How The West Was Won Blu-ray Review

htwwwbdsquareIn the early 1950s, a radical solution was proposed to the haemorrhaging of audiences from cinemas to television: Cinerama, an early precursor of IMAX notable for a screen so wide you had to move your head to read the credits, and colours so vivid the format’s famous travelogues felt more like acid trips. Filmed on three laterally-conjoined film cameras, and projected via a similar set-up, the results were surprisingly effective – cinema’s equivalent of one of those old aircraft machine guns that fires through the propellor.

After breaking box office records (This is Cinerama was 1952’s biggest theatrical hit) with travelogues and documentaries, Cinerama’s first drama was The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962), closely followed by the epic wide wild west drama How the West Was Won in 1962. As the studio saw it, the epic screen called for a trio larger than life directors (John Ford, George Marshall, Henry Hathaway) and a whole constellation of stars: John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Gregory Peck, Robert Preston, George Peppard, Richard Widmark, Debbie Reynolds, Carroll Baker, Lee J Cobb and James Stewart (an eleventh hour replacement for the late Gary Cooper) were among those called up to tell the two-and-a-half hour tale of pioneers conquering the old West – with, remarkably, hardly a dead native American in sight. Of the five story segments, loosely linked by three generations of a single American family, Hathaway’s trio are the most accomplished, despite some wooden acting suggesting the strains of working with the complex three-camera medium (Stewart, Peck, and a beardy weirdy Karl Malden are the exceptions).
htwwwwideBut this is Cinerama, and it’s the pictures, not the performances, we are here for – and in this respect, the Blu-ray does not disappoint. Aside from a few unavoidably obvious process shots, the restoration is flawless, and the 5.1 sound track is a fair representation of the polyphonic splendour of the original projection. Most remarkably, thanks to some incredible digital work, the joins between the three film strips have been rendered virtually invisible. As a result, despite the reduction in scale from mind-bendingly big to the average home cinema set-up, Cinerama has rarely, if ever, looked this good. Until they invent wrap-around TVs – note to Samsung: get on with it! – only Bradford’s Pictureville Cinema, which has the UK’s sole surviving Cinerama set-up, could offer a superior demonstration of the format’s panoramic splendour.

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