I talked with Mike Daruty, the Senior Vice President of Technical Operations at Universal Pictures to discuss the remastering of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, ahead of its Blu-ray release on September 3rd.
Remastering a classic film is no easy task, and it’s something that Daruty has had to face more than once over the past few years, as Universal Pictures will be releasing 13 classic films to celebrate its 100th birthday.
How did Universal select the thirteen films for restoring?
There were obviously a lot of great films to choose from. It wasn’t just commercial, technological events – things like that. The original plan was to do just twelve, but we have the Spanish version of Dracula.
How difficult was it to gather the twenty-seven hundred elements that make up Jaws?
I’ll talk you through the process. We start to gather the elements. Those are going to be limited to what is going to produce the highest quality. We looked at the original negative, obviously the first generation. It had a lot of scratches, it was a somewhat grainy element, but we felt that the original negative was going to give us the best resolution.
Based on a lot of the tools that we have today, we thought that the original negative would give us the best because we could solve problems by digitally fixing things up. We start by scanning in the original negative using a liquid or “wet gate scan” which fills a lot of the scratches. We then scanned it to 4k and digitally removed all the dirt, we colour corrected it, graded it and matched it to the original negative.
Then we brought Mr Spielberg in to give us his thoughts. Colour grading was fairly close to the original because we used a transfer that he had approved before. Overall, he was very happy with the outcome.
Was he there strictly in an advisory capacity or was he looking into it as you went along?
We bring him in show him the film, he goes through the inventory. He looks at pretty much the whole film, and gives us his take on it. Usually, there’s very little – a couple of shots.
How long will the process take?
The restoration process is a four to five month process, once you start the research ‘til you turn the print over. Then the Blu-ray process is another couple of months.
The restoration process costs from $250, 000 to $600, 000 – is it as simple as the younger the film, the cheaper it costs?
That is correct, depending on the age and the condition of the elements.
Touching on film grain-there’s a bit of a battle between those film fans who want to keep grain to show that it is film and those who want it softened. How do you strike a balance?
There’s always a trade-off. We know that film has grain, we want grain in our movies, but we don’t want too much grain, so that it detracts from the pleasure of the consumer. I think that we’ve done a good job of managing that in this restoration process. We try to put in as little was possible to appease.
Moving on to the sound, how do you go about upgrading the audio to 7.1?
The 7.1 is really a up-mix from the 5.1 done for that the last release. There’s some placement of effects, but we don’t remix the music.
Do you or the filmmakers ever worrying about upsetting fans of the original film?
I can speak for Mr Spielberg, it is his intent, and certainly ours to match the original intent of the film. We don’t really do adjustments – in most part we are maintaining what was shown in the theatre, and if we improve the quality – that’s the intent.
How did the fire on the Universal backlot a few years ago impact the restoration process?
Not at all. The backlot fire only damaged video and not the film elements. The film elements, we have geographically separated.
Is the geographical separation just for ease in striking new prints or for DVD releases, or is it for film preservation?
We have had the geographical separation programme for the last 20-30 years to protect an original element outside of the geographical region. In California, we’ll store one set of materials, and another set on the east coast. Just in case any disaster would happen, a flood – California is prone to earthquakes.
In Jaws’ case we would output a high resolution negative from the 4k file. We would also creat 4k files and back-up those 4k files outside of California.
What other films will be remastered and released on Blu-Ray on this centenary year?
We’ve released a few, To Kill a Mockingbird was released and looks great. All Quiet on the Western Front had a lot of work done on its restoration. Out of Africa, we are doing our monster series, so there’s a lot of work going into releasing for our 100th. A lot of titles going through the restoration process – another 20 on top of these 13 titles.
Jaws is released on Blu-ray on September 3, 2012.