If your haven’t yet bought your James Bond DVD set…don’t! An article by Fred Kaplan in today’s New York Times (“600 Macs, 4,000 Lines, One Giant Leap for DVD’s”) has revealed that MGM has hired Lowry Digital — a DVD mastering and restoration company based in Burbank, California — to make 4K digital masters of nine James Bond films, including all of those starring Sean Connery. 4K is a new digital mastering process which, according to the article, “makes DVD look nearly as sharp and detailed as a 35-millimeter film print, and will produce images with six times the resolution of today’s high-definition television sets.”
The Times article points out that “a standard television displays broadcast signals as 480 lines. High-definition televisions have up to 1,080 lines. (The greater number of lines, the more detailed the image — the more closely it resembles a seamless, lifelike picture.) Impressive as HDTV looks, 35-millimeter film has far more color and detail. Engineers calculate that 4,000 lines of data would be needed to reproduce all the visual information in a frame of film. Most DVD’s — good as many look — begin with a compromise: they’re scanned at just 1,080 lines, at most 2,000 (sometimes as few as 480), and the source is almost always not the original negative but a copy.” At Lowry Digital, an ultra-sophisticated digital film-scanner called an Imager XE-Advanced, made by the Imagica Corp. can deliver 4,000 lines exactly. At this moment, according to the article, Lowry’s two Imager machines “are loaded with reels from the original negative of the 1967 James Bond movie You Only Live Twice.”
Says Kaplan (who is also a columnist for Slate.com and a film critic for The Perfect Vision), “I have watched scenes from a high-definition transfer of these masters on monitors at Lowry Digital. I’ve also seen a DVD, which Mr. Lowry gave me, on my TV set at home. The scenes look as brilliant as anything I’ve seen on a video disc — and better than any video of a color movie that was shot 35 to 40 years ago. Colors are saturated and natural. Gardens have dozens of shades of green. Flesh tones are uncannily lifelike. Shadows look like shadows, not gray blots. Motions are smooth, not jumpy.”
The Times article goes on to note that “MGM executives decline to say when they’ll be releasing these Bond DVD’s — or anything else about the project, except to confirm that it exists. The new discs won’t be out until next year at least, perhaps in part to avoid angering consumers who bought the 20 Bond films in three boxed sets that MGM put out just last year.”
MGM recently sent a camera crew to interview John Lowry, head of Lowry Digital, about his restoration techniques for a “special feature” to be included on the Bond DVD’s.