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Hell Drivers (Network Blu-Ray)

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  • Hell Drivers (Network Blu-Ray)

    I don't recall who it was, but on the old Brit Movie forum somebody mentioned the recent Hell Drivers release from Network. At the time, the DVD/Blu-ray hadn't yet been released, and was advertised as having a ratio of 1.66:1 when the film was actually shot in VistaVision. I always thought VistaVision had a ratio of 1.78:1 so I made the comment that perhaps it could just be a misprint on the disc label.

    Well having watched it last night, I can confirm that there are narrow black bars on either side of the picture, which would indicate that the 1.66:1 ratio is correct after all. Also, this is the ratio indicated on the IMDB site, so it doesn't appear Network have cropped it as I feared it may have done.

    The Blu-ray is excellent by the way for anybody who likes this film, and there's a nice booklet to go with it. Some decent extras as well.
    Last edited by Carl V; 28th July 2017, 09:11 AM.

  • #2
    I wrote about HELL DRIVERS on the old site, so it may well have been my comments that you recall.

    VistaVision has a filming ratio of 1.96. All the Paramount publicity states that the format can be used for any widescreen presentation from 1.66 to 2.00.
    Typically one assumes that VistaVision should be shown at 1.85. All Paramount US releases were planned for that ratio, one thinks of VERTIGO as a prime example.

    Some years back Network had the licence for ONE EYED JACKS and released a pan-and-scan version at 1.33. Just last year Criterion released it as a BluRay from a 4k restoration which got rave reviews. It was in 1.85.

    In the 1950s, here in the UK, Rank filmed 14 films in VistaVision. One can debate whether their intended ratio was 1.66, 1.75 or 1.85. Certainly if Rank had any intention of showing those films in the USA (as I'm sure it must have with BATTLE OF THE RIVER PLATE) it would have known that they would be exhibited there at 1.85. In the UK at that time, I understand that the preferred exhibition ratio in Odeon cinemas was 1.75.

    When Network first released HELL DRIVERS some years back, its stated ratio was 1.75. I do find it somewhat surprising that it has now released it in 1.66. If anything from my above explanation I could argue that it should have been 1.85.

    All 14 films have been not well treated on DVD so there is little to go on there to say what Rank's intended aspect ratio was. VALUE FOR MONEY has been shown on Talking Pictures at 1.85 (i.e widescreen with very slight letterboxing) while THE BIG MONEY was shown at 1.33.

    For the record, the 14 Rank VistaVision films are:

    1955
    AN ALLIGATOR NAMED DAISY (J Lee Thompson)
    DOCTOR AT SEA (R Thomas)
    SIMON AND LAURA (M Box)
    THE WOMAN FOR JOE (G More O’Ferrall)
    VALUE FOR MONEY (K Annakin)

    1956
    THE BATTLE OF THE RIVER PLATE (E Pressburger/M Powell)
    THE BLACK TENT (B Desmond Hurst)
    HOUSE OF SECRETS (G Green)
    THE BIG MONEY (J Paddy Carstairs)
    THE SPANISH GARDINER (P Leacock)

    1957
    DOCTOR AT LARGE (R Thomas)
    HELL DRIVERS (C Endfield)
    ILL MET BY MOONLIGHT (M Powell / E Pressburger)

    1958
    ANOTHER TIME, ANOTHER PLACE ( L Allen)
    Last edited by PhilipW; 28th July 2017, 09:47 AM.

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    • #3
      Hi Philip, many thanks for your reply. Yes indeed, it looks like you were the person I was thinking of in my previous post, and thank you also for listing the Rank films.

      There does certainly seem to be a variety of format sizes, and I'm sure when the BBC broadcast this film some time ago, they must have cropped it somehow to fill the screen as I don't remember seeing any black bars on the sides.

      I have various DVD's of American films made in VistaVision and they're all stated as being 1.78:1, which is why I thought that was the normal VistaVision format. I guess it must be like Panavision - that seems to be a variety as well - 2.20:1 or 2.35:1 and some are now 2.40:1.

      You're right regarding Rank's films on DVD. Even some of their films from the 70s were first released on DVD in 1.33:1 pan-and-scan. And a few years later, re-released in their correct format.....the Carry On films being such examples.

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      • #4
        Most of the Rank backlog is owned by ITV Studios now who seem to have little interest in preserving or promoting their backlog. Those films that have been released on DVD are often 1.33 pan-and-scan quite probably copied from the videotape from when the movie was shown on ITV years ago.

        Of these 14 films, THE BATTLE OF THE RIVER PLATE is clearly the most well known and is a key British film. The DVD I saw of it in a shop some while back listed it as being 4:3 with the film letterboxed inside it. One would have thought (and hoped) that for a major British film like this, a high quality BluRay would have been made. That's not to be; I'm not sure that ITV Studios have even made any BluRays of their backlog.

        ITV Studio appear to own the licence for 12 of the 14 with Network owning the licence for HELL DRIVERS and SIMON AND LAURA. I don't know how that came about.

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        • #5
          I totally agree, ITV just don't have a good track record with their DVD releases. The only one I can find off hand (apart from Hell Drivers) is The Medusa Touch with Richard Burton. I picked it up quite cheaply and this is a Network Blu-Ray with the ITV Studio logo on the back of the label and it is in 1.78:1. I don't know if this is the original theatrical ratio, but it's a change from the usual 4:3 releases they seem to prefer.

          The Battle Of The River Plate would be a film I'd love to have on Blu-Ray. I noticed on Amazon there is a German version available, but I then spotted the infamous ITV Studio logo on the corner, so there's no guarantee this is going to be any better than the UK released DVD.

          The worst example I came across was Carry On Abroad when originally released on DVD back in around 2001/2. Without a word of a lie, it has to be one of the worst transfers I had ever seen. Not only was it 4:3, but the colours were faded and the film was full of scratches and what looked like tears across the whole frame. Compare this with the version I saw a couple of years later on Film 4 and what a difference.....in 16:9 and scratch-free and with good colour levels. These films have all been re-released a few years later as "Special Editions" so whether the transfers are an improvement from the earlier releases I don't know.
          Last edited by Carl V; 28th July 2017, 04:21 PM.

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          • #6
            To that list of VistaVision films, one could possibly add THE IRON PETTICOAT (1956) with Bob Hope and Katherine Hepburn. Although made by Bob Hope's own company and other independents, it was filmed at Pinewood in 1.85 VistaVision and directed by the Rank stalwart Ralph Thomas. I'm not sure who released it; IMDB is a bit vague but it could well have been Rank.

            Largely forgotten now, it did pop up on Talking Pictures in very fuzzy colour, pan-and-scanned at 4:3, probably from a videotape made for TV showing. Barely watchable.
            Its only DVD release many years ago seems also to be pan-and-scan 4:3.
            It is sad that we Brits cannot look after a lot of our old films, especially Rank films which were a mainstay of British film production.

            At least Network, with HELL DRIVERS, have managed to look after one of our VistaVision heritage..
            Last edited by PhilipW; 31st July 2017, 05:57 PM.

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            • #7
              Originally posted by PhilipW View Post
              At least Network, with HELL DRIVERS, have managed to look after one of our VistaVision heritage..
              I must say I've been impressed with the Network released DVD's I've been purchasing lately. I have quite a large number of their titles varying from horror, such as The Horrors of the Black Museum with Michael Gough, to sci-fi titles right through to old comedies. The transfers have been excellent and, so far, in their correct ratios too. It is a great shame ITV Studios couldn't put in the same effort with their Rank catalogue.

              Thanks for mentioning The Iron Petticoat - I'm sure I've seen it at some point, the name rings a bell but that's about it unfortunately. As for Talking Pictures, it's not a channel I watch very frequently and the occasional film I have watched were usually very poor quality. As you say, they probably use an old pan-and-scan tape from years gone by. I think the last film I watched here was The Iron Maiden (1962) with Michael Craig and directed by Gerald Thomas. The colours and overall picture quality were awful. Luckily I've since bought this title on Network, and what a huge difference.....a beautiful transfer.

              Comment


              • #8
                The aspect ratio of any non-scope widescreen film depends entirely on the aperture plate installed in the cinema showing it. British circuit cinemas were equipped with 1.75:1 ratio aperture plates, so that is how any non-scope film would have been shown. In the US the standard was 1.85:1. In the vast majority of cases the print was open matte so you would just get a bit more vertical height in a UK cinema (the width of the image remained the same). Network for some reason has convinced itself that 1.66:1 was an original theatrical ratio, which it was not. When watching a Network "1.66:1" DVD or Blu-ray, I just turn overscan on which crops the top and bottom of the image and removes the black bars at the side, this gives an approximation of the original ratio. People with a TV which does not have switchable overscan will not notice any black bars. Incidentally, IMDb's original ratio information is highly unreliable.
                I well remember the opening of the newly tripled Odeon Gants Hill (Ilford), which was, of course, fitted out to show non-scope at 1.75:1. One of the opening films was, most unusually, supplied as a hard matted 1.85:1 print, meaning that there would be a black bar at either the top or bottom of the screen. Rank's chief sound and projection engineer was present and was absolutely furious at the "bloody Americans" who didn't know that widescreen was 1.75:1. Much debate ensued over whether to have the black bar at the top or bottom (the bottom won).
                Basically, there is no such thing as an original aspect ratio for a non-scope film, they were shot open matte with the action protected for showing at any ratio up to 1.85:1, with 1.66:1 being the minimum you could get away with due to the presence of mike booms etc.

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                • #9
                  Odeonman, many thanks for explaining. Forgive me, but when you mention about turning on the overscan on a 1.66:1 picture, is this in effect just magnifying the image so that the black bars either side disappear?
                  Yes, I see what you mean, so of course as you mention, it means having to crop a bit of the top and bottom of the picture. I'll have to check with my TV to see if it has such a feature out of interest.

                  I have noticed on the Network releases, it either states "......transfer from original film elements in its original aspect ratio" or alternatively it will say "......restoration from the original film elements in its as-exhibited aspect ratio."

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Carl V View Post
                    Odeonman, many thanks for explaining. Forgive me, but when you mention about turning on the overscan on a 1.66:1 picture, is this in effect just magnifying the image so that the black bars either side disappear?
                    Yes, I see what you mean, so of course as you mention, it means having to crop a bit of the top and bottom of the picture. I'll have to check with my TV to see if it has such a feature out of interest.

                    I have noticed on the Network releases, it either states "......transfer from original film elements in its original aspect ratio" or alternatively it will say "......restoration from the original film elements in its as-exhibited aspect ratio."
                    Yes, Network make those statements, but they are completely wrong. I will not say that some films somewhere were not projected at 1.66:1 (which was used briefly in the early days of "widescreen" projection), but from around 1956 onwards the British standard was 1.75:1 and I never came across any circuit (i.e. Rank/ABC) cinemas which did not use this ratio until the advent of multiplexes (mostly American owned at first) that were generally equipped for 1.85:1. The vast majority of cinemas had only the two options for projection, 1.75:1 and anamorphic 2.35:1. Screen masking was just "in" for widescreen and "out" for 'scope with the height remaining constant. Cinemas with a proper 70mm installation had a 2.20:1 screen and dropped the top masking for 35mm 2.35:1 'scope. The full height was used for 1.75:1 with the side masking brought in, thus the 'scope image was shallower than 1.75:1, but of course, much wider.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Odeonman View Post

                      Yes, Network make those statements, but they are completely wrong. I will not say that some films somewhere were not projected at 1.66:1 (which was used briefly in the early days of "widescreen" projection), but from around 1956 onwards the British standard was 1.75:1 and I never came across any circuit (i.e. Rank/ABC) cinemas which did not use this ratio until the advent of multiplexes (mostly American owned at first) that were generally equipped for 1.85:1. The vast majority of cinemas had only the two options for projection, 1.75:1 and anamorphic 2.35:1. Screen masking was just "in" for widescreen and "out" for 'scope with the height remaining constant. Cinemas with a proper 70mm installation had a 2.20:1 screen and dropped the top masking for 35mm 2.35:1 'scope. The full height was used for 1.75:1 with the side masking brought in, thus the 'scope image was shallower than 1.75:1, but of course, much wider.
                      I appreciate your explanation. I'm definitely no expert on film projection, and I just assumed films were shown in the cinema using the ratios that Network were claiming to be the "as-exhibited" ratio, but I do understand what you are saying, so my thanks to you for that. I notice from my DVD collection that several Studio Canal releases of British comedies are also in 1.66:1, so it appears this isn't unique to Network's releases.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Carl V View Post

                        I appreciate your explanation. I'm definitely no expert on film projection, and I just assumed films were shown in the cinema using the ratios that Network were claiming to be the "as-exhibited" ratio, but I do understand what you are saying, so my thanks to you for that. I notice from my DVD collection that several Studio Canal releases of British comedies are also in 1.66:1, so it appears this isn't unique to Network's releases.
                        Sadly, this 1.66:1 nonsense has taken quite a hold on some DVD and Blu-ray publishers. Some basic research would have shown them the error of their ways. The stupid thing is that we have 16x9 widescreen TVs which are a more or less perfect match for the theatrical ratio but these companies insist on putting black bars down the side and showing us redundant material at the top and bottom which wasn't seen in the cinema. I suppose that few people complain, not least because many TVs which do not have switchable overscan will chop of the black bars and present a 1.78:1 image to the viewer. Of course, if you can't switch overscan off and they put the film on disc at the correct ratio you would be losing some image that you would have seen in the cinema, so maybe it is best for them to continue in their mistaken ways!

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by PhilipW View Post

                          When Network first released HELL DRIVERS some years back, its stated ratio was 1.75. I do find it somewhat surprising that it has now released it in 1.66. If anything from my above explanation I could argue that it should have been 1.85.
                          Correct me if I am wrong but didn't BBC1 or BBC2 show this in 1.85.?

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Metro1962 View Post

                            Correct me if I am wrong but didn't BBC1 or BBC2 show this in 1.85.?
                            Well the last time I saw this film on the BBC, there were definitely no black bars to the sides of the picture, so it wasn't shown in 1.66:1 - which is how the Blu-ray version is presented in. I don't recall however if there were 'letterbox' bars on the top and bottom of the film, so it may possibly have been shown as 1.75:1. Having said that, it could well have been in 1.85:1 as you mentioned.

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