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Lost Horizon – 80th Anniversary Edition (Blu-ray Review)

The last few years have been very nice to Frank Capra, as his classic films have been given brand-new remastered releases. The Criterion Collection put out It Happened One Night and Sony has put out some of his Columbia Pictures work. Why So Blu’s Brandon Peters has covered Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Mr. Deeds Goes To Town, which are great films in their own right, and now we have Lost Horizon. This was one of Capra’s more ambitious productions as well as a costly one, but it has plenty of significance in our cinematic landscape. Now the film has been restored in 4K and is the most complete version one has been able to see in the 80 years since its release.

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Film:

Based on the novel of the same name by James Hilton, the story asks an intriguing question. What happens when you get to paradise? If you’ve found the perfect society, is there a need to upset that tranquility? Is there a natural urge to seek out challenge once again? Ronald Colman stars as writer/soldier Robert Conway, who is on his way to England to become the new Foreign Secretary, only to have his plane crash in the Himalayan Mountains. Conway and the other surviving passengers are rescued and taken to Shangri-La, a wonderful place sheltered from the cold of the mountains, filled with wondrous sights and led by a mysterious High Lama (Sam Jaffe).

There’s an interesting balance of a dramatic-adventure story and a philosophical fantasy here. Capra is in peak form at this point in his tremendous career, so it’s not surprising just how well he was able to handle Lost Horizon’s dynamic. As it stands, thanks to some creativity on the part of he and his team of filmmakers, there are plenty of great sights to behold. The film makes excellent use of massive sets, extras, miniatures and other elements available to Capra at the time. It’s also an intimate character study that allows Colman and his fellow actors to delve into what it is to live in this place.

One major take away from this film is the appreciation of its impact. Beyond know what went into making this film, think about its central location. It is because of this movie that Shangri-La has such a clear association with the most peaceful and magnificent mythic city on Earth. That’s quite the achievement and yet there is still a lot to enjoy what with Colman meeting with various characters such as Jane Wyatt’s Sondra, a woman who grew up in this magical land.

Filmed and set in the mid-1930s, issues arose over the anti-war ideas being presented in the film. Add to that a production that ended up going over budget and it’s easy to see where the problems started to come in. Because of this, there were many cuts to the film, scenes that were reshot and an eventual release that had about an hour of footage removed. The version found on this Blu-ray restores an additional minute, having it stand now at 133 minutes, but one thing is clear – this story manages to resonate, even with some significant cuts to the film.

It’s rather interesting to see the restored elements, as a lot of that is only made possible due to a recovered soundtrack. This means getting occasional still images from scenes that were shot but lost, yet still hearing the dialogue that would play between characters. It’s a bit jarring, but somehow not distracting given the understanding of what is going on and being fascinated by the conversations taking place.

Despite being a more fantastical story, it is still easy to see how this film attracts a similar sort of quality as Capra’s other well-known features. There are relatable qualities found in the characters and while grand in scope, the film speaks to these people and how they are enjoying their living situation in a place where you just stop aging. A level of optimism certainly shines through, which is not unfamiliar to Capra, but it comes in the form of people who are true dreamers. That may just be the most significant factor to consider, as Conway is eventually faced with a choice and Lost Horizon finds the right way to put that into perspective.

 

Video:

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1

Clarity/Detail: I can delve into this aspect of this disc, but know up front that a commentary by Bob Gitt specifically focuses on the restoration process he’s been involved with on this film for many years. As it stands on this release, there is a lot to admire, given the 4K restoration and incorporation of 16mm elements and other more recently found footage. Excellent detail levels can be seen, especially given the scope the production. There are some variations in quality at times, but given the nature of the prints used, it’s more than understandable and there is still plenty of clarity to take in as a whole.

Depth: Thanks to the clever use of visual effects of the time, there are layered qualities to the sets and environments that allow for a proper level of depth to appear on this disc.

Black Levels: Black levels are quite sharp here. The contrast has been handled well for this B&W feature, with no real issue to be found beyond slight fades in some places.

Color Reproduction: N/A

Flesh Tones: Character detail level is strong enough. Some close-ups yield surprisingly clear results.

Noise/Artifacts: Beyond understanding that some of this footage is going to have issues no matter what and how grain plays a role in older films such as these, it’s a clean presentation.

 

Audio:

Audio Format(s): English 2.0 Mono DTS-HD MA, French (PAR), German, Italian, Spanish

Subtitles: English, English SDH, Arabic, Chinese (Traditional), Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Icelandic, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish, Thai, Turkish

Dynamics: I noted the complete soundtrack found for this film and it is surprising to hear such a fine presentation for an old film like this. It’s not a bombastic film by any measure, but even with some weak moments, you get an all-encompassing track that does justice to the score, dialogue, and other sound elements.

Low-Frequency Extension: N/A

Surround Sound Presentation: N/A

Dialogue Reproduction: Dialogue is clear and clean throughout.

 

Extras:

Presented in a fancy DigiBook, complete with glossy images from the film and the production, it’s nice to have some extras, but they are all ported over from the previous DVD release.

Features Include:

  • Restoration Audio Commentary with Charles Champlin and Bob Gitt – There is enough interesting information to learn in this track, though it is technically outdated, given how the group is discussing an older version of the film. This commentary has been edited and provides a not upfront to detail as much.
  • Restoration Featurette (SD, 8:36) – A look at the remaining bits from the original camera negative and some deleted moments without sound. Dialogue is narrated by Gitt.
  • Alternate Ending (SD, 2:43)
  • Before and After Comparison (SD, 0:59) – A look at how good and bad this print looked.
  • Opening Credits Comparison (SD, 1:25) – A look at how the main titles were changed when the film received its release during WWII.
  • Photo Documentary (SD, 30:27) – Historian Kendall Miller provides information on the production while seeing various photos and clips.
  • Theatrical Trailers (HD)
  • Digital HD Copy of the Film

 

Summary:

Lost Horizon is a great film to check up on if you haven’t already before and what better way to do so than with a restored edition such as this. The presentation is great and something cinephiles are sure to enjoy experiencing. It would have been great to get some new extras to go along with this release, but there is still enough here to help round out the package. It’s great to get these classic Capra films on fancy Blu-ray packages and Lost Horizon is another great one for sure.

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Video Game Player, Comic Book Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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