THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS (WARNER HOME VIDEO)
For years, during my teenage years and beyond, I made repeated attempts to get through the pan-and-scan version of AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS whenever it was shown on television, as I was a dedicated David Niven fan. I never could. It just seemed to me to be a meandering, shapeless, pointless, charmless and endless affair with no reason to exist, other than to show off dozens of hams in grainy color, strutting around with nothing to do but pick up a paycheck. The only thing about this elephantine enterprise that truly impressed me was Victor Young's brilliant score, for which he posthumously won the Oscar. But I couldn't fathom why 80 DAYS won for Best Picture in 1956. It made no sense to me.
Then an amazing thing happened. In 1981 the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, unable to book a decent first run film, resorted out of sheer desperation to showing a 70 millimeter Todd-AO festival, which included 80 DAYS. Having never seen it in a theater, and having nothing better to do I rather reluctantly decided to give it a try, and from the moment the screen opened up to its huge expanse, revealing a panoply of varied landscapes in amazingly beautiful colors, and with a depth the like of which I'd never experienced before, I was instantly hooked. As I became more and more immersed, every single reservation I had about the film miraculously vanished without a trace and I realized that, seen in its proper format, 80 DAYS was one of the greatest all-round cinematic entertainments ever made. It was from that point on that I stopped watching pan-and-scan films entirely.
For many discouraging years I kept hoping for a widescreen home video release of 80 DAYS, only to hear consistent rumors that the 70MM negative was so faded and damaged that it was unusable. Even Turner Classic Movies, the only channel that presents 98% of their widescreen movies in their original format, was showing a pan-and-scan version of 80 DAYS as recently as a few months ago. When Warner's announced the first ever wide-screen release of 80 DAYS I quite frankly didn't know what to expect.
The very last thing I expected was that this would be, in my still dazed opinion, the most spectacular widescreen transfer of a classic film I have ever seen! What's your favorite widescreen classic film transfer on dvd? The SuperBit LAWRENCE OF ARABIA perhaps? Whatever it is, it won't be any more. I have never experienced colors this shockingly vibrant and distortion-free, or with the brief exception of one scene, a level of sharpness that would appear to approach High Definition. (On rare occasions water spots do appear, but as the same spots are visible on FOX's release of OKLAHOMA, I'm assuming this is a Todd-AO problem. You might also notice a slight bending of straight objects on the sides of the screen once in a while, but, and I may be wrong about this, that could be because the image was meant to be projected on a curved screen.)
As for the sound, the remastered Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, the most dialogue directional I have listened to, is equal in clarity, precision, and power to the best stereo tracks of any classic film I've heard and perfectly complements the spectacular image quality ----- high praise indeed.
How did Warner's do it? I haven't the foggiest, but one thing is certain ---- I'll be revisiting this uncommonly splendid AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS again and again.