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Important Collection: Almost Unwatchable
on 2 August 2012
An atrocious release. Absolutely shameful. These two DVDs contain many hard-to-find films that I was delighted to get in a single compilation. However, the image quality ranges mostly from wretched to terrible. The Pathe group of films look the best of the bunch with "Ali Baba" and "Aladdin" looking fairly good, but unrestored. Not so with the Melies "Impossible Voyage", which has appallingly low image quality, and is offered only in an extremely abbreviated form.
The DVD cover states that these films have been "remastered", but that means nothing. NO restoration appears to have been done. In fact, many of the films seem to have been deliberately butchered. In quite a few movies there are actually shots that get repeated; that is, you see shot A, shot B, then shot A surprisingly repeats, then shot C.
"The Dream of the Rarebit Fiend" comes in the most botched-up version I have ever seen. Not only are many frames missing and the image quality disgusting, but a few seconds that are missing in shot #4 where the man leaves his bed for a moment, suddenly appear stuck in at the END of the movie IN PLACE OF the actual ending.
So, it appears that someone actually made a conscious decision to re-edit the film and thereby falsify history.
(If you want to see an unabridged, un-cut-up version of "Rarebit", you must get it on the "Unseen Cinema" set, which isn't a perfect version but at least it's complete.)
The musical accompaniments to the movies are excellent, if slightly late to the image throughout DVD1. I must particularly compliment the musical soundtrack to "The Great Train Robbery", which is the best I've heard for this glacially-moving film; and thankfully, the image quality is acceptable. What I'll never understand is why someone does not strike a NEW print from the negative (that still exists at MoMA, reputedly in good condition), instead of always giving us the same tired old print we always see. Just pay minimum wage to some college students to brush in the few instances of color and give us a decent print.
The "Commentaries" are no more than one (ONE) sentence, or at most two or three sentences at the beginnings of each film. That is IT.
I cannot possibly recommend this dreadful release. Instead, for compilations of the earliest of early cinema, I suggest you buy the two Melies "Wizard" sets offered by Flicker Alley (you can get them here on Amazon), "The Genius of Segundo de Chomon" at Amazon (or Amazon Spain), the "Saved from the Flames" series from Lobster, "Landmarks of Early Film" (Image Entertainment, also available here at Amazon), and then pick up individual films wherever you can find them. Even the two "Gaumont Treasures" volumes with their too many long dramas and some unfortunate music are better than this DVD set. Also, but of lesser quality and interest is the "Edison: The Invention of the Movies" (Kino/MoMA).