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Merchant Ivory’s ‘Maurice’ Gets Another Walk on the Beach

When Cohen Media Group acquired 30 films produced by Merchant Ivory Prods., including such classics as “Howards End,” “Maurice” and “Heat and Dust,” part of the deal was to restore and rerelease them, says director James Ivory, who serves as creative director and consults on the restorations as well as the rerelease and promotion of each film.

That deal was made in 2015, and now a new 4K restoration of “Maurice” — the 1987 romantic drama about gay love in early-20th-century England, based on E.M. Forster’s novel — will open theatrically in New York on May 19 and Los Angeles on June 2. (Last year saw the project’s first restored rerelease: the Oscar-winning “Howards End.”)

“It takes a very long time and a lot of skill and patience to restore each one,” says Ivory, who notes that the rerelease of “Maurice” marks the 30th anniversary of the film. “Fortunately, all the negatives were very carefully stored and preserved,” he says.

Overseeing the project was Simon Lund, director of operations at preservation and restoration house Cineric.

“The original negative for ‘Maurice’ was prepared and scanned at Cineric’s New York facility,” Lund explains. The negative was cut A&B roll, which made for higher-quality effects, because
the dissolves and fades are created by the printing machine each time a copy is struck.

Cineric’s inspection team went through the negative, determined where the effects were and then scanned the negative in one of Cineric’s in-house-developed 4K wet-gate scanners, where the film is immersed in a chemical that fills in any surface defects, greatly reducing the amount of digital cleanup needed later.

“The original had been used to make a number of prints and was quite worn,” Lund says.

The Cineric team performed the 4K restoration from its Lisbon office. “This film had the typical problems you would find in a negative of its age, such as negative dirt, camera jitter, an occasional scratch and color breathing from uneven processing,” Lund says.

To deal with those defects, a team of six technicians went through the film shot by shot for a month and a half, using multiple digital tools. After they were finished, the work was reviewed frame by frame to make sure no digital artifacts were introduced and no problems were missed.

The team worked closely with the original cinematographer of “Maurice,” Pierre Lhomme, and director Ivory.

“Cineric’s colorist spent a week pre-grading the film and then sat with Mr. Ivory for a day to make final adjustments,” says Lund. “He knew exactly what he wanted, and you can see by the attention [they paid] to detail why the films they made were so successful from an artistic and commercial stance.”

The files were sent to Technicolor Paris for a final pass by Lhomme.

So how did Ivory like the results? “I saw it in New York after Pierre finished up, and it was very bright, sharp and clear again,” the director says, with a sense of satisfaction tempered by the overwhelming task at hand.

“My only worry now is that, with so many of our films still needing restoring, myself and the original DPs will be too old, or not around anymore, to oversee the final work,” he says. “But I’m thrilled that our body of work is getting a second life.”

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