WHV Screwed Up ATPM Bluray, Says Willis

I’ve watched the All The President’s Men Bluray a couple of times since buying it last February. And the thing that sticks out right away is the over-saturated color, especially the appearance of the red and blue chairs in the Washington Post newsroom. The overall appearance looks like celluloid and that’s cool, but someone turned up the saturation plus it looks a little too dark here and there.

I shared my opinion yesterday morning with a technical guy who knows all about Bluray and DVD masterings, and he told me that Warner Home Video, incredibly, had never even called much less consulted Gordon Willis, the film’s legendary dp, about how the colors should look, etc. So I called Willis myself about an hour ago and he said he’d seen the ATPM Bluray on his 46″ screen and “it’s all fucked up…all the medium tones [are wrong] and contrast is way higher than it oughta be….it’s overloaded.”

Willis confirmed that no one from WHV had contacted him to consult or discuss prior to creating the Bluray. “All they had to do was use the most recent DVD as a reference because that’s fine,” he said. “They probably think they’ll get [me] in there and it’ll turn into a problem but it’s definitely a problem when they don’t. They don’t get it. They get on those fucking dials…it’s a disease. Their idea for a Bluray is to make it for guys who are watching football.”

I asked if he’d called anyone at Warner Home Video since the All The President’s Men Bluray came out to tell them they’d gotten it wrong and that they should have called, etc. “And what are they gonna say?,” he said. “We’re sorry and we’ll do it all over again? You call these guys, it’s like talking to a head on a stick.”

39 thoughts on “WHV Screwed Up ATPM Bluray, Says Willis

  1. This kind of thing isn’t tragic per se, not in the grand scheme of human suffering, but boy is an affront to the artists who made these films. Blu-rays are the reference versions of these films for the foreseeable future. Very sad.

  2. The colors do look very bright. I remember the 70′s and those colorful chairs sure stood out. But I don’t think they were that bright.

  3. Yeah, this upsets me — I was seriously considering getting ATPM on blu-ray after seeing that amazing long-take of Redford on the phone, but if Willis hates the transfer, I’m not quite so enthused. When the living legends are still, y’know, living, it’s only common sense to consult them.

  4. For the most part Blu ray movies looks better than when they played in theaters. Havent seen All the Presidents Men in this format so I cant comment.

    I I have rented out a local art house theater and watched 1978′s Dawn of the Dead and the 1974 disaster classic The Towering Inferno via blu ray projection..These were private showings were I invited around twenty five people who were blown away how good blu ray looked projected onto the big screen in a movie theater. Has anyone else watched a revival showing at a theater in Blu ray? curious of opinion. Plan on doing it again.

  5. Simply my favorite film of that decade. What a travesty! Why not just add fart noises on the soundtrack while they’re at it?

  6. Looks like WHV did to this movie what they allowed Clint Eastwood to do to “Dirty Harry.” Holy s**t, talk about amped-up color….

  7. That cap looks far brighter than my Blu-ray. We all know that Wells doesn’t have his TV properly calibrated, is it possible that Willis doesn’t either? I revere The Prince of Darkness. The man is a cinematography god. He is also, however, nearly 80. If he’s using his set with factory settings, it’s going to be way too bright. The AtPM Blu-ray transfer isn’t perfect, but it’s far from the travesty described above.

  8. “Has anyone else watched a revival showing at a theater in Blu ray? curious of opinion.”

    Yes, an all-digital independent theater opened in the next town over, and the owner occasionally does Saturday shows of classic movies, using the blu rays. The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, Dr Strangelove, Casablanca, etc.

    They look fantastic – I’ve seen Dr Strangelove theatrically, and even saw TGTB&TU at the Egyptian when I lived in LA, and in my recollection they weren’t that much better looking(if at all) than the projected blu ray.

    Even a pretty average-looking blu ray like National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation looked like film when it was digitally projected.

  9. I can tell you from firsthand, bullshit-posthouse experience that the telecine jockeys almost never have any insight into directorial/DP intention, and just shine EVERYTHING up to make it look as bright, clean and sparkly as a new movie… Hell, even when it IS a new movie that was intentionally grainy and fucked-with, you’re liable to get some dude scrubbing it clean– the Texas Chainsaw remake from 2003 was gloriously sickly and rough and vomitous looking in theaters; On DVD it’s blanded down to low-contrast smoothness.

    But back on topic, it really DOES seem like half the BluRays you guys talk about are shameful transfers and firmwire problems and lip sync issues… are you REALLY sure BD is the reference-quality gold standard for the forseeable future.

    VHS POWER.

  10. If that screenshot is an accurate representation of the blu-ray, then this disc officially jumps to the front of the pack of truly terrible transfers.

    These colors are out of Astro Boy (the super-blue phonebook and typewriter and the irradiated chairs).

    And Warden’s head is so berserkly sunburned, it’s ready to explode in a Cronenberg film.

  11. People were calling this from day one…it’s good to have confirmation from Willis, but nothing new here — just comparing it with the DVDs it’s obvious there was contrast boosting.

    (And screwed up as this is it’s nowhere near “the front of the pack of truly terrible transfers,” Kundun and Salo and Gulliver’s Travels and Out of Africa have that space pretty well sealed off for all time. This probably isn’t even in the bottom 25 percentile.)

  12. How awesome that you called Gordon Willis. And yes this looks as bad as that Fassbinder movie where Fassbinder plays a Carny who wins the lottery.

    I eagerly await the SOPHIE’S CHOICE BluRay where Meryl Streep looks like Madonna in WHO’S THAT GIRL?

  13. Watched Up the Sandbox and Broadway Danny Rose in the last month. Didn’t realize till after, don’t ask why, that both were shot by Willis. Gordon has a unique talent of being able to shoot in very tight places (apartments, cars) and make the shots full and interesting. The easy set-ups get a non-pedestrian treatment. Woody Allen will many times have a character speak to an actor off camera, not completing a two-shot till mid-scene. The result is a demand that the audience pay close attention to the dialogue. This appears to be a Willis invention and not attributable to Allen. A visualist paying respect to the screenplay. A consummate film-maker. I envy Jeff’s friendship with Willis.

  14. I showed All the President’s Men twice this past week to students — and, trust me, neither the above scene nor any other scene in the movie is that bright. Not even exterior shots.

  15. The problem goes even deeper: most of the “restored” 35mm prints made for revival house showings don’t come from the now-damaged, properly color-timed negative, but from the “new” digital source. So even if you get the privilege of seeing some of these films projected in 35mm in a theatre, you’re still totally at the mercy of the new colorist and the color may still be off. So it has nothing to do with the settings on one’s TV, but, rather, on the aesthetic of the colorist.

    Case in point: I saw a “new” print of “Dirty Harry” at the Aero and it was pristine, with nary a scratch, but the color was oddly way off. Not faded or pink, like what normally happens to old prints, but mis-timed and overly amped up. In any given shot, it was as if the color timer adjusted for whatever primary color was in the frame — so if there was a red curb, say, or a blue mailbox, that red or blue was tweaked to Godardian levels of saturation and everything else, especially skin-tones, fell by the wayside (much like the desks in the still above). The clincher, which proved to me that the colorist was disregarding the original timing instructions, were interior scenes in the police station where the flourescents and skin-tones all had a sickly green tinge. This wasn’t the “intentional” use of green like you see in music videos and Fincher, but ignored color timing instructions pure and simple (different kinds of lights give off different color temperatures, and the first rule of color timing, unless it’s an aesthetic choice, is to correct them to read “white”).

    This bothers me even more than a bad Blu-Ray, because these will probably be the last film prints of these movies ever made and if the studio gets it wrong, there is now no longer any sort of standard reference. It’s even more galling because, for all the expense involved, it doesn’t really cost any more money to get it right, just a little more leg-work. In many cases the D.P.s are still alive and can be consulted, and when they’re not, the labs all have records on file of the original timing instructions that could easily be faxed over with a simple phone call. I don’t want to see the “vision” of a lab rat at Deluxe or Technicolor, I want to see the original vision of the director and cinematographer. More people need to speak up about this so that these sorts of easily preventable abuses and mistakes stop.

  16. The problem goes even deeper: most of the “restored” 35mm prints made for revival house showings don’t come from the now-damaged, properly color-timed negative, but from the “new” digital source. So even if you get the privilege of seeing some of these films projected in 35mm in a theatre, you’re still totally at the mercy of the new colorist and the color may still be off. So it has nothing to do with the settings on one’s TV, but, rather, on the aesthetic of the colorist.

    Case in point: I saw a “new” print of “Dirty Harry” at the Aero and it was pristine, with nary a scratch, but the color was oddly way off. Not faded or pink, like what normally happens to old prints, but mis-timed and overly amped up. In any given shot, it was as if the color timer adjusted for whatever primary color was in the frame — so if there was a red curb, say, or a blue mailbox, that red or blue was tweaked to Godardian levels of saturation and everything else, especially skin-tones, fell by the wayside (much like the desks in the still above). The clincher, which proved to me that the colorist was disregarding the original timing instructions, were interior scenes in the police station where the flourescents and skin-tones all had a sickly green tinge. This wasn’t the “intentional” use of green like you see in music videos and Fincher, but ignored color timing instructions pure and simple (different kinds of lights give off different color temperatures, and the first rule of color timing, unless it’s an aesthetic choice, is to correct them to read “white”).

    This bothers me even more than a bad Blu-Ray, because these will probably be the last film prints of these movies ever made and if the studio gets it wrong, there is now no longer any sort of standard reference. It’s even more galling because, for all the expense involved, it doesn’t really cost any more money to get it right, just a little more leg-work. In many cases the D.P.s are still alive and can be consulted, and when they’re not, the labs all have records on file of the original timing instructions that could easily be faxed over with a simple phone call. I don’t want to see the “vision” of a lab rat at Deluxe or Technicolor, I want to see the original vision of the director and cinematographer. More people need to speak up about this so that these sorts of easily preventable abuses and mistakes stop.

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  19. The Two-Disc Edition (Feb 06) contains many features, some serious (politics and the press), others poignant about the filmmaking, such as Redford’s idea that he and Hoffman not only memorize their own lines but also each other’s for authenticity’s sake.

  20. This kind of thing isn’t tragic per se, not in the grand scheme of human suffering, but boy is an affront to the artists who made these films. Blu-rays are the reference versions of these films for the foreseeable future
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