Thursday, August 27, 2009

How The West Was Won: Three-Disc Special Edition

This is hardly breaking news, since How The West Was Won has been out on DVD for several years, but the special three-disc edition is just under a year old. As a huge fan of this film,  I had the DVD version released in 2000. When I heard about the remastered edition released in September 2008,  I had to have it. With today's computer technology, the wizards at Warner Home Video were able to remove the Cinerama three-panel join lines. The print is also beautifully restored and is bright and clear as a bell. By contrast, the 2000 DVD version is grainy and drab.

How The West Was Won is the first movie I remember seeing in the movie theater where I was able to follow the narrative. Seeing the film in the old Cinerama process was an overwhelming experience. I was only six years old when it was released in the United States. Experiencing the Prescott family's perilous trip west was an exciting and emotional adventure for me.

The Cinerama process required three projectors that projected the image on a huge curved screen. The effect was that you felt you were in the movie action somehow, not just an indifferent observer. When the Prescott family rode the rapids you felt like you were on the raft with them (at some theatrical showings, they sprayed the audiences with water). When the buffalo thundered over the settlers and the railroad under construction, you thought they would trample and thunder past you as well.

Three men famous for making memorable westerns, John Ford, Henry Hathaway, and George Marshall directed the different segments. The movie employed just about every major star working in Hollywood in the early 1960s, including Henry Fonda, James Stewart, Gregory Peck, Carroll Baker, Debbie Reynolds, and John Wayne. The supporting cast boasted the likes of Walter Brennan, Agnes Morehead, Thelma Ritter, and Russ Tamblyn.

Discs 1 and 2 contain the road show edition of the classic western, along with commentary by filmmaker David Strohmaier, film historian Rudy Behlmer, Director of Cinerama, Inc., John Sittig, music historian Jon Burlingame, and stuntman Loren James. Disc 3 includes a new documentary Cinerama Adventure, that explains the development of the wide screen process and the unique way Cinerama exhibited its films.

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