year, Gone with the Wind, followed by two other Minnelli musical greats, The Band Wagon and An American in Paris, and then The Wizard of Oz.

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