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DVD SAVANT

The Color of Peter Pan
3.20.07

I've put together this "article" in response to a couple of notes from frequent Savant correspondent Benoît A. Racine, mainly because I share his concern with the revisionism being quietly applied to big-name DVD product. A couple of years back I saw some of the work being done to improve the James Bond films, and was pleased to see samples of the 4K digital restoration of Dr. No.

Then I got a look at last Fall's DVD releases and was not as happy. Just a cursory look at From Russia With Love, Goldfinger and On Her Majesty's Secret Service showed that the look of the films had been substantially altered. Although cleaned up considerably, From Russia With Love had also been brightened overall, giving every daytime exterior and interior as full a range of brightness as possible. Dank scenes like the early chess tournament and the interior of Blofeld's secret yacht were now as bright and peppy as a television commercial. On Live and Let Die, the main titles had been drastically washed out, as if somebody in the Eon organization wanted to find extra nudity in the hi-contrast images.

The worst offender was On Her Majesty's Secret Service, which I have seen numerous times theatrically, in Technicolor prints. The movie opens with a moody dawn or sunset action scene on a beach, carefully timed to allow a blazing orange sky to dominate all shots. The final, main battle in Majesty's takes place in dawn's early light high in the Italian Alps. Telly Savalas and Diana Rigg watch as Bond's helicopters attack out of the rising sun.

Both of these scenes have been neutralized, so that they appear to be happening in the flat light of an overcast day. If surviving Tech prints were referenced, they weren't used as a guide. I've been told that the people at Eon overseeing these transfers simply decided they didn't like the way the old films looked and wanted them all changed, right down to specific subjective decisions about color.

I wasn't going to purchase the Bond films again until they came out in HD, but now I'll be watching to see what they look like, too. My old, "inferior" Bond DVD special editions will be good enough for now.

Re-coloring classic films also appears to be done on a routine basis at Disney. Reader Benoît A. Racine does his best to point out some serious revisionism in the new Platinum Edition of Peter Pan. I'll watch Peter Pan every couple of years or so, as it's relaxing and good fun ... It was one of the earlier films I saw at age 4 or so, back in 1956, when I only remembered Tinker Bell and the Crocodile. Luckily, I have the 2002 Special Edition with the accurate color scheme.

Benoît forwarded this letter, which contains a review he posted on the IMDB. I thought it was important and asked if I could reformat it and post it here. In the original review Benoît continued with compliments to the film's new audio remix.

Dear Glenn,

The just-released Platinum Edition DVD features a newly restored version of the 1953 film that has been drained of its trademark Technicolor blue in favour of a more soft-hued, more "golden", "pixie-dusted" presentation. The only thing I found wonderful about this new DVD edition, actually, is its remastered sound. I am hoping for a public response from you, which would make you the first online critic to have even noticed this atrocity.

Here is the text of my IMDB review of the Peter Pan Platinum Edition re-coloring job, from March 8, 2007:

In this third DVD edition of the Disney classic, the colours have been drastically altered. The contrast is subdued and the bitrate is not very high. The colours are slanted, not so much towards yellow as towards gold. Everything is imbued with a golden glow that brings out the golden highlights on everything from Mr. Darling's cuff links to the golden ornaments on Hook's ship. Interestingly, this change puts special emphasis on Tinker Bell, making her the glowing center of all interest. The color shift elevates her role; she's now the real heroine of the story.

2002 Special Edition
2007 Platinum Edition

Peter Pan's tunic is at times almost goldenrod instead of Lincoln green. There is no true blue sky, just a variant of Egyptian Blue. Neverland sometimes looks like your lazy neighbour's parched garden. The skies are often milky white or beige. The red and blue wallpaper in the Darling children's bedroom is now brownish. Mermaid Lagoon has lost its greenery and turned a repulsive pink ... The funny thing is, once you accept that the action takes place in Neverland in the fall, with lots of brown, yellow and orange leaves everywhere, you sort of learn to like it. It's a wild, one might say "experimental", concept. It's also a radical revision of the film's look.

On the downside, the Redskins have turned a politically correct pink. On the plus side, every brown and yellow surface is made to shine unnaturally, even at night, and lots of things are visible in the dark that weren't before. The reverse is true in the daytime.

More revisionism: I noticed that a slight shimmy in the London cityscape at night just before the camera pans up to Neverland has been eliminated in this version. Can they do that?

2002 Special Edition
2007 Platinum Edition

In the indoor scenes, this slant towards yellow makes sense as it replicates the warm, nostalgic, homey glow of lamplight. Otherwise... The best thing I can say is that it gives the viewer a brand new (though some might say old-fashioned) perspective on a film he's seen maybe too often. The total effect is somewhat reminiscent of a yellowed full-colour illustration in an old picture book. A quick look at the numerous Art Galleries in the extras will remind you that there should have been a whole lot more green and blue everywhere according to the original artwork.

Considering the radical changes made to the colour palette, maybe they could have called this the "Golden Slumbers Edition", the "Pixie Dust Edition" or, better still the "Global Warming Edition"... And it's not something you can correct with the Tint button (which adds red or green) or with the Cold setting (which adds a little blue). But it's perfect if improved sound is important to you, if you have no memories of what "Peter Pan" used to look like or if you really pictured Hook's harpsichord as being made of solid gold. -- Benoît A. Racine

Back to DVD Savant: I've heard about some Disney animation being digitally re-colored for video but have never really seen hard examples of the changes. The Peter Pan screen grabs provided by Benoît grabbed me.

DVD Savant is NOT a site devoted to version comparison and does not set itself up to wag irate fingers at DVD companies, at least not as a standard practice. When something irks me, I'll squawk, as I did with a Pan-Scan transfer several years back on Castle Keep. I don't think it's necessary to staff film restoration companies with monks sworn to replicate every nuance of original theatrical presentations, but a reasonable respect for what a film once was is certainly appreciated.

I'm sure that Peter Pan looks quite attractive in its new GoldenVision look, but I think I'd rather stick with the earlier disc, with its full original color range.

March 22, 2007

Reader Responses:

"Glenn, Your note on the color of Peter Pan prompted me to dig out my 45th Anniversary edition LaserDisc of the same title.

Let me start by saying I believe, since Disney owns the rights to this property they can do anything they want to it. If they wish to take the original cameral negatives and cut them into guitar picks, it's their perrogative to do so. I'm not one to say they owe the viewing public anything because of previous releases. Same goes for Lucas and Star Wars.

Nonetheless, I think my laserdisc falls between the two DVDs you feature in your article. The laser is probably closer in hue to 2002 edition DVD but also closer to the new one in brightness & saturation. Interestingly, this laser was issued in 1998 and must belong to the very last generation of laserdicscs ever pressed. This is one reason I continue to say, "You can have my laserdisc player when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers."

The good news is, I can now create a DVD-R backup that's indistinguishable from the original laser. (I was an early-adopter home theatre buff way before DVD, using LD into a line multiplier with a Sony CRT projector and a 100" screen. If I can't see a difference, there isn't a difference.)" -- D. M. Arnold 3.27.07


"Hello Glenn, my two cents on the Peter Pan thing: There's always some degree of interpretation when something is remastered, but Disney has been well documented as not really having "the original look" foremost in their mind. They want it to look ultra-bitchen-cool on a wall screen plasma, no original film artifacts, thanks. And if the original color scheme can be "improved" upon for a more "contemporary" look, whyyyyyy not? The 2002 grabs look right to me, and is the way I've always remembered it.

I used to have a 16mm trailer, and the color palate was predominantly green. And the "redskins" really are a giveaway ... they NEVER looked like that, I'll bet on it. Anyway, get ready to draw flak on this one. --- (name withheld) 3.27.07




DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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