I’ve written about my love of 4K Blu-rays before, and being cooped up inside for the last few months, I’ve had plenty of time to watch more and more and more. Look, like you, I also love streaming. (I’ve watched a lot of HBO Max recently and I really didn’t see that coming. Their library of films is probably the most impressive of any streaming service right now.) But even 4K streaming can’t match the beauty of the 4K disc being pumped directly into your television with no internet bandwidth to worry about.
But a movie missing from 4K, up until now at least, as been Lawrence of Arabia, one of the most gorgeous looking films of all time. So when Sony sent me a review copy of their new set, Columbia Classics Volume One, yes, Lawrence Of Arabia was the first movie I popped in and it is breathtaking. Honestly, it looks like a movie that was made yesterday. I was floored. And just the right mixture of film grain to make it looks like you’re watching a theater screen. (There’s nothing worse than a transfer that takes out all the grain, making it look like it was shot with a digital camera circa 2005. If you want to see an example of this, watch the Terminator 2 4K disc.
The set is unusual because the movies included really have no relation to one another, not even the general time period they were made. The est includes the aforementioned Lawrence of Arabia, Dr. Strangelove, A League of Their Own, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Jerry Maguire, and Gandhi.
I had so many questions about this set and why these movies, and if Sony is targeting more the enthusiast crowd over mass market, that I reached out over email and asked Jeremy Glassman, the director of brand marketing for catalog titles, and asked what all went into how this set was developed.
Why were these specific films picked?
Columbia Pictures has a rich and varied library of films from its nearly 100 years of history. We wanted to celebrate a selection of those films that have become foundational within pop culture and reflected both the eras in which they were made as well as being relevant to today. It was also an opportunity to debut titles that would really shine on 4K Ultra HD and that fans have wanted to own. In the cases of Mr. Smith, Lawrence, Dr. Strangelove and Gandhi, those are some of our studio’s “crown jewel” titles and this was the perfect instance to bring them together in the highest quality. Particularly Lawrence, since it’s definitely been one of our most-requested titles for 4K UHD over the years. Then for the remaining two “modern classics,” we wanted to hear from fans about which titles to include. We created an online poll last summer where fans could select from some of our most memorable films from the last 30 years, and after over 30,000 responses, League and Jerry were the top two choices. While the titles do span a variety of genres and visual styles, there are common threads across the films of the characters battling against oppressive systems, being a force for change, and fighting for a better world (sometimes unsuccessfully). Of course, they’re also all enormously entertaining and quotable, too, so that’s definitely important!
What are the biggest challenges of converting older movies to 4K? Did 4K scans already exist from prior Blu-ray releases?
The asset management team here at Sony Pictures, led by Grover Crisp, has been working within the 4K space for nearly two decades now and has been an industry leader in terms of quality and abilities. So as long as the right elements are available, the work can be done. While the process of converting film into a 4K presentation for the home is different and often more complex than working with a movie that was shot digitally, the result of that work can be stunning, as demonstrated by the films within this set. There are specific details about the picture and audio restorations for each of the set’s six films within the included book, but most notable and challenging was probably the work done for Lawrence of Arabia. Following the original physical restoration of the film in the late 1980s, Grover and his team scanned the film’s 65mm negative at 8K resolution to capture the full scope of detail, and did an immense amount of cleanup and repair work from there at 4K resolution, resulting in the stunning presentation we have today. In addition to Lawrence, while we did already have 4K masters used on Blu-ray for Mr. Smith, Dr. Strangelove, and Jerry Maguire prior to creating this set, Gandhi and League have been newly upgraded, and all six films have received additional attention in terms of audio upgrades and restorations, additional picture cleanup and adjustments, and expansion into the High Dynamic Range (HDR) color space.
A few people have asked me on Twitter if I knew if any of these would get an individual release? (Obviously, people are very interested in the new Lawrence of Arabia.)
While it’s possible that one or more of the included titles might get an individual release in the future, there are no plans this year for individual releases.
This is a Volume One, should we expect a Volume Two and do you know yet what might be included?
We’re very enthusiastic about the overall response to our Volume One set, and it’s certainly been encouraging for any future opportunities. There are definitely a lot of amazing titles from the Columbia library that would work well for a theoretical Volume Two set and we still have a lot of feedback to sort through from last year’s 4K fan poll.
Does this show Sony is committed to 4K films? We all realize streaming is very popular now, but there are still a lot of us (like me) who still love owning discs. Especially great 4K transfers that can’t be duplicated over even 4k streaming. But does this kind of package show that the strategy for older titles might be more toward collectors?
From a library perspective, it’s important to make our films available as broadly as possible and offer choice in how fans and families choose to watch. To that end, we are dedicated to continuing to bring our films to 4K UHD disc, as well as to digital platforms. We definitely see the passion of the physical consumer, especially for 4K UHD, and share in the excitement of bringing our movies to the format in the highest possible quality all around. While the Columbia Classics set is certainly one way to bring together our films for collectors, it’s not our sole strategy going forward. We recently released standalone 4K Ultra HD editions of the adventure favorite The Mask of Zorro and the acclaimed masterpiece Boyz N The Hood, and have many other 4K UHD releases of both recent and classic titles planned beyond any other possible higher-end packages.
And related to the prior question, I guess I’m just wondering about the strategy of what catalog films get the 4k release treatment. The Bridge on the River Kwai had a prior release (and it’s a beautiful transfer), but going forward would movies like that be part of this kind of package?
There are a combination of factors that go into deciding what catalog titles get released in 4K, and it’s often a blend of the creative, the cultural, and the commercial. We usually consider key anniversaries as a driving factor, as well as theatrical drafting opportunities for related library films, important global or focused events. And sometimes just fun or meaningful movies from the catalog that sometimes may offer a cool filmmaker or special feature opportunity. The availability of 4K masters for the films is also a consideration, and we’re always enthusiastic to further expand our studio 4K asset library. The way we bring a title to market is also driven by a variety of considerations, so it wouldn’t necessarily be the case that titles like The Bridge on the River Kwai or similar would only be available within a larger set, it entirely depends on the specifics of a given title.
You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.