Robert Harris’ attempt to independently restore John Wayne’s The Alamo has been rebuked by MGM, which claims there is no need to restore the original 65mm negative, reports Jeffrey Wells of Hollywood Elsewhere. Wells has mounted a campaign to help Harris by eliciting the support of Darren Aronfosky, JJ Abrams, Guillermo del Toro, Alfonso Cuaron, Rian Johnson, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Bill Paxton, Bob Gale, and Matt Reeves.
According to an official statement by Beverly Faucher, MGM’s VP of Asset Management and Delivery Services, “We are proud to say that the original 65 mm theatrical elements of The Alamo are in fine condition and are not in need of restoration. We are currently restoring the additional 20 minutes found in the 70 mm ‘roadshow’ version of the film. Once this process is complete, all of the elements of the original content will be intact and there will not be a need for further restoration of the film at this time.”
But that doesn’t jibe with the test footage that I saw from Harris of both the original camera negative and black-and-white separation masters, which are in terrible shape, nor the disparity in running times between the roadshow and general-release versions, which is 31 minutes, not 20, according to Harris.
“The 65mm theatrical elements of The Alamo are some of the worst mid-20th century film elements that I’ve ever had the unfortunate displeasure to examine. This is not opinion. It is fact. And obvious to any archival professional,” Harris told Wells.
“I inspected the original camera negative of of The Alamo a couple of months ago. The negative is heavily faded in its yellow dye layer down about 70%, with additional fade in the magenta dye layer.
“When the negative was originally cut and conformed in 1960 at Technicolor, it was cut using black leader that had not been properly washed, and was not chemically inert. The result of this mistake was chemical damage at the head and tail of every shot, appearing as color fluctuations. That damage cuts through the yellow dye layer heavily, and continues in moderation into the magenta dye layer. It is not removable.
“Additional damage is seen, especially in motion, as a differential fade that moves in and out from both sides of the film, probably entering the image 10% to 15% on each side. It appears to have come from odd oxidation of the stock over the decades, most probably from poor storage in the decades between leaving Technicolor and making its way to its current storage facility. Or possibly due to heat damage.”
Yet despite the horrible fading and physical damage, the large-format resolution yields a stunning image from Oscar-nominated cinematographer William Clothier, and there is every reason to believe that Harris can make The Alamo look very good, if not pristine, for theatrical and Blu-ray viewing. Now if only he can only convince MGM to let him do the job so The Alamo isn’t lost forever.