Reviewed by Van T. Tran
Special Edition DVD
Columbia-TriStar, fullscreen, languages: English Digital Mono, subtitles: English, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korea, Thai, single side-dual layer, 28 chapters, rated NR, 134 min., $27.95, street date 8/31/99.
Academy Awards: Winner of Best Art Direction, Best Film Editing. Nominated For Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor-H.B. Warner, Best Assistant Director, Best Scoring, Best Sound, 1937.
Directed by Frank Capra. Starring Ronald Colman, Jane Wyatt, Edward Everett Horton, John Howard, Thomas Mitchell, Sam Jaffe.
Journey into the enchanted paradise of Shangri-La in Lost Horizon, director Capra's timeless masterpiece about a mysterious land of peace and beauty. Fleeing war-torn China, a small planeload of people including British diplomat Robert Conway (Academy Award-winner Ronald Colman, A Double Life) is hijacked to an idyllic valley in the Himalayas where time has virtually stopped. There Conway falls in love with a beautiful woman (Jane Wyatt), and is asked to remain in Shangri-La as its new leader. But disbelieving in its unearthly wonders, Conway escapes, only to struggle against overwhelming odds to find his Lost Horizon.
When Lost Horizon debuted theatrically on March 1937, the film marked Columbia Pictures' most ambitious and extravagant production with a committed budget of $2.5 million. A staggering amount at the time that is equivelant cost of $30-40 million today. Adapted from James Hilton's award-winning novel Lost Horizon, the film poses many fascinating and intriguing concepts of an utopia where time flows slowly and the inhabitants live in suspended beauty and happiness. Rich in visual and imagination, the film is highly praised by critics and loved by audiences, and is now available on DVD under the "Columbia Classics" label.
One of the most difficult tasks in screening Lost Horizon is to come up with the technical rating for the picture. I have a very deep conflict in grading the picture quality as a "D", and a very lenient grade at that. This conflict arises from the fact that the film was almost lost due to deterioration and it took many years of exhuastive efforts to restore this classic that we can now experience. Robert Gitt, the UCLA film restoration expert, spent 25 years in researching, recovering, and restoring the film to its original running time. It would seem to be rather trivial, if not disrespectful, for me to slap a "D" rating on the restored picture. What is the next best alternative when the glory of the original print is forever lost? The next best thing is the newly restored and digitally remastered picture on DVD. In short, this is one circumstance where my low technical rating should not dissuade you one bit from watching the film.
The film is presented in its original full-screen ratio and running time. Before the film begins, there is a brief insert explaining the restoration process. Apparently, the film premiered with a running time of 132 minute. However, as the film went through subsequent re-releases and showings, it was trimmed and cut to various lengths. For instance, during the re-release in World War II, 24 minutes were cut with different opening sequences and scenes to tone down from the pacifist message. By 1967, the original nitrate camera negative had deteriorated and the trimmed footages were destroyed. For the restoration, the best available 35mm and 16mm prints were combined to the original running time, all but seven minutes of the picture. To replace the missing scenes, photograph stills are used with the original soundtrack.
Despite the best available prints, the quality ranges from very acceptable to poor. For the most part, the picture is a patchwork of fuzzy images, poor shadow details, terrible exposures, and noticeable grains. However, the restoration is a huge improvement over the theatrical prints. This example is clearly illustrated in the bonus material "Restoration: Before and After Comparison," where a split screen shows how the tears and instability of the original prints have been digitally restored. It really was an eye opener.
A slight improvement over the video is the audio portion. Unlike the missing scenes on the video, an original full-length soundtrack was preserved. Still, the mono soundtrack is harsh and scratchy at times, especially on dialogue. The highlight is the film score composed by Dimitri Tiomkin. Lost Horizon marked the first of many successful collaborations between director Capra and Tiomkin. The richly thematic score captures the film's adventure and inspiration of a paradise in Shangri-La. With the success of the score, Tiomkin went on to become one of the most highly regarded composers in the history of the silver screen.
As one of Columbia most prized classics, the studio releases the DVD with some very interesting supplemental materials. Unlike the original ending, which left more to the imagination, the "Alternate Ending" delivers a straightforward happy ending. The studio then insisted on the alternate ending, and for a while, that was how the film was shown theatrically. But Capra persisted and the original ending was finally restored. I much prefer the original ending because by not showing the obvious, my imagination is allowed to form its own conclusion, and thus the film lingered past the end credits. The "Photo Documentary" is similar to a storyboard and is narrated by film historian Kendall Miller. The documentary lasted 30 minutes as we get to see some rare behind-the-scenes photos and deleted scenes with the narration to provide much insights. There is also an audio commentary by noted film critic Charles Champlin and restoration expert Robert Gitt. The commentary provided a very educational account on the restoration process and on the historical context of the film. Other features include production notes and a theatrical trailer.
Lost Horizon is a treasure for film buffs, and with the supplemental materials, the DVD makes for a wonderful experience. With an engrossing story, magnificient production, and memorable performances by Ronald Colman and Jane Wyatt, Frank Capra's vision of paradise leaves a lasting impression.
"Gentlemen, I give you a toast. Here's my hope that Robert Conway will find his Shangri-La. Here's my hope that we all find our Shangri-La."
Current as of 12/9/99
Greatest Films: Lost Horizon--A detailed sypnosis of the film with images of original posters.
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