I know a lot of you out there are looking forward to our release of THOU SHALT NOT KILL…EXCEPT, which was originally scheduled for March 13, 2012. Well, I’m here to tell you it may be slightly delayed (maybe by 2-3 weeks) because of circumstances beyond our control.
I really don’t have to tell our fans how much Synapse cares about the product we release. We really go above and beyond to make sure our Blu-ray transfers are the best we can make them. We spend additional money on clean up and restoration. Many companies do this, sure, but at Synapse we don’t like to do Digital Noise Reduction (DNR), grain replacement/removal, or softening of the picture that removes film detail in favor of a “cleaner” picture. Based on reviews of some of the titles I’ve seen that do this, many people still feel this is an acceptable practice. We don’t.
Like THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, THOU SHALT NOT KILL…EXCEPT is a low-budget film that was rather difficult to transfer. It had problems inherent in the original materials due to the age, budget, editing and film stock used in its creation. Nothing that Synapse couldn’t tackle, of course, with a little extra time and money and, because we love the film, we wanted to create the best possible product.
We were approached, in late 2011, by a company that is rather well-known in Hollywood for their excellent digital restoration services. I will not reveal their name, because I really am not here to embarrass them with what I’m going to tell you. I have seen many releases that feature their work and I have to say I was impressed. When the opportunity came for Synapse to work with these folks, we jumped at the chance, and we decided to start a relationship with them by letting them restore THOU SHALT NOT KILL…EXCEPT.
Now, time to back up a little….
THOU had some previous manual clean up done by another person a while ago and, while the work was GREAT, there were some additional areas I felt needed extra attention after I saw our HD encode. You see, when you transfer something in high-definition, and down-convert your master/files for DVD, a LOT of the smaller dirt and problems do tend to disappear simply because you are knocking down the resolution from 1920×1080 (BLU-RAY) to 720×480 (DVD). Small dirt sometimes just vanishes. I watched the DVD version of THOU and was very happy but, when I got the Blu-ray encode, I was taken aback by the amount of microscopic dirt I was seeing on-screen. Full disclosure… I have a 108″ screen with an Epson PowerLite Pro Cinema 6010 Projector… it reveals a LOT of flaws in DVD and Blu-ray mastering, especially on a screen that size.
Now, back to the present…
We had already started the menus and authoring on THOU, so I was in a panic to try and get this fixed ASAP. Right before Christmas, the unnamed restoration house told me they’d love to do the work and they were fully aware of my time constraint. They agreed to take in the master and assured me that the work would be done by the time I returned from holiday break on January 3rd. I sent off the master, went on holiday, and enjoyed the end of the year with family and friends, thinking my film master was in good hands. We agreed to just tackle the small to medium sized dirt and to not touch the grain structure at all (a big pet peeve of mine… I HATE when companies do this). The grain would not be reduced/replaced/changed and only various areas of dirt would be cleaned. We aren’t a major studio. We cannot afford hundreds of thousands of dollars in cleanup on our product, so they agreed to to the best job they could for our budget.
Got back on January 3rd and gave them a few days to contact me. I heard nothing, so on January 9th I called and emailed the company wondering what was up. Time was ticking away and we needed our master back. No response. Nothing at all. Emailed again a few days later asking for an update. Nada. Zip. Zero. I finally called one of the heads of the company. She was not aware what was going on and promised she’d get to the bottom of the situation. The VERY next day, I get a surprising email from my contact, upset with me that I actually called his boss! Really? What did he expect when I wasn’t getting any answers at all? Back and forth, we communicated (barely) for over another week… until FINALLY they told me the files were ready for delivery.
Long story short… we didn’t even get our files back from the company until January 25th. TWENTY-TWO DAYS after our agreed upon delivery date. Because of the trouble, the company WAS nice enough to pick up the tab on the shipping… little did I know….
My authoring company got the hard drive back and called me up rather horrified. Not only was the picture quality horrendous, but the film was actually shorter because entire frames and short sequences were now missing from the files. He had the original version saved for comparison. Dropped frames, skipping, etc. Now, remember when I said we’d agreed to just tackle dirt and not to change the grain structure at all? Well, besides the fact that whole portions of the film were now missing, this is a comparison of what we got back from the company. You’ll have to click the image a few times to expand it to viewable size. It has been reduced in size for convenience (but the damage is certainly viewable):
Needless to say, I was totally disgusted. I searched my emails and found one where the folks behind this work actually told me “Overall the element looks much better… We’ve not touched the grain levels as discussed.”
Obviously what we had told them NOT to do. I didn’t want our release to look like that PATTON Blu-ray abomination, or the even more pathetic PREDATOR: ULTIMATE HUNTER EDITION Blu-ray, but that’s what we got.
I actually contacted Robert Harris about all this. Robert has been a friend for almost 20 years and he is one of the top film restoration experts in the world, responsible for restoring some of the greatest films ever made, including the GODFATHER Trilogy, LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, VERTIGO and the 1991 restoration on SPARTACUS (not the awful version released on Blu-ray now). Anyway, I love Robert and enjoy talking with him and what he told me at least made me laugh about all this. He said, “Wow! They took your 16mm movie and made it look like a big budget 65mm film shot entirely out of focus.” He also said [insert rather famous and completely misinformed video reviewer name here] would LOVE it, though!” He then added, “At least they got rid of that little piece of dirt on the hand in the lower left corner.” He gave me a good laugh. Thanks, Robert.
Robert mentioned Lowry Digital (now known as Reliance Mediaworks). I know of them because they work with Robert and do quite a bit of fantastic work on films like the STAR WARS trilogy, many Disney films, and are currently finishing up James Cameron’s new 4K restoration on the 3D version of TITANIC. I gave them a call and, to my surprise, two people I knew back in my early days at Synapse were now working there (they were responsible for the authoring and compression on many early Synapse titles like LEMORA and BLUE SUNSHINE). Because of our previous relationship (and the fact that they liked me and I liked them), Reliance Mediaworks agreed to tackle the title for us ONE MORE TIME! I couldn’t be happier.
As of this writing, Lowry/Reliance have finished the work and the files/masters are on their way to the authoring facility. While they were working on THOU, they sent me a sample clip to review. Thankfully, their proprietary technology is able to tackle annoying dirt and certain anomalies without compromising the grain structure of the film. Here’s a comparison sample (again, you’ll need to click a few times to make it larger):
The frame you are seeing is a bit of stock footage in the film (so it’s bad looking to begin with), but you can see that a lot of dirt has been removed without compromising the film’s grain structure. Thank goodness the people don’t look like waxy Barbie dolls anymore.
Anyway, it’s time for me to wrap this up. Synapse just wants our release of THOU SHALT NOT KILL…EXCEPT to be the best we can make it. Because of the unfortunate circumstances surrounding our clean up, we’ve had to take more time than expected to get the film the way we want it to be. We are going to strive to make the original street date but, realistically, with the re-authoring and pressing facility still ahead, we are not so sure it’ll happen. The delay shouldn’t be for more than a couple extra weeks.
We just want to do it right for the fans, and do it right for director Josh Becker. We apologize for the delay, but we think you’ll be MUCH happier with the results and we appreciate your patience.