Bernardo Bertolucci: ‘The Last Emperor’ Destined to be Converted to 3D

Nine-time Oscar-winning biopic received a 3D conversion, 4K restoration and sound re-mastering

Bernardo Bertolucci at the AFI Fest
Valerie Macon/Getty Images

A quarter century after the international release of “The Last Emperor,” the film has finally realized its fate.

“‘The Last Emperor’ had to be screened in 3D at the Chinese,” director Bernardo Bertolucci said Sunday at Hollywood’s famed TCL Chinese Theatre. “It was the destiny of this film.”

After serving as guest artistic director last year, Bertolucci returned to the AFI Fest today for the North American premiere of the new version of his nine-time Oscar-winning biopic (including best picture and best director). The film has received a complete facelift: a 3D conversion, 4K restoration and sound re-mastering.

“I think it’s a new life for this film,” he said. “The film is not the temptation that often filmmakers have with 3D to throw, I don’t know, noodles in the face of the viewers. … It’s a very innocent 3D, but I think it will make you feel very much inside the Forbidden City.”

Although Bertolucci and cinematographer Vittorio Storaro supervised the 3D transformation, the legendary director won’t be shooting in 3D any time soon because his filmmaking style isn’t conducive to the format.

“I wanted to do a movie in 3D two years ago,” he said. “The process seemed too slow because you have two cameras that have to be in a perfect kind of harmony. I like to shoot fast.”

The epic about the life of the final Chinese sovereign, Puyi, which starred Peter O’Toole and Joan Chen, was the first feature film shot in Beijing’s Forbidden City.

“When we went to shoot ‘The Last Emperor’ — it was 1986 I think — China was really still very secluded,” Bertolucci explained. “It was a very mysterious place. Not many movies had been shot; maybe one or two Western movies.”

That very mystery handicapped the production and post-production processes. Producer Jeremy Thomas raised a significant portion of the budget independently and Columbia Pictures agreed to distribute the movie only after completion.

“One of the problems in financing this film is that possible distributors, possible Western buyers were saying, ‘Okay, we’re giving you all the money, you’re going to China and then maybe you’ll disappear,’” he said. “It was really considered very distant.”

And despite his love of Tinseltown, the Italian auteur, who last shot 2012’s “Me and You,” said the American film industry now plays second fiddle to TV.

“Hollywood is still exciting, even if today, more than the movies, is the TV series that I really like,” Bertolucci said.