Roundabout Entertainment recently collaborated with Paramount Pictures and Park Circus on a luminous, 4K-restoration of Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 classic Romeo and Juliet. The restored film is currently enjoying a new theatrical run as part of Shakespeare Lives, a worldwide program of special events commemorating the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death. The project was made possible through funding from the British Council and the British Film Institute.
Zeffirelli’s stunning and audacious film earned Academy Award nominations for Best Picture and Best Director, and won Oscars for Cinematography and Costume Design. It drew critical praise for its sensitive portrayal of Shakespeare’s themes of love and senseless violence, and for Zeffirelli’s daring choice of casting teenage actors (Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey) in the title roles. It remains among the best film adaptations of Shakespeare.
For the new restoration, Roundabout Entertainment acted under the direction of Paramount Pictures' Archive Preservation group.
Working from new 4K scans of the original 35mm film negative, Roundabout restoration specialists addressed the dirt, scratches and the damaged areas of the original negative as well as several duped sections.
“Typically, the most popular movies were also the ones whose negatives were used to make additional film prints,” said Roundabout Entertainment executive director of mastering and restoration Ron Smith. “Over time, the negatives inevitably sustain emulsion damage, stains, tears and persistent scratches. Those damaged sections were often replaced with second or third generation film materials.”
Getting those inserts to conform to the body of the film requires special attention, as even small differences in color, texture and sharpness are apparent in 4K, Smith added.
The opening and closing credits of Romeo and Juliet also needed special treatment. “The title sequences were made as color reversal inter-negatives and had not aged as well as the rest of the film,” Smith explained. “Paramount found the original text-less main and end title elements, and the high-contrast film titles. The backgrounds were cleaned and color corrected and, together with the titles, re-composited in 4K.”
Once restoration was complete, the entire film was color graded in 4K by senior colorist Michael Smollin in one of Roundabout’s digital intermediate theaters. Smollin’s color reference was a previous restoration produced with video technology. “That was a challenge because, in going to 4K, we were working with a lot more resolution and color information,” he said. “It took a lot of hours to get it right and arrive at a look that reflected Franco Zeffirelli’s original intent.”
In the final step in the process, Smollin and his team prepared a 4K digital cinema package for the theatrical release. The newly restored Romeo and Juliet made its world premiere last May at BFI Southbank in London.
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