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David Mullen ASC

Oklahoma! (1955)

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I was looking at the new blu-ray release for "Oklahoma!", comparing the 30 fps 65mm spherical version (Todd-AO) to the 24 fps 35mm anamorphic version (CinemaScope). The 30 fps version is slightly smoother but it's not a radical difference between that and the 24 fps version. The 65mm version is definitely less grainy and is sharper. It's interesting to note the subtle differences in depth of field because in some respects, 65mm spherical and 35mm anamorphic use similar focal lengths to achieve the same field of view (i.e. roughly double compared to standard 35mm) but obviously the CinemaScope bokeh is different, though not as stretchy compared to Panavision anamorphics, which got rid of the CinemaScope "mumps" (fatter faces when the camera focused closer to minimum) by letting the background get more compressed in order to keep the subject at a consistent 2X squeeze.

 

65mm

oklahoma1.jpg

 

35mm

oklahoma2.jpg

 

65mm

oklahoma3.jpg

 

35mm

oklahoma4.jpg

 

65mm

oklahoma5.jpg

 

35mm

oklahoma6.jpg

 

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I don't know the state of the original elements, but since it is likely that the 35mm negative was printed from a lot more often, there's a chance that current masters are being made from 35mm b&w separations, whereas the original 65mm negative may be usable for scanning.

 

On the other hand, you'd expect the 35mm version to be nearly twice as grainy.

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It looks like they shot side by side for many of the big wide shots, but otherwise, the 65mm version was generally shot last, figuring things would have been worked out during the 35mm takes.

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In the shots I posted, the clouds show that the two versions were shot at the same time, but for this shot, which is a slow dolly in from full to medium, the 65mm version was shot after the 35mm version:

 

65mm

oklahoma9.jpg

 

35mm

oklahoma10.jpg

 

You can see how the corner sharpness of the CinemaScope lenses aren't great by looking at the tree on the left.

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I find it most interesting that the colors are completely different in the two examples. You would think those doing the color grading would have talked to each other and created a more uniform look. The 65mm looks more natural and correct to me. The 35mm looks over saturated and contrasty... weird.

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Thanks for those references. I was indeed looking at the clouds, which looked the same. The 35mm still of the landscape with carriage looks very painterly, but I don't like what it does to her skin tones. It could have also been the way those anamorphics were coated? The image does look more contrasty to me, which might explain the slight bump in saturation?

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Restoration expert Robert Harris talks about the new blu-ray here:

http://www.hometheaterforum.com/topic/331437-a-few-words-about™-oklahoma-in-blu-ray/

 

An early Eastman Color 5248 production, the film's dyes have not stood the test of time.

As viewed from the original negative (which shows the wear and tear of more than half a century of use), or even from the most recent 65mm interpositive, produced long after the original had lost much of its yellow dye layer, the imagery flickers, has uneven fading, and does not allow reproduction of the film as it was meant to be seen.

Wet-gate printing of the original neg to the IP solved a number of problems, the greatest of which would have been an image filled with positive and negative scratches and wear.

​Without our current digital tools, which have been used here to perfection, Oklahoma! would not be a pleasant experience on Blu-ray, and even less so on the large screen. It's really by an odd confluence of events, the original elements going through restoration while there is still enough life in them to make them work, and the 8k scanning and 4k digital tools necessary to make the film appear as it should.

​When the restoration of Oklahoma! was premiered at the Chinese for the opening of the Turner Fest several weeks ago, I left the theatre thrilled with what I had seen and heard. The only problem with the performance was not the fault of the film, but rather with the theatre's silver screen (a necessity for 3D projection) which yielded impossibly uneven illumination.

I probably look at films of this type a bit differently than the normal viewer, but even from my odd perspective, grain structure (which was unavoidably very slightly heightened - no, you won't notice it), resolution, black levels, color, overall image stability and cleanliness, were all magnificent.

Projection at 30fps yields an even sharper, and slightly more grain-free image, which comes across as a very special experience. Because of the film's projection speed, any horizontal movement occurs cleanly, and without "picket fencing."

Bottom line is that Fox's Schawn Belston has taken a project in serious need of heavy (and expensive) restorative efforts, and delivered. In spades.

To my eye, the new Blu-ray (part of the new Rogers & Hammerstein Collection) is one of the most exciting releases in the last few years. Replicating the 30fps projection produces an extremely beautiful and stable image, while the uncompressed audio correctly reproduces the original magnetic recordings -- originally run separately from the image via dubbers.

Those who like to contrast and compare are welcome to view the 35mm alternative, also included in the set (along with The Sound of Music, South Pacific, State Fair, Carousel and The King and I).

You can do it. But I wouldn't recommend it, as the difference is so huge, it makes the 35mm version appear far less stellar than it really is. And there's nothing wrong with it.

 

The restored Oklahoma! on Blu-ray is the closest that fans will get to seeing the film as it was created and meant to be seen, short of finding a theatrical 4k screening, which hopefully will be forthcoming.

It looks to me like the HD transfer of the 35mm CinemaScope version may have been done earlier.

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Color saturation is mainly the choice of the colorist, I wouldn't try to draw conclusions about the original colors from a video transfer. The same film stock was used in both cameras.

 

I suspect that the 35mm transfer was from a color dupe negative made from b&w color separations.

 

The thing to keep in mind with any transfer of a 1950's Kodak color negative movie is that in some ways, a colorist's hands can get tied dealing with uneven dye fading and loss of blacks, etc. Some shots may have to use tricks with the gamma and saturation to get a usable image even if it looks a bit odd.

 

But there is also creative choices being made by the colorist, the 65mm version has more yellow to the skin tones and is brighter in general, and less saturated, the 35mm version is more saturated but with duller whites.

 

One commenter in the home video forum thread mentioned that a day-for-dusk scene is now being timed for day in the current versions, which is a mistake.

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One of the interesting things about Todd-AO is the fairly limited range of lenses they had, just 3 focal lengths plus a "bug-eye" (not a fish-eye) extreme wide angle that gave a 128 degree horizontal angle of view. (To put that in perspective, the UltraPrime 8R only gives about 114 degrees.) The 3 other lenses, which were not designated in focal lengths but also in horizontal angles of view, were 37, 48 and 64 degrees, which corresponds to roughly 70mm, 50mm and 35mm in terms of anamorphic lenses for 35mm format.

 

CinemaScope lenses originally came in 6 focal lengths - 35mm, 40mm, 50mm, 75mm, 100mm and 152mm - with a 25mm added later. But I suppose for Oklahoma! they just stuck to the 35mm, 50mm and 75mm to match the Todd-AO lenses?

 

We actually have a set of Bausch and Lomb CinemaScopes, monstrous things, each one has it's own large case. A full set is like carting around 6 big zooms. Here's how the 35mm would look on an Alexa:

 

post-46614-0-29085600-1415257912_thumb.jpg

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I'm surprised to hear they had a 35mm anamorphic focal length back then, even today that looks pretty wide-angle! That would be similar to a 1.85 movie using an 18mm lens, like in "Touch of Evil" or Frankenheimer's 1960's films. You didn't see much use of the 18mm even after it was introduced in the 1950's.

 

Of course, CInerama had that insane 146 degree view with its three 27mm lenses and the bug-eye Todd-AO lens was designed to create that Cinerama feeling, just with a lot more barrel distortion due to being a single lens. I guess for the CinemaScope version of "Oklahoma!" they needed something close to that bug-eye lens though from what I've seen, it didn't come close -- the few shots made with that lens in the movie are much more wide-angle than the CinemaScope version.

 

You'll note that in the frame grabs, the 65mm versions are often slightly wider in field of view than the 35mm version. And of course they are slightly taller in view due to being 2.20 instead of 2.35 (or was CinemaScope still 2.55 in 1955?)

 

I remember reading that the first CinemaScope movie, "The Robe", was all shot on a 50mm anamorphic because that's all they had.

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Have you seen the Cinerama travelogues that are now out on blu-ray?

 

Just to show the difference in barrel distortion between the bug-eye 65mm Todd-AO lens versus the three 27mm Ektar lenses on the Cinerama camera:

 

Around the World in Eight Days (Todd-AO)

biking1.jpg

 

Cinerama Holiday (Cinerama)

biking2.jpg

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No I haven't seen the travelogues. Nice shot comparisons. Lots of barrel distortion in that bug-eye, but what a vista for a single lens at that time! And no noticeable dimming in the corners. Was that lens considered a real breakthrough?

 

As I'm sure you're aware David, the online Widescreen Museum has very detailed sections on both CinemaScope and Todd-AO, which I just re- read. There are quite a few production stills from 'Oklahoma!' that show both camera systems set up next to each other:

http://www.widescreenmuseum.com/widescreen/wingto6.htm

Although the combination CinemaScope lenses that I showed an example of above were developed in 1954, it seems the earlier CinemaScope adapter placed in front of a Baltar lens was used on 'Oklahoma!'. Which meant both optics had to be focussed separately.

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This may be a stupid question for you pros, but I'm just a novice here. What makes a filmmaker choose to shoot in two different formats, like 35mm and 65mm? Does it have to do with theaters projecting only certain formats? I'm assuming there's a good reason because it costs more money and time to shoot a film that way. :)

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In 1955, not many cinemas could project 70mm., but the original Todd-AO was not only shot in 65mm., but at 30fps. So a reduction to 35mm. would not have helped. So it was cost-effective to shoot two versions.

It was only done once more, for 'Around the World in 80 Days'.

Edited by Mark Dunn

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Yes, because of the frame rate difference, they couldn't just shoot 65mm and make a 35mm reduction for 35mm theaters. When they did the second Todd-AO movie, "Around the World in Eighty Days", they shot in 30 fps 65mm but also shot the second 24 fps version in 65mm as well, which was rather indulgent since it was just for reducing down to 35mm CinemaScope, but I suppose that made it possible to just use one camera and switch the frame rates, if that's how they did it (not sure, maybe they still used separate bodies so as to not mix up the camera rolls.) By the third Todd-AO movie, they made 24 fps the standard.

 

But when Rogers and Hammerstein started "Carousel" in CinemaScope 55 (55mm anamorphic) at 24 fps, they were planning on shooting a second version again in 35mm CinemaScope -- and the thought to doing a second take for everything was enough for Frank Sinatra to quit the project -- but soon into shooting, they built a 55mm to 35mm reduction printer, negating the need to shoot a 35mm version.

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