Classics get a modern touch

Carlton revamps, restores film library for DVD, HDTV

LONDON — Blighty’s Carlton Intl. Media is refurbishing its huge library of movie classics, including “The African Queen,” to take advantage of the DVD boom and high-definition TV.

Restoration funding for the 1951 classic, starring Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart, is coming jointly from Paramount, which holds the U.S. rights.

” ‘The African Queen’ is getting a very full restoration, right back to the original negatives,” says Fiona Maxwell, Carlton Intl. Media’s controller of operations. “The work is being done in the U.K. and includes an interview with cinematographer Jack Cardiff.”

The technological revamp of the 1,500-movie library, the sixth largest, will future-proof it, according to Carlton Intl., Media CEO Rupert Dilnott-Cooper.

It includes classics from the Rank library (“Oliver Twist,” “The Ipcress File”), Romulus Films (“Richard III”), Alexander Korda (“The Scarlet Pimpernel”) and the ITC Film Library (“Sophie’s Choice,” “On Golden Pond,” “The Eagle Has Landed”).

The library refurb was prompted by Carlton America’s recent HDTV movie output deal with Cablevision’s Rainbow high-def service Voom, which went live Oct. 15 with 21 exclusive premium channels.

Carlton’s output deal is with Voom movie channel Epics, which is dedicated to classic films in HD.

The joy of 35mm celluloid is that it is HD “ready,” provided the print is pristine. And this is where Carlton’s restoration team steps in.

“A (tape) master that was created five or more years ago would almost certainly not be acceptable now,” Maxwell says. “Today’s DVD market alone almost demands a fresh look at the complete archive. Add in HD broadcast and you have to leap well ahead with this fresh examination.”

Carlton Intl. Media, which brings together the media rights management, distribution and licensing divisions and the U.S. television movie acquisition and production arm of Carlton Communications, has invested around $18 million in this work over the past six years.

Restoration isn’t easy, with each film taking a typical 50,000 frame-by-frame fixes.

“That many fixes would have been unheard of a year or two ago,” Maxwell explains. “But, helped by the demand of HD, and because of the tool set and skills now acquired, we can do a much more thorough job. We can supply library owners with a product that’s probably better than it could have ever have been in the film world, other than on the first few screenings. As for TV transfer, the quality would never have been at anything close to this level.”

The first 10 titles have been delivered to Voom including “Les Miserables” and “A Tale of Two Cities.”

The classic “Richard III,” staring Laurence Olivier and John Gielgud, complete with three minutes of lost material, is among another 20 now available in HD.

Carlton is collaborating with Criterion Pictures on “Richard III,” which is in better shape than anytime since its 1955 release.

The Cardiff interview on “The African Queen” is typical of extras being offered.

“We have camera crews working almost solely going around interviewing stars and directors on their filmmaking experiences,” says Dilnott-Cooper.

“We were horrified when Dirk Bogarde passed away before we were able to capture an interview. He was in 16 of our movies, and so we have decided to invest more to speed up the interview process. The same is happening with most of the large studios, but it has influenced our thinking on the release of special-edition DVDs.”

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