The two heads of Gulliver


Last night I had a great time catching up with one of my favorite animated features of all time, Max Fleischer’s Gulliver’s Travels (1939). However, it was not to the newly released Koch restored version we mentioned in this post last month.

I started watching the Koch DVD (they sent me a review copy) and I must admit, for a minute or so I was delighted with the crystal clear soundtrack and the brighter picture. But right away, during the opening shipwreck sequence I could tell something was wrong. I pulled out my one-dollar public domain copy to compare — and upon examination here’s what I concluded: #1 The Koch version squeezed the original 1:66 screen ratio to a 1:85 “letterbox” picture. All the picture information is there, but flattened – all the characters are squat, fatter. #2 The Koch restoration removed frames from the animation. The characters move less fluid in the Koch version. This is particularly noticeable in any fast moving action or dancing sequences. Like the Ladd “colorization” shorts, it must have been cheaper to “clean up” less frames, and digitize the movie “on threes” (to keep sync with the soundtrack). #3 The DVNR has softened the picture, particularly blurring the elaborate background paintings.

I don’t have a perfect copy of the film to compare this “restoration” to – but I do have production stills (in black & white). These are photographs of the original cels and backgrounds, released for publicity purposes in 1939. Below (click thumbnails to see enlarged images) compare the black & white still of a cel (center, below) with a color frame (left, below) from the Koch DVD. Note how everything in the color frame is now squat and fuzzy.

If you want to see more frame grabs and the technical specs from the Koch version, head on over to DVDbeaver/HD Sensei, or get a second opinion over at The Blu-Ray Blog. Me – I’ll keep enjoying the copy I bought for a buck, and hope that someday the original neg is restored by the corporation that holds it. In the meantime, while I’m in my Gulliver mood, I’ve taken the occasion to post an excellent four page publicity story from Good Housekeeping (click thumbnails below to read). Enjoy!


  • Katella Gate

    Jerry – You say “squat and fuzzy” like it’s a bad thing. I’m squat and fuzzy and I rather like it that way.

    Seriously, I’m sorry the Koch version went “on the cheap” with the restoration… All I needed to do was glance at your leading graphic and it told the whole story without words.

    Koch distributed a masterfully restored “Les Parapluies de Cherbourg”. What happened here? I’m glad you gave a heads up. I would have made the wrong assumption that the work that went into the Demy film went into this one.

  • http://www.jessica-plummer.com Jessica Plummer

    The digital “clean up” looks exactly like the “dust and scratches” filter in photoshop (which I’ve used plenty of…so I know it when I see it). That’s not “cleaning up”.

    It’s too bad this “restored” version looks like this, but maybe it’ll give the film more publicity and more pressure to release a REAL, properly restored version.

  • http://thingsicomeupwith.blogspot.com/ Jim Gisriel

    Funny I just watched Mr. Bug yesterday. I wish someone like Criterion would put out really great dvds of both Gulliver’s Travels and Mr. Bug. I like that they put out dvds from directors like Bergman and Cassavetes. But I also wish they would restore some of these lost classics regulated to the dollar dvd bin. So that we can have great prints and special features to help these films be remembered and enjoy the kind of acclaim they deserve.
    So many silent films have higher profiles because of dvd. you’d think so one would want to do that with the Fleishers two features.

    All though i love the animation in Gulliver’s Travels alot. As a Film I prefer Mr. Bug goes to town or Hoppity goes to town (depending on your mood). But both are great examples of the Fleisher studio during that era.
    But if it’s just from an animation perspective there both great films

  • uncle wayne

    I, myself, (& just about 4-5 months ago) had gotten a “for 1 buck” DVD of it, too! I was severely disappointed at its quality….cuts, nicks, lines, & gradation galore!! Surely this new one would be beacoup BETTER, yes??

  • Jay

    Koch was able to do an excellent restoration of “Les Parapluies de Cherbourg” because it happened to have been printed in 3 strip Tech and they got hold of either an interpositive, interneg or crystal clear print they used as source material. Something similar happened a few years ago with the 1950′s musical film “Carousel”, which had been shot both in Eastman Color and in Todd-A-O, the latter printed in Tech. After years of lacklustre video releases done from the former, a vivid, razor sharp Todd-A-O/Tech sourced DVD appeared on the scene, trumpeted as the result of some high tech digital restoration. Any movie is only as good as the condition of its original source material. Modern software can do just so much. Nothing yet has come along to top three strip Technicolor, either in picture quality nor archival endurance.

  • Tom Pope

    How apropos. I am making a 2D short and have noticed that after I composite my work in Premiere and export it, it is (ta-da) squatter. It must be the setting. I am pretty technicapped, learning as I go.

  • http://www.inklingstudios.com David Nethery

    I’m getting pretty sick of “restorations” that don’t restore anything … usually this just means they saturate the color and push the contrast to make the picture superficially appear Bright & Clean to the modern viewer’s eye.

    But this sounds even worse: they’ve distorted the original picture by changing the aspect ratio to the modern 1:85 that people are used to seeing. Oh, joy, so we now have a cleaner, brighter view of a distorted image. And the real shame of it is they had to have known what they were doing . This wasn’t some accident . So they cynically play on the public’s ignorance of what the words “new,digitally restored” really mean.

    The squashed image is one thing, but this is the worst insult:

    “The Koch restoration removed frames from the animation. The characters move less fluid in the Koch version. This is particularly noticeable in any fast moving action or dancing sequences.”

    You don’t drop frames, especially from animation! Every frame counts . Some animator made a careful decision about how many frames were needed to make the action look right. This is a huge slap in the face to the Fleischer animators who worked on Gulliver.

    RESTORATION means they should try to make the film as much like it was when originally released , not force saturate the colors to be more candy-apple shiny , monkey around with the aspect ratio, and drop out frames from the original animation. ( I guess they think that generations raised on anime done on 3′s and 4′s won’t notice the difference ?)

    ——

    Jerry, just one more thing : do I understand the Gulliver (and Mr. Bug) situation correctly … the films are in public domain , but the original 3-strip Technicolor negs are in the possession of people who have no intention of releasing them on DVD ? So this allows companies like Koch to find a more or less good condition 35mm print , monkey around with some filters to get rid of the most obvious dust and scratches , saturate the color and push the contrast, then release it as a “restored” version ?

    IMO, to have the original negatives but not release them in truly restored versions on DVD is as almost as bad as if the films were “lost” films , with no original negatives existing.

  • dronon

    Regarding Technicolor and archival endurance, where film archiving is concerned there are at least two things that have to be preserved: the emulsion (containing the picture) and the base (the film stock it’s sitting on).

    Technicolor’s dye imbibition process has proved wonderfully stable in the long-term (by long-term I mean 50+ years); this is probably what you’re referring to. Black-and-white emulsions are generally very chemically stable. Color emulsions are not. There was a big push in the 1970s and 1980s by big-name directors to get the film stock companies to come clean about the chemical stability of their products – I don’t know what the situation is now. Think of that pink tint you see in 1950s educational films, that’s color decay happening.

    As far as the film base is concerned, Technicolor has no long-term archival endurance at all. Early films on nitrate are notoriously flammable, which encouraged everyone to switch to acetate “safety” film. Acetate seemed fine at first, but is prone to something called vinegar syndrome, and isn’t good in the long-term either. Another film base, polyester, is more recent. It’s said to be stable, but I don’t know if any true long-term tests have been performed. Problem is, it’s only really useful for storage purposes. It’s so sturdy it can jam in projectors rather badly, and for editing purposes, splicing is a pain in the neck.

    So generally if you want to archive films, you have to store them in very tightly-controlled conditions for temperature, humidity and air flow. Or you can digitize them, but then the archival issues change to ones of image transfer, data storage and long-term data retrieval in a world where computer technology changes very rapidly.

  • http://lyris-lite.net David Mackenzie

    This BD is garbage. It’s been sourced from a Standard-def (yes, standard def) Composite video master, cropped (as you point out) and then has been subjected to such a high level of digital manipulation that it practically looks like abstract art. Everything is smoothed over to a ridiculous extent, which I imagine was done to disguise the standard def source.

    If you want to see how fantastic high def animation can look, watch Pinocchio. OK, it’s been sucked of all its natural film grain, but at least its been done in a way that hasn’t smoothed the picture over. And, it was done from the original negative and not an outdated videotape format.

  • http://www.cartoonresearch.com Jerry Beck

    This just in – a beautiful piece of Gulliver merchandise from the UK, courtesy of J.J. Sedelmaier:

    Gulliver Cup #1
    Gulliver Cup #1

  • http://www.cartoonresearch.com Jerry Beck

    David Nethery – You asked: “do I understand the Gulliver (and Mr. Bug) situation correctly … the films are in public domain , but the original 3-strip Technicolor negs are in the possession of people who have no intention of releasing them on DVD ? So this allows companies like Koch to find a more or less good condition 35mm print , monkey around with some filters to get rid of the most obvious dust and scratches , saturate the color and push the contrast, then release it as a “restored” version ?”

    First, Mr. Bug Goes To Town is still protected by copyright. It is not public domain.

    Second, the original three strip Technicolor negatives are held at The UCLA Film and Television Archive in Los Angeles. That material is owned by Viacom (which has licensed that part of the library – the Republic Entertainment part – to Lionsgate, who has no financial incentive to spend the money to restore and market the film on DVD).

    Yes, because Gulliver is in public domain, a company like Koch can do whatever they want to whatever print they can find.

  • http://beesbuzz.biz/ fluffy

    Just as a nitpick, I’m sure you mean 1.66:1 and 1.85:1, not 1:66 and 1:85, which would both be incredibly ridiculous aspect ratios for anything other than a really long vertical scroll.

  • http://www.cartoonresearch.com Jerry Beck

    fluffy- I am not an expert of screen ratios.

    Yes, I meant 1.66:1 (or maybe I meant 1.33:1) and 1.85:1. More accurately, I should have said it was flattened to fit the now-standard 16×9 flat screen TV ratio instead of motion picture 1.85:1 ratio.

  • http://www.inthebalcony.com Laughing Gravy

    When I see stuff like this I just want to cry. What a half-ass attempt to make a few bucks.

  • Daniel Spencer

    There is a very decent print of Gulliver’s Travels available for free download at the public domain website, archive.org. Its got full Paramount tittles too. Its in MPEG2 so easy to burn straight to dvd. It is quite a big file though (1.8g)

    http://www.archive.org/details/gullivers_travels1939

  • http://pantsinmotion.com Squozen

    Jerry, what you actually meant was that it’s been flattened to 16×9 instead of Academy 4×3 (1.33:1). 16×9 is 1.78:1, which is virtually identical to 1.85:1.

  • RODAN

    This is the saddest news I’ve heard….WHY OH WHY OH WHY!!!!

  • http://questforanimationglory.blogspot.com vince gorman

    eehhh. I agree with all. I love this original movie. I have it on VHS and it has been played so many times, it’s in bad shape. But, it seems my old VHS may be better than the “restored” version. It looks like they just applied a sharpening filter or something similar. It looks terrible. I was considering buying the new version, thank you for the warning.

  • Saturnome

    It’s like when my parents watch TV on their widescreen TV and don’t care everything is fatter. How can this exist !

  • Bill Field

    Wow- That cup is an amazingly rare find- indeed, the inner cup pictures are really amazing – Jerry, do you have pictures of the other two images inside the cup?

  • http://justforspite.blogspot.com Gene Hole

    Jerry, i may be misinformed, but i thought that “Mr. Bug Goes to Town” is only still under copyright by that title, while re-release prints going by the alternate title “hoppity goes to town” have a lapsed copyright and are public domain. could you clear this up for us?

  • http://www.frankpanucci.com FP

    This “restoration” looks as if it could have been farted out in an afternoon with AE native filters and rendered in less than a week with a single PC. The “dropped frames” may be a result of misapplied inverse telecine, in an attempt to derive a 23.976 fps film-rate file from a 29.97 fps source. It looks a mess.

  • Chris Sobieniak

    > This is the saddest news I’ve heard….WHY OH WHY OH WHY!!!!

    Welcome to my world! We can only pray for the day when the original Technicolor negs will be put into good use (course I remember thinking the same thing when it was the original Popeye 2-reeler shorts, and thankfully those are out for the world to see). But until then, courage!

  • Twinkletoes

    The best DVD release I can think of for Gulliver would be a two disc set: One with the feature (properly transferred from 35) and the other with the Gabby cartoons and Animated Antics starring Gulliver characters (‘Snoop Sneak and Snitch’ etc.). Republic released a Laser Disc of NTA Gabby cartoons in the 90′s from high quality, I think, 16mm prints. This is the source of many of the bootleg Gabby DVD’s out there. Some of those cartoons are, I think, still controlled by copyright but I’m not sure. The legal status of the Animated Antics I have no idea.

  • rab smith

    ‘GULLIVER’ is a sadly neglected work that I only witnessed once in it’s full glory; ie up on the big screen, which truly done it justice [I reckon this was the late 60s].

    Today, with upgraded clarity on TV systems [or even home-projection systems], this film is crying out for a decent restoration that will hold up to large-scale home viewing.

    Hopefully, this will happen in my lifetime! [I don't even own a copy of this film in any format, in the hope a definitive version will surface].

  • Bill Field

    Well at least THIS “Thing with Two Heads” isn’t Ray Milland and Rosie Greer.

  • Steve

    Atrocious! The dropping of frames and my real pet peeve – stretching video to fill wide screens. Just go in any sports bar or electronics store and you’ll see those FAT images. I was hoping the digital broadcast switch would eliminate some of it but apparently not. Funny how it just doesn’t bother some people. Like when desktop publishing took off and suddenly ugly distorted type was everywhere.

  • http://www.fromscripttodvd.com Bill

    If I may make some corrections. The film couldn’t have been shot in the 1.66:1 aspect ratio, as the standard at that time was 1.37:1. The 1.66:1 format came many years later when CinemaScope and the 1.85:1 aspect ratio came out in the 1950s.

    “Carousel” was not shot in TODD-AO, but filmed in CinemaScope 55, a very short lived version of CinemaScope. The movie “Oklahoma!” was shot in TODD-AO and was released on DVD a few years ago. That version was extremely soft and looked nothing like the TODD-AO version.

    I don’t know why some of the studios now are trying this absurd practice of “filling” the 16×9 HDTV frame of older animated titles. Disney recently did this with “Pinocchio” with “Disney View” by adding Toby Bluth’s painted side panels. His work is very good, but viewers should realize that not every movie or TV show was intended to fill their HDTV screen.

  • Rio

    What a damn shame.

  • http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=052C631F61EE2838 Iain

    With such a horrid transfer to a HIGH-DEFINITION format like this and Lionsgate (which is primarily all about selling and earning), it begs the question even higher: Why can’t Lionsgate sell the restoration rights (or at least the Republic licensed material) to Paramount?

    From the screenshots (and comparison shots) from which I’ve seen, the transfer simply looks horrifying. Everything looks like a ruined oil painting hybriding with great animation in bad YouTube-quality. I understand that this year’s the 70th anniversary of “Gulliver”, but there had to be some ambition in making this special edition.

    What if the same will happen to “Mr. Bug”? Will they just find either a bootleg copy or the YouTube upload of the film (which I uploaded; click on my name and you’ll find the playlist) and just buff and stretch it up? Let’s cross our fingers and hope not.

  • David

    I don’t know if somebody will read my comment but there is a French copy of Gulliver which seems to be very good (Region 2)…

    http://www.wildside.fr/video/fiche,voyages-de-gulliver-les-,1764