Kaleidescape’s Luke O’Brien on the Importance of Catalog

Kaleidescape's Luke O'Brien on the Importance of Catalog

Someone peering in from the outside might assume that the Director of Content Operations at a luxury movie-download service like Kaleidescape is a kind of high-end traffic cop, tasked primarily with taking the 4K HDR files sent along by the various studios and ensuring they’re posted on the company’s movie store without any serious technical glitches—in other words, a job defined more by technical diligence than anything else.


But Luke O’Brien (like Kaleidescape’s Principal Engineer of User Experience Michael Kobb, who we profiled in “Inside a Film Connoisseur’s No-Compromise Home Theater”) is a deep-dyed movie fan. And his passion for film permeates the entire Kaleidescape experience, from the selection of movies to the creation of the transfers to the crafting of the descriptions on the interface and store.


With most big movies on hold with no clear sense of when—or how—they’ll make their way to the home market, which is causing a lot of people to turn to older films for entertainment, this seemed like a good time to pick Luke’s brain about the virtues of exploring Kaleidescape’s [11,000]-title catalog of films, series, concerts, and other content.

—Michael Gaughn

It seems like it might have been wiser for the studios to have released more of their big summer movies straight to the home market than to sit on them for an indefinite amount of time. But I guess they’re willing to gamble that they’ll get a big enough bump out of them when and if they’re able to get them into theaters.

I think the studios are going to do everything they can not to give up on that window. But as time continues to move forward, they do have a lot of stuff that is already finished. It becomes hard to make those choices about when do they actually get those titles into the world to monetize them. Even if they do choose to release some of them now, if we’re still in a period where they’re not getting back to things being filmed and finished, we’re just delaying another very hard dry spell we might 

have to experience months down the road. Because if you show everything you currently have in your backlog now, there will be a point later on when the well is dry and you have to figure out how you can live through that experience.


Premium video on demand (PVOD) seemed to come out of nowhere to at least get some mid-tier titles into the home market.

We’ve seen things that, if not tent poles. would have at least been prominent theatrical releases transitioned straight into the premium EST [electronic sell-through] and premium VOD markets. It’s the first time that’s happened. So we are in an unprecedented time right now.


How has this played out for Kaleidescape in particular?

It’s been a really interesting period for us. We are continuing to see very good traffic coming through our store. There are two things people are really diving into, both of which are encompassed by what we generally talk about as “catalog” —that is, movies that have been out for over a year.


One, there are a lot of films that maybe people missed the first time around but now they’re getting a chance to 

dive into. And then there’s also—I heard the phrase the other day—“comfort viewing” that’s taking place. This is where you have movies you love or stars you connect with and you’re diving into their content and kind of snuggling up with it to really make the end of your evening a more pleasant experience.


When this first all started to play out, did you see people gravitating naturally or sort of organically towards catalog in the sense that there was an unusual uptick of people going in and checking out those titles?

When the pandemic first started, we saw what a lot of platforms did, that movies like Contagion jumped into people’s minds right away. So there are some famous films like that that come to the top of your mind when you’re at a time like this. But as 

time went on, it became, “What are the things I’ve missed? What can I go and revisit in the catalog that’s going to help me be happy?” We just did a promotion where we featured some films of Stanley Kubrick as an extraordinarily masterful director. That’s an opportunity where people will say, “Oh man, I’ve seen The Shining. What are the other ones?”


As time has gone on, what do you see people gravitating toward? Are they getting more adventurous with their choices?

That’s more a per-customer sort of thing, but we are seeing some of them who are going in and doing more deep dives. They’re electing to go through and pick up a bunch of titles in the furthest reaches of the catalog, like some of the extraordinary noir films from the 1940s that they hadn’t gotten around to before. But for a lot of people, it’s the stuff they missed maybe two years ago—stuff that feels not that far away.


I know older films like Jaws, Top Gun, and Easy Rider have recently been

Kaleidescape's Luke O'Brien on the Importance of Catalog

upgraded to 4K HDR. Do you see that trend accelerating, given the increased demand for catalog titles?

If that plan ends up coming into effect, we’ll likely begin seeing the results the very end of this year and into early next year. It takes a lot of resources for the licensers to go out there and do those 4K remasters. They really want to do them well and right. They don’t want to slap together a cheap “scan it up and ship it out”-type product to people. So when they make a 

Kaleidescape's Luke O'Brien on the Importance of Catalog

deliberate effort to go back and get those films redone, it takes a little more time.


While the market might not be able to make that happen as quickly as we’d like, I think we have to be pretty excited about what they’ve been able to get out of the new titles that have come through. To pick an example, The Shining, which I just mentioned—that 4K remaster is gorgeous. It’s an absolutely beautiful film, which only increases that wonderful Kaleidescape cinematic experience of being at home and getting to enjoy that movie in the best way it can be experienced.


For people who’ve never really gotten into older films, your AFI Top 100 collection would seem like a good place to start. I know you’ve been able to round that collection out since you obtained the rights to the MGM catalog, but is there anything else you’ve been able to do recently to spruce it up?

Acquiring the MGM catalog did allow us to add films like Silence of the Lambs. And we’ve been able to enhance the collection with some recent upgrades to things like Duck Soup and Swing Time. We’re trying to make sure that we’re supporting the Top 100, which we know is one people gravitate to, as best we can.


If you could point people toward some other areas, what would they be?

To echo the recent winner of the Best Director Oscar, we want to continue to introduce people to the movies that

take a little more investment in terms of having to read subtitles. There’s so much good international content on our store, and we’ve got a Best of Foreign-Language Cinema collection. A great recent foreign title is François Ozon’s Frantz, which we added a couple of years ago and which did very, very well. It’s so morally challenging and visually stunning and just a great film to kind of get people engaged with.


It’s not clear to me why, but I know musicals can be a hard sell for some people.

We’re fortunate to have had animation keep the musical alive when live-action let it go away. But even new movies that aren’t musicals can still have that same intonation. One of the biggest hits last year was the remake of A Star Is Born. That has as much song as story taking place in it, so it’s got some of the qualities of a musical running through it. We just had the Trolls World Tour drop, which is an animated film that was one of the premium early releases. I’ve got a friend who says his niece

won’t stop listening to it. So that tells you it’s got a quality that is certainly attractive to the market as a musical.


Interesting people in silent films can also be a challenge.

100%. We have some real masterpieces that live there on the store, and if you can just get somebody interested in something like Buster Keaton’s The General, you can often lead them to other silent classics. The great thing about the foreign silent films is that there is no language barrier to watching something like Battleship Potemkin or Metropolis or The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. You can see really some of the most interesting and visually stunning movies you’re ever going to watch.


We’ve been focusing on films, but things like concerts and your recent acquisition of the PBS titles also give people room to roam.

For somebody who has invested in their home theater experience, being able to enjoy a concert film in lossless audio—there’s nothing like it. It blows the doors 

Kaleidescape's Luke O'Brien on the Importance of Catalog

off. One of my dealers reached out to tell me how excited he was to sit down and watch the INXS concert, which looks and sounds great because it was provided to us in HDR with Atmos audio. Bruce Springsteen’s recent significant movie was his Western Stars concert in a barn. It’s also sort of a personal journey film that I think is gorgeous and totally engaging.


You mentioned us recently adding PBS to the store. We have so much extraordinary television content, and the great thing about that is that it you can have a much longer-term engagement with it that’s not just a two-hour experience. If you watch one of those extraordinary Ken Burns documentaries, that’s several hours of your life having a deeply enveloping educational experience. I love a lot of the mysteries, like The Bletchley Circle. I watched The Manhunt for the first time, the Martin Clunes detective thriller from RLJ Entertainment, which is actually the length of a movie but it’s got that serial episodic hold to it that I find totally engaging.

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, The Rayva Roundtablemarketing, product design, some theater designs,
couple TV shows, some commercials, and now this.

Barry Sonnenfeld on Pause, Pt. 2

Barry riffs on everything from A Series of Unfortunate Events to subwoofers to
The Tick (2001) to why most movie theaters are like a bad BLT

In Part 1, director Barry Sonnenfeld (The Addams Family, Men in Black, Get Shorty, Pushing Daisies) offered his thoughts on how film distribution, movie theaters, and Hollywood in general have fared during the current crisis. Here, he gets more personal, discussing the pandemic’s impact on his efforts to get a new streaming series into production and on his viewing habits at home.  

—Michael Gaughn

Will the backlog of tentpoles and other films awaiting release in turn hold up other films from going into production, so essentially all movie production shifts by about a year?

Mike, it’s less that there’s a backlog of movies to be released and more that there’s no production going on and no one has really figured out how to get production started. I’m in Vancouver and I’m supposed to start pre-production on a television 

series this week. Vancouver has done a very good job in containing the virus, but if I were a studio—whether it’s TV or streaming or features—I would be very hesitant to start a show knowing that the insurance companies will not cover shutting down for COVID.


If a hair & makeup person or an actress or a third grip gets COVID, you could be shut down for weeks at a minimum. Even though you can test every other day, I don’t see how it can work until there’s a 15-minute, accurate, no false-positives test where the crew can get paid to come in 15 minutes early, get tested, and then wait until someone says, “Okay, you’re clear, you’re clear, you’re clear. You can come in.”


This concept of zone shooting—where the grips and electrics come in and they light, and then they leave the set and the actors come in—it’s sort of an OK idea in theory, but in execution, it’s not the way movies are made. Because if you rehearse with the lead actors, how does a crew watch the rehearsal? Do they have to watch it from a witness camera? Who puts marks down for the stand-ins to know where to stand?

Then an actress comes in, now she’s in hair and makeup, which she wasn’t ahead of time. And the DP realizes he has to move a light three feet forward because her hair is blocking her face now. Do the actors leave, and then the grip and electric come back in and move that light three feet? And then the actors come back in and you hope you don’t get it wrong. I mean, it’s going to slow down the time it takes to shoot a show by 30% or 40%.


So it’s not about backlog, it’s about if I were a studio executive, I wouldn’t be making movies, I would be buying up libraries. Or buying movies that didn’t get released properly, that were really good but it was the wrong timing. Like I had a movie, Big 

Trouble, that was about Tom Sizemore and Johnny Knoxville accidentally stealing a suitcase that’s a nuclear bomb. It’s an outright comedy, but it came out 11 days after 9/11 so it never got a successful release. But I would not be making new shows right now if I ran a studio.


Can you tell me a little more about what you’re working on?

The situation is up in the air and things can change or not. But I’m hoping to start a six-part musical for Apple written by Cinco Paul, who wrote all the Despicable Me movies. This is his first live-action feature. And it’s being produced by Lorne Michaels and his company Broadway Video. 

Barry Sonnenfeld on Pause, Pt. 2

Sofia Vergara, Ben Foster, Patrick Warburton, Tim Allen,
and Rene Russo in Big Trouble

It’s a half-hour series, and I’m not going to say who’s in it, but we hopefully will be starting prep this Monday. So that gives you an example of how things are still up in the air.


Well, good luck with all that.

Oh, thanks.


What impact has all this had on what you’ve been watching lately? Have you been going back and looking at older films?

Because of COVID, one thing I did is, in addition to my Kaleidescape, I also joined the Criterion subscription channel and I’ve been watching some stuff on that. It’s funny, Criterion gave me about 50 Blu-rays because I re-did Blood Simple for them and

Barry Sonnenfeld on Pause, Pt. 2

The Criterion Blu-ray of
the Coen Brothers’ Blood Simple

I also bought up a lot of Criterion Blu-rays, and you can’t find a Blu-ray player.


Costco doesn’t carry Blu-ray anymore, I had to go on Amazon to buy a player. Blu-ray is a dying business because everything is going to video on demand. I think catalogs are going to be where it is for a while, for sure.


Are movie theaters on their last legs? I mean, are we just drawing out the inevitable and the pandemic is just speeding that up? Or is there a reason for them to hang in there?

I’d get out of that business if I owned that real estate, although who do you sell it to? Maybe you sell it as an Amazon distribution center or an Apple store because no one wants a physical space anyway. So malls are dying, movie theaters are dying. Try to sell it and buy Amazon stock—that’s what I would do if I owned AMC.


Yes, it’s a dying industry, and Netflix and the streamers are going to really flourish. And again, Mike, because sound and picture quality is getting better and better and better for 

home theaters, the sacrifice of not going to a movie theater is now not about quality or even screen size. It’s just, do I want to be in a movie theater watching a comedy? See, for me, I think comedies rely more on big audiences than big action movies do. I had a better setup in Telluride to watch a big action movie than I ever did going to my East Hampton cinema and or even the Telluride cinema. So for me, the reason to be in a movie theater is to be with other people sharing a comedy, not watching bad VFX effects in a Marvel feature.

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, The Rayva Roundtablemarketing, product design, some theater designs,
couple TV shows, some commercials, and now this.

Barry Sonnenfeld on Pause, Pt. 1

Barry Sonnenfeld on Pause, Pt. 1

Barry Sonnenfeld is the undisputed master of the puckish fairytale. Anyone who knows him mainly from Men in Black might think he specializes in effects-driven sci-fi films. But the one thread that runs through his entire body of work—from The Addams Family to Get Shorty to Wild Wild West to the first live-action Tick series to Big Trouble to Pushing Daisies to A Series of Unfortunate Events—is the sense of someone standing just off camera eager to tell you a very tall, very droll, and often surprisingly bittersweet tale. That quality lends his work a sense of both irony and intimacy that super-sized space operas usually lack.


It also helps to explain why you can almost always find not just the Men in Black franchise, but the Addams Family films and Get Shorty playing somewhere on cable. There’s a comfortable consistency to his work that’s allowed him to always draw an audience, whether he’s creating for movies or TV.


Barry in person displays the same droll and sometimes acerbic tendencies as his output. More candid in his observations about the movie industry than most mainstream directors, he’s not afraid to occasionally chomp on the hand that feeds him. And, unlike most directors, he doesn’t just talk the talk when it comes to considering how people experience his work at home but has been deeply involved in the creation of his own home theaters.


Knowing he’d have a unique take on how Hollywood is faring during the pandemic, I was lucky enough to catch up with Barry for a few minutes as he was settling into his new hometown of Vancouver and about to begin pre-production on a new series—which we’ll discuss in more detail in Part 2.

—Michael Gaughn

Would you agree that there’s never been another time even remotely like this in the history of film or TV production?

Well, yes, there’s never been a situation like this before. What’s interesting to me is that the downfall of feature-film product actually started several years ago when the studios decided to make mainly movies based on IPs, whether they be sequels or huge books or comic books. What happened was that marketing became so expensive that if they had to spend between $50

and $100 million to market a movie, they’d rather spend $100 to $200 million to actually make a movie. Even if you make a good movie for $20 million, it’s still going to cost $50 million to market it.


So the movie business became a blockbuster-only business. And what that did is it sent any interesting scripts or concepts that weren’t big-budget IP, “I can only see this in a movie theater” kinds of movies to television.


In addition, Netflix has become so successful and has led to all these other streaming services—Amazon Prime, Hulu, Disney+, HBO Max—so fewer and fewer movies are being made for theatrical distribution. And even in those cases, it will only be very expensive, very VFX-laden movies. You see fewer and fewer small, interesting art movies going to movie theaters. Especially when you consider that the Motion Picture Academy is now accepting movies that are on streamers to be considered for nominations as feature films as long as they’ve been on in a short window in theaters.


COVID obviously has exacerbated this massive shift by a factor of 10. I think AMC and all of these other theater chains are basically going to have to go into the real-estate business and find ways to sell off their properties, because I don’t see that they’ll continue to need nearly as many theaters as they presently have.


Did you see the recent announcement from AMC and Universal?

Yes. AMC is cutting their exclusive-release window down to 

19 days, which favors only those movies that people want to see on the big screen instead of in their homes—the ones that require them to see them immediately so they can brag to all their friends that they saw the new Star Wars or Marvel movie or whatever.


Now, the theater chains hadn’t done a good job for the previous 20 years of maintaining their theaters, of creating an experience worthy of getting a babysitter, going to the theater, paying for parking or paying for a subway or a cab. So, until half a dozen years ago, the theaters could be blamed for their own decline because they didn’t realize they needed to not only make it an experience based on the size and scope of the movie but also on the experience of actually being in a movie theater. They overcharged for popcorn, they didn’t clean the theater between shows. They’ve started to come around; they’ve

just been very late. But now there are those draft-house and art-house theaters that have food delivery and waiter service.


But theaters have been in the candy store business as much as the theatrical release business. They probably make a higher percentage of their income from selling food, water, etc. than from ticket sales, because right off the bat, the theater gives half of 

Barry on home theaters vs. movie theaters

the money back to the studio. A $10 ticket only grosses them $5. So it’s not a great business, and I think COVID is going to really change that theatrical experience for, at a minimum, the next 18 months. I don’t know how theaters stay in business with their massive real-estate investments until then.


Do you have any thoughts on the whole situation with Christopher Nolan and Tenet?

I haven’t been following it that much. Is it Warner Brothers?


And IMAX. The claim is that they’ll be able to make the film available in theaters to 80% of the U.S. population by September 3rd, even if they can’t open in California or New York.

I’ll be frank with you, I don’t understand how they think they will be releasing Tenet in three weeks to all those IMAX theaters. Second of all, unless IMAX has changed, I don’t particularly like the format. The screen seemed to be 1:66 in ratio—they’re not 1:85, although you can crop them for 1:85. Also, I never thought the IMAX sound system was particularly good. For me,

RealD—they’re high-end, premier theaters—are a better movie-going experience than IMAX. They have better sound, their screens are the right aspect ratio.


I think a lot of the Tenet thing is hype and perception more than reality. I don’t see how Nolan’s movie could be released to 80% of the country. But what do I know?


Beyond Tenet, you’ve got Wonder Woman 1984, the Fast & Furious sequel

Top Gun.


Right. There are probably a dozen tentpole or nearly tentpole films they may not be able to release until next spring at the earliest. Is there a risk that these will just feel over-hyped and out of date by the time they actually put them out there? Are they missing an opportunity by not just going PVOD with some of these titles?

There are several costs, including the interest costs on all these movies. The longer they hold a movie, the more they’re paying in interest on it because they’ve already laid out $200 million and they’re not getting any of that money back in. Perhaps there will be either a COVID vaccine, or rapid testing where for 15 minutes while you’re waiting on line, you do your tests and then you’re allowed into the theater. I wish there was some other venue.


What’s really funny is it’s bringing back drive-in movie 

Barry Sonnenfeld on Pause, Pt. 1

Barry recently published his autobiography, which describes his journey from shooting movies for
the Coen brothers, Penny Marshall, Rob Reiner,
and others to creating his own hit films

theaters. The problem with drive-ins used to be the sound more than the picture—although they never could get the image bright enough. In fact, I don’t think they could ever show The Godfather at drive-ins, or any movie shot by Gordon Willis, because they couldn’t get the print bright enough.


But the biggest problem used to be terrible sound, with those wired speakers that you hung on your car window. Now they’ve gone to broadcasting the sound on a narrow FM channel.


I don’t know how you get 400 people into a movie theater. And I do question whether or not in a year from now when Top Gun is released and everyone’s had a year to pirate it and find other ways to get copies of it, if it will have the same sort of cachet.


They’re going to release Tenet overseas this month before it opens here in September—if it opens in September. That means the entire planet’s going to be awash in bootlegs before it ever gets near the U.S.

Well, I don’t know what percentage of the U.S. market will want to see movies like Tenet, etc., etc. on a bootleg copy with Italians coughing in the foreground. Unless it’s good bootlegs done by projectionists or that kind of stuff. I think that’s a small problem, but, again, if the movie is already out there, it’s sort of damaged goods to a certain extent. That’s why the streamers are in a really great place right now because people don’t want to leave their homes yet, unless it’s for political reasons.

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, The Rayva Roundtablemarketing, product design, some theater designs,
couple TV shows, some commercials, and now this.

A Media Room by Any Other Name

Making sure we have access to a high-quality movie-watching experience may become more important
now that our entire cinema experience may be our home cinema experience

In 2018, the last time I was in Paris, my wife and I were fortunate enough to visit the Musée de l’Orangerie before the crowds arrived. The Orangerie is where, along with many Impressionist paintings, Claude Monet’s extraordinary Water Lilies paintings are exhibited. Spellbinding! Unfortunately, many will never experience this in person; however, many will “see” these works in print, on screen, or via some other convenient conveyance. I assure all, until I visited Water Lilies at the Orangerie, I had not truly seen the masterpiece that Monet created. Being in the presence of the works themselves was indeed an advantage, but that is not all. The environment completed the experience. The artist knew this. In fact, Monet assisted architect Camille Lefevre with the architectural design. He even required skylights so the paintings would be viewed in natural light. The result, an experience I will repeat as often as I visit Paris!


What about Film? It has been called “the most complete, truly contemporary art form . . . a most marvelous machine for emotion” (Renzo Piano, architect of the new Academy Museum of Motion Pictures). Film, as an art form, has as unique a set of challenges. Its artistic value is in its effect on the individual, when tears, laughter, memories, or thrills materialize unforeseen. Does the environment play a part in this interaction? It might be said that those who want to experience the film art-form at its best should seek out those exhibitions dedicated for that purpose, the commercial cinema. Although, even if it 

A Media Room by Any Other Name

Claude Monet’s Water Lilies at the Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris

were possible during this pandemic (or advisable after), most commercial cinemas fall far short of that standard! Many may say that the right environment for viewing movies in the home is not a theater but a media room. But such blanket statements do not address important considerations, and labels such as commercial cinema, home theater, and media room do not unequivocally describe ideal solutions.


What considerations are vital in choosing the right environment to enjoy movies and other forms of entertainment in our homes? To truly get the most enjoyment from any media, be it movies, television series, music, or games, we need to become fully engaged. The state of full engagement is that magical time when the participant experiences the fullness of whatever media they are involved in. With music, the performance, timbre, rhythm, and mix coalesce into a whole in which a listener can be captivated. In games, the avatar becomes of greater substance than oneself. In film, the story, drama, imagery, sounds, and more create a realism that captivates us like no other experience. This “suspension of disbelief” is the essence and objective of these forms of entertainment art. It cannot be experienced when multi-tasking. It cannot be sustained when distracted. It is magic and is to be desired. This ability to be fully engaged should inform all considerations when determining the type of media environment to acquire for our home. 


This engagement requires a distraction-free environment. It may surprise many that this quality is not exclusive to dedicated home theaters. It is certainly much easier to do so within that configuration; however, many traditional home theaters fall far short of that objective. Distractions can be caused by many sources, but the most commonly discussed is noise. Noise is particularly distracting because humans are designed to detect sounds, and once we do, it is very difficult to ignore them. 

The damage to the state of engagement and the suspension of disbelief is significant, immediate, and persistent. Our experience is visceral, emotional, and transient. Once a magical moment is disturbed, it is lost. Think of how frustrated we feel when someone’s cellphone rings in a movie theater. That moment in time is lost and cannot be regained, even when the content is replayed. It is different.


This is where the discussion of the right media environment—dedicated theater or media room—can become confusing. The labels do not help. For instance, even a beautifully decorated dedicated theater that has inadequate wall construction, noisy HVAC, projector, and other equipment fans (to mention a few common oversights), will be fraught with distractions and as prone to destroy magic moments as any room. On the other hand, a media room that shares space with other activities has inherent distractions in addition to those mentioned above. If those activities produce any noise at all and will be engaged in while participants are attempting to enjoy movies, music, or other media, distractions will result. But if such a multi-use room is designed to be acoustically isolated, and HVAC 

and other ventilation is kept to an inaudible level, such a room can provide a distraction-free environment. Of course, it will be necessary to limit competing activities when it is desirable to be fully engaged in a movie, music, or other program.


Distractions are not limited to noise. While sound quality is key to the experiences available in today’s movies, games, and productions, the quality of the visual imagery is just as important. Ever-increasing resolution, color gamut, and high dynamic range provide the tools to display astounding cinematography. Combine that with immersive sound, great stories, acting, and production, and you will want to get lost in the experience! Unfortunately, many popular design trends are not conducive to that goal. Natural light, light colors, competing design elements, casual seating arrangements, and other factors can compete with the visual experience. These are clearly desirable attributes for living spaces, but if the best media entertainment experience is a goal, they must be considered accordingly. 


Many will point to the rapidly developing LED technology as a solution that negates abundant natural light and lightly shaded décor as an issue. While it is true that these displays can provide hyper-realistic imagery even in high ambient-light conditions, the viewer is still part of the equation. If the objective is maximum enjoyment of an art form, especially movies, but also games and musical performances, distractions will impede that goal. When we are distracted, the engagement is broken and the magic is lost. If that were not the case, Monet would not have insisted on the right environment for his form of visual art! In fact, to achieve the desired results, what may initially seem to be desirable may be counterproductive. An example of this is the recent advent of immersive sound. Notable film producers, directors, and sound editors caution the overuse of these “desirable” effects because they take the audience’s attention away from the screen and subsequently out of the “spell” or suspension of disbelief. It requires a higher standard and is a more difficult challenge to achieve the artful and appropriate application of immersive sound to achieve the desired effect. In the same way, if we are to create media rooms that perform, we must not blindly follow design trends or even personal bias but instead accept the challenge and create interior environments that both support the purpose and are aesthetically pleasing. 


Distractions are not the only concern. There are many elements that need to be correct if the optimum media experience is the goal. This holds true in both dedicated-theater and media-room applications. In order to achieve the elusive suspension of disbelief, a lot has to take place. Of course, the production of the art itself must be well executed. Amazing cinematography and artfully crafted and often thrilling sound combined with compelling plots and talent is job one. But all that is for naught if it is not presented in such a way that faithfully reproduces the artist’s intent. Video imagery must be presented to viewers correctly and unimpeded. Listeners must receive the audio information accurately and as intended.  Achieving these characteristics requires careful engineering and integration of the technologies with the design. This is required in either a dedicated theater or a media room.


Labels can obscure the objectives. Thinking that a dark room with rows of seats and acoustical fabric walls will necessarily provide proper sight lines, viewing angles, and balanced immersive sound is just as inaccurate as thinking that these considerations don’t matter as long as the room looks good. Whether in a theater or a media room, sight lines, viewing angles (horizontal and vertical), as well as light and color considerations must be planned. Speaker positioning, dispersion, sound power, and acoustics must be correct as well. When we have properly addressed all the design and engineering considerations, the difference between a well-designed media room and a well-designed dedicated theater is hard to distinguish. However, if the term media room is being used to describe a great room with a large screen over the fireplace and speaker locations compromised due to traffic patterns, billiard table, windows, and vaulted ceilings, the difference is unmistakable.      


A great room as described above can be a wonderful part of the home, offering casual socializing, convenience to kitchens, patios, and access to other fun diversions. But if we were to modify the design of that space to support the performance we desire for our movies, music, and other beloved media, what would that look like? Would we be willing to lose the fireplace, the billiards, and the windows? Does the ceiling have to come down? But is that even necessary? What about those pivoting and invisible speakers, or a bigger screen over the fireplace, and doesn’t that room-correction system fix the acoustics? While these devices are available and even advisable for great-room applications, do not be deceived. There is a discernible and measurable difference between the entertainment experience in a multi-purpose room that includes the aforementioned compromises and that of a performance-engineered room that is not compromised, whether that room is called a cinema, theater, or media room. 


All of these rooms serve a purpose. More important, though, is the question of whether the room we design serves the right purpose. The pathway to success is not labels but thoughtful, objective design, scientifically valid acoustical engineering, meticulous engineering of systems, mechanical, and ergonomics, quality assurance, and professional-quality workmanship.The key that will unlock that pathway is communication. If the audience is not aware of the difference, and more importantly, the value of that difference and the impact it will have in their lives, the audience will not listen. However, like Monet’s Water Lilies, once experienced, there is no acceptable substitute for the real thing in the right setting. We should accept no less. 

Sam Cavitt

Sam Cavitt is the founder & president of Paradise Theater in Kihei, HI and Carlsbad, CA.
Sam hails from Maui, where he can be found surfing, sailing, drumming, and paddling
when he is not designing.

This Would Seem Like the Perfect Time for the Studios to Get Back into the Movie Business

This Would Seem Like the Perfect Time for the Studios to Get Back into the Movie Business

Dennis Burger told me a great wailing and gnashing of teeth could be heard emanating a couple of weeks ago from this year’s virtual Comic-Con because nobody knew when the new Wonder Woman film was going to be released, so all the vast profusion of product tie-ins, including a novelization and a new line of cosmetics, was being left suspended in the void, causing tremendous consternation among that franchise’s carefully cultivated and indoctrinated fan base.


Sorry, but I find it impossible to shed a tear over any of that, mainly because it was just another instance of the tail wagging a very shaggy dog. None of this is what the movies are supposed to be about.


Starting in the late ‘70s, Hollywood began moving away from making movies and into the “big event” business, creating not films but properties—things that depended as much on merchandising and other ties-in for their success as on anything that was projected up on the screen. It was a business model that eschewed cultivating discernment and appreciation, stoking

emotional addiction instead, ultimately going even more primal, coming to rely on constantly increased jolts of physiological stimulation—pumping adrenalin—to short-circuit any more considered response to what was being presented. And its success hinged on exploiting the emotional immaturity of teenagers—boys c. 12 to 14, in particular.


The result, 40 years on, is a culture defined, in almost every important respect, by arrested development. And the consequences, as we’re currently watching them play out, couldn’t be more devastating.


The movies became just another extension of the bubble & bust economy, an excuse for blind indulgence, consequences be damned. The audiences were huge, the profits were huge, the movies, almost without exception, were crap. And along the way, we came to confuse popularity with quality, which might be the biggest knot that needs to be undone.


But there’s no law that says it has to be this way—it’s just 

that we’ve been trained to believe this is the only viable model. Well, that model isn’t serving any of us very well at the moment. 


With traditional movie release patterns out the window, the almost complete cessation of film production, the fate of theaters in the balance, and vast economic uncertainty on the near and far horizons, it’s pretty obvious that all bets are now off. So it can’t hurt to daydream a little and imagine a better tomorrow.


So let me make a modest proposal.


What if we let adults make movies instead of the unending stream of entitled juvenile smart asses that have been at the helm throughout the postmodern era? What if all film budgets were capped at $50 million? What if special effects were only used when absolutely necessary and only to enhance the story instead of being slopped all over the movie like great gobs of Crisco and sugar on a flavorless wedding cake? What if there was a moratorium on franchise films and their latex and spandex, parallel universes, and weapons of mass destruction? Better, what if there was a moratorium on—yes, I’m actually going to type it—fantasy, and films returned to using something resembling reality as their point of departure? And what if most of this new breed of movies was meant not for Netflix or Amazon but actually for theaters, which were designed with taste and an aspirational flair that created a sense that what you were about to see actually matters instead of making you feel like you’re in imminent danger of being whisked away to a CIA black site.


I know, I know—I might as well be talking about cold fusion or perpetual motion. But nothing I’m suggesting here is impossible—it’s all easily doable. And once everyone has adjusted their expectations, it would soon become desirable—and way more sustainable than the current model.


Why is it that people who are so obsessive about planning their diets and tending to their gym memberships are OK with almost all the entertainment they consume being the equivalent of a super-sized sack of White Castle hamburgers brimming with fries? We’ve gorged ourselves on noxious piffle until our brains have gotten fat on the stuff and our neural pathways clogged. Irrational exuberance has proven to just be a cover for a coldly calculated effort to extract our last dime and a mass stifling of our imaginations.


I realize the public would need to overcome decades of propaganda (or marketing—same thing) and a serious case of the Stockholm syndrome for any of this to ever come to pass, but throwing off the escapist fetters would be like emerging from darkness into the dawn.

Michael Gaughn

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, The Rayva Roundtablemarketing, product design, some theater designs,
couple TV shows, some commercials, and now this.

Mulan: The Other Shoe Drops

Mulan: The Other Shoe Drops

We’ve been tracking the reopening of theaters and the next batch of theatrical releases closely here at Cineluxe, and the movie-going world has been using Christopher Nolan’s Tenet as the benchmark for what other studios might do with their upcoming tentpole films.


Disney had been delaying the release of its live-action remake of Mulan in lockstep with Tenet, shifting back a week or so in response to Tenet’s fluid date, as if the studio wanted to use Nolan’s film to test the waters and gauge public sentiment about returning to the cinema. When Warner Bros. decided last week to release Tenet internationally first, followed by a limited roll-

out in the States as theaters reopen, all eyes turned to Disney wondering how it would respond.


I had speculated to Cineluxe editor-in-chief Mike Gaughn that Disney was in a unique position since they own their own movie theaters spread across theme parks and cruise ships where they could debut Mulan as part of the park/cruise experience. This would allow them to get the film out to a limited number of viewers, while keeping tight control on piracy.


Disney has shown itself nimble in adjusting to these unprecedented times, first making the decision to make Onward, the latest Disney/Pixar animated title, available for purchase via digital retailers within days of theaters closing back in March, and then moving the title to its Disney+ streaming service shortly after. The studio then decided to roll out Hamilton to Disney+ subscribers a full year ahead of its planned theatrical release; shortly after that, they canceled the theatrical release of Artemis Fowl and instead moved it to Disney+.

On Tuesday, Disney took its boldest and most unusual step so far by deciding to make Mulan available as a premium-viewing option on Disney+ starting September 4, while still opening it in theaters, beginning with the overseas market. The Disney+ rollout will be unique in that it will be a premium video title within a subscription service, meaning Disney+ subscribers wanting to watch Mulan will need to pay an additional one-time $29.99 fee for the privilege. Once paid, the title will “unlock” and be available for repeated viewings as long as the person continues their Disney+ subscription. There was no word as to how long the title would be a subscription-within-a-subscription model à la the dream world in Nolan’s Inception, but presumably at some point it will become available to all subscribers and likely even available at other digital retailers.


What this move shows is that studios—especially Disney—are remaining open, flexible, and proactive to different distribution strategies instead of just letting finished content molder away on a shelf—well, more likely a server—somewhere. With this summer movie season rapidly becoming a wash, studios will start looking to the next big film cycle—Christmas—which already has a full slate of planned releases.


You have to imagine other studios with streaming services—Warner’s HBO Max, NBCUniversal’s Peacock, Apple TV+, Amazon Prime, Netflix—are all eyeing how Disney’s premium pricing of Mulan plays out. If a large percentage of Disney+’s 100-million-plus subscribers decide to bite on the $29.99 fee, might we see Warner’s upcoming Wonder Woman 1984—one of the next major films set to release currently on October 2—give this a try? Or might high-profile Netflix titles like Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman or Chris Hemsworth’s Extraction start coming with a premium? And without having to share any of this revenue with cinemas or distribution partners, might it actually be more cost-effective to look at this avenue going forward?


If you are a theater owner, this has to be the nightmare scenario. How long will doors be able to remain closed and weather the storm of potentially billion-dollar films going straight to home?


One thing is for sure: It’s a good time to have a luxury home cinema to fall back on to enjoy movies in the safety and comfort of your own home, however they are delivered.

John Sciacca

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as
 Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at

@SciaccaTweets and at

The Best Way to Experience “Metropolis”

The Best Way to Experience "Metropolis"

The landmark sci-fi classic Metropolis was quite literally butchered by investors and censors after its 1927 premiere and for decades was only seen in various bastardized versions. The 2010 restoration is the closest we’ve come to experiencing the film the way audiences did at the time of its release. Boasting the best possible picture quality, most complete footage available (properly sequenced and paced), and an authentic score recorded in 5.1 surround, this is inarguably the best way to appreciate the film’s epic grandeur.


My journey into Metropolis fandom began when I was just out of college working in New York at Sony’s PR agency, where my responsibilities included writing articles for the company’s trade newsletters. One of my assignments was to research and write a story about Giorgio Moroder’s then new restoration of Metropolis, the rock-audio soundtrack for which was recorded

on a Sony digital multitrack recorder. 


I was invited to attend the restored film’s NY debut. (I still have the promo poster framed on my wall.) After that experience, I got deeper into the film, buying any available versions I found on VHS and then DVD.  Along the way, I realized that what Mr. Moroder had presented wasn’t the definitive version of the film. There were significantly longer versions available, yet the movie’s story was never completely clear. But Moroder’s Metropolis did serve an important role, since it ultimately reignited public interest in restoring the film to its original glory.

There were significant discoveries over the years, the latest being the most complete version found since the 1927 debut. Discovered in 2008 in Argentina, the 16mm print included some 25 minutes of lost plot line and character development.


Gottfried Huppertz’ original orchestral score for the film, which had been found at his estate, was key to the 2010 restoration since it contained cues that allowed the film to be properly sequenced and paced. The score was then recorded with a full 

orchestra and mixed into 5.1 surround (in DTS-HD Master Audio both on the Kaleidescape and the Kino-Lorber Blu-ray Disc versions).


The new soundtrack, coupled with the expanded/restored sequences, changes the entire viewing experience. Right from the opening slates, the music brings you into the movie as never before, often right in time with the visual rhythm of the film.


The restoration does periodically rely on scratchy 16mm footage from the Argentine print, but it now tells a more complete story. Key characters who 

The Best Way to Experience "Metropolis"

only appeared sporadically in earlier versions—Josaphat, the Thin Man, and Worker #11811, aka Georgy—now appear throughout the film.


The restored character Hel had been removed for silliest of the reasons—fear that American audiences would not like a perceived association with the word “Hell.” The significance of this cut is not to be underplayed. Hel was the crucial love interest between two of the key characters and a primary motivation for the mad scientist Rotwang to create the iconic robot that is central to the film.


If you’ve become accustomed to one of the earlier versions of Metropolis, you have not really seen the film. Consider this: The original movie ran about 153 minutes while the Moroder version is a mere 83 minutes long. The current restoration runs

The Best Way to Experience "Metropolis"

about 148 minutes, adding back approximately one-fifth of the film. That is a lot of missing movie!


Most of Metropolis has an incredible look and feel. Movies and series ranging from the original Blade Runner to Altered Carbon owe a significant debt to Fritz Lang’s masterpiece. Most every subsequent robot to appear on the silver screen owes something to the robot Maria here (especially C-3PO).


The detailing revealed by this restored version is at times shocking. For example, the white brick walls lining 

the walkway to the worker’s elevator shaft that descends to the Man Machine look especially vibrant and realistic.


The restoration of classic films to a producer/director’s original version is important both historically and cinematographically. Hopefully, someday researchers will locate a better version of the missing footage for an even greater restoration of Metropolis using the latest technology. Until then, this incarnation looks incredible, the occasional 16mm footage only adding a sense of mystery and eerie wonder to the viewing experience.


Most importantly, the restoration goes a long way toward presenting Metropolis’s original story. That alone makes it the near-definitive version people should be watching.

Mark Smotroff

Mark Smotroff breathes music 24/7. His collection includes some 10,000 LPs, thousands of
CDs & downloads, and many hundreds of Blu-ray and DVD Audio discs. Professionally, Mark has
provided Marketing Communications services to the likes of DTS, Sony, Sega, Sharp, and AT&T.
He is also a musician, songwriter & producer, and has written about music professionally for
publications including Mix, Sound & Vision, and AudiophileReview. When does he sleep?

The High Note

The High Note

New movie releases have been pretty slim pickings lately—and are likely to be that way for the foreseeable future—so when a new film from a major studio (NBCUniversal, in this case) becomes available, it’s worth giving it a watch to see if we can recommend it.


The High Note was scheduled for a wide theatrical release on May 8, and actually did have a limited run in about 60 select theaters and drive-ins across the country while simultaneously being released as a premium video-on-demand (PVOD) title. 

It is now available for purchase from Kaleidescape at the very reasonable price of $19.99.


The film is directed by Nisha Gantra, who specializes in directing episodes of comedic TV series such as The Last Man on Earth, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and Fresh Off the Boat, and is the first writing credit for Flora Greeson. The film’s big draw is its cast, with Dakota Johnson in the starring role as worked-to-death personal assistant Maggie Sherwoode and Tracee Ellis Ross—daughter of iconic singer Diana Ross and best known for her role as Rainbow Johnson on Black-ish—as R&B singing legend Grace Davis. Ice Cube plays Grace’s manager, Jack, with Bill Pullman in little more than a cameo as Maggie’s father, Max. There’s also another
brief cameo by the musician Diplo in his big-screen debut as producer Richie Williams.


After years of doing all of Grace’s grunt work, music-loving Maggie is looking for more, and wants to break into the 


This teen-targeted tale of an aging R&B diva’s ambitious assistant might not move the rom-com needle forward, but it does feature some spectacular-sounding musical performances. 



The 4K HDR transfer has natural-looking, lifelike images but often appears soft, perhaps to benefit the film’s aging stars. 



The Dolby Atmos soundtrack takes full advantage of the music-driven scenes, kicking up the SPLs and waking up your subwoofers.

music industry by producing Grace’s next record, a live greatest-hits album. Of course, she doesn’t tell Grace this, instead spending her free time in the studio working on putting a new spin on Grace’s classics. Jack thinks Grace’s career is winding down, and—along with the record label—is pushing her to take a residency in Las Vegas where they can capitalize on her history of 11 Grammy wins to cater to a large fan base, stop touring, and enjoy an easy life with guaranteed easy money rolling in.


Along the way, Grace has a classic meet-cute with David Cliff (Kevin Harrison Jr.) at a grocery store where they discuss music while shopping, and she walks outside to discover Cliff is an aspiring musician who has tons of talent, but needs a producer to get him to the next level. Maggie convinces him that she is a professional producer and offers to work with him to make an album, and they happen to fall in love along the way.


The movie spends much of its time with the “drama” of Maggie trying to serve two masters—being available for Grace’s every whim at all hours of the day while also making time to work with David in and out of the studio. Ultimately, things come to a head, with Maggie’s world falling apart in a single evening where she loses both her job with Grace and her relationship with David, and then runs home to her DJ dad. Everything then suddenly comes back together in classic Hollywood fashion for a nice happy ending.


Shot in ArriRaw at 6.5 K resolution, The High Note transfer is taken from a true 4K digital intermediate, but I never felt it was giving me that ultra-level of detail of many modern 4K transfers. In fact, many shots had a soft, film-like quality as if the

camera was slightly defocused to be a bit kinder to the older actors. There are some moments of sharp detail like the seat stitching in Grace’s McLaren or the texture and weave in clothing, but up until I read the technical specs I was convinced this had been sourced from a 2K DI.


Of course, high dynamic range often plays a bigger part in picture quality than resolution, and images here have a really natural, lifelike quality. Many interior shots are lit by rich, warm lighting that reminded me of the glow of analog tube amplifiers or natural, Southern California sunlight. Nighttime scenes are nice and dark, punctuated by bright highlights from car headlights, billboards, and glowing neon signs. The pre-sunset skies in Hollywood are also filled with color and detail with no banding or noise.


This movie is about the music industry, and the Dolby Atmos TrueHD soundtrack is really where it shines. Every time music kicks in, it does so with a lot of volume and impact, letting you really appreciate the energy of the live performance. From the opening moments when Maggie is in the studio working on Grace’s album, you get a huge soundstage that fills the room, with hard-hitting kick drums and a bass line you feel in your chest, with cheering crowd noise all around you. There are several scenes of live music, and they all sound great, kicking up the SPLs   

The High Note

and waking up your subwoofers, with the actors turning in believable performances. There is one nice audio moment where David is listening on a pair of headphones to a mix Maggie did of one his songs. You still get a full soundstage here but with a much different mix, letting you experience what the character is hearing. Dialogue was also clear and intelligible throughout.


While The High Note doesn’t tread any new rom-com ground or challenge you in any way, and you’ll likely see its “big” plot twist coming from miles away, it is an easy, entertaining film featuring solid performances and singing that is the cinematic equivalent of comfort food, with a Rotten Tomatoes score of 69 and Audience Score of 75. In a time when the news is filled with enough negative information, a nice, easy, upbeat film can be just the night at home you’re looking for.

John Sciacca

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as
 Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at

@SciaccaTweets and at

Another Giant Step Toward Day & Date

Another Giant Step Toward Day & Date

In perhaps one of the biggest moves in home entertainment history since Hollywood started releasing movies on VHS, Universal and the AMC theater chain came to an unprecedented agreement yesterday that will drastically shorten the time it takes movies to make it from the theater to your home. Where the traditional theatrical-to-home release window has been 72 to 90 days, this new agreement slashes the time to just 17 days. One proviso is that the film must play theatrically over three weekends, meaning that if a movie is released on Saturday the 1st, it could be available for home viewing on the 17th, but 

if it’s released on Monday the 1st, it can’t go into homes until the 22nd.


Also, the agreement makes these films available for early premium-video-on-demand (PVOD) rental viewing, not for purchase or for release to streaming services like Netflix. Previous Universal PVOD titles released during the pandemic, such as The Invisible Man, Emma, and The Hunt, carried a rental price of $19.99 for a 48-hour viewing window. (Information on when titles would be available for sale was unavailable.)


Since the vast majority of theatrical box-office receipts are typically brought in within the first few weeks of a film’s release, in theory this new arrangement shouldn’t have too much impact on the box office takeIn reality, however, it seems highly likely that many families and luxury home theater owners will opt to wait just a few extra days to enjoy the movie in the comfort of their own homes on their own schedule.


While this current agreement is just between Universal and AMC, it will be interesting to see how other theatrical 

chains such as Cinemark and Regal react, or how quickly other studios head to the bargaining table looking for similar terms. Of course, the other studios might wait to see how Universal does with this gamble before deciding to jump in, but now that the early-release genie is out of the bottle, it will likely be difficult to stuff him back in.


It’s also interesting that this deal comes between Universal and AMC, a duo that had a very public spat just three months ago over the early PVOD release of Trolls: World Tour. After NBCUniversal chief executive officer Jeff Shell announced he expected to release movies simultaneously in theaters and in direct-to-home formats, AMC chair/CEO Adam Aron responded quite publicly by declaring that they would no longer show any NBCU titles in any of their cinemas in the US, Europe, or the Middle East.


It’s certainly not news that cinema chains and studios alike are suffering financially in these unprecedented times and will likely continue to do so until a vaccine has become widely available, and this agreement offers some clear advantages to both sides. With their symbiotic relationship, theaters can’t exist without content to show, and studios need the revenue of massive blockbusters to fund other projects.


With a shortened release window as an option, studios might be more inclined to release films domestically on a smaller scale—perhaps in cities where the virus has been more contained or in drive-ins, which have been seeing a bit of a resurgence—unlike the international release strategy Warner is adopting for Tenet. It also might open the way for smaller-budget films to find a theatrical release instead of going straight to video or streaming. Being able to bring the film to PVOD after a shorter time could allow for a bump at the box office, while having a wider PVOD release follow shortly after that can benefit from the advertising and buzz generated from the commercial release.


But this is certainly a bigger gamble for the cinema chains than it is for the studios. That lengthy window was one of the biggest hooks theaters had to get people to come to the movies, with most people opting not to wait three months to see a buzzworthy flick. Having the theaters agree to such an early release window feels a bit like another nail being driven home.


Once a new consumer habit has been formed, it’s difficult to get people to change, and after being home for months and getting into the habit of watching movies there, the allure of waiting just a couple of weekends to enjoy something in the comfort—and safety—of your home might be too tempting for many to pass up.

John Sciacca

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as
 Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at

@SciaccaTweets and at

Easy Rider

Easy Rider (1969)

The last time I sat down to watch Easy Rider was sometime in 1990. Sixties nostalgia was in full swing, since grunge hadn’t really exploded and given the burgeoning decade something resembling its own identity. I was in my late teens, and the film was barely in its twenties. And yet, it felt archaic to me. A time capsule, if you will. Which isn’t to say that it wasn’t compelling. But I think I mostly saw Easy Rider as something akin to a 95-minute music video for some of the best tunes dominating 

classic rock radio at the time. And sure, I understood its lasting influence on American New Wave cinema. But it still struck me as little more than a nostalgia trip, and a disjointed one at that.


Fast-forward 30 more years, and Easy Rider feels relevant to me in ways I couldn’t have imagined before digging into Kaleidescape’s recent 4K HDR release. For me, Easy Rider isn’t just a hop into the Wayback Machine anymore. It’s a relatable portrait of a turbulent and divided America. Of senseless violence and othering. Of rage and misplaced resentment boiling over into identity politics and spilling out into interpersonal strife. Of the end of an era.


And sure, it’s not quite like looking out the window. The clothing looks more like costumes. Some of the characters feel more like caricatures. But, despite all of that, Easy Rider still feels like it has something to say about our present moment in history, for perhaps the first time since its release in 1969. (I’m reminded of a popular adage in geek 


Treated for years as a quaint cultural artifact, this iconic big-studio “indie” film takes on a new significance when viewed in the light of current events. 



The 4K HDR transfer stays true to the look of the movie’s film stock, faithfully presenting its often drab but sometimes vibrant color palette.



The legendary music soundtrack sounds amazing in both stereo and surround, but the dialogue remains tinny and flat, thanks to the original on-set audio recordings.

culture: “All of this has happened before, and it will all happen again.” I’m also reminded of the oft-quoted observation by Marx: “All great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice . . . the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.”)


Part of the film’s reinvigorated applicability may have something to do with its structure—a series of loosely connected vignettes that barely add up to a plot. According to legend, most of what was left on the cutting-room floor when the film was whittled down from 220 to 95 minutes could be considered story. And what we’re left with is more of a moment-to-moment experience than anything else. And I think—again, just speaking for myself—this forces a bit of reflection on what the film leaves unsaid: The racial tensions of the era, the conflict in Vietnam, the political infighting. Despite the fact that the film doesn’t mention any of the above, all of it looms large over Easy Rider. And since they’re not explicit here, it’s easy to impose some of our own sociopolitical strife in their place.


I think the new 4K HDR transfer also helps immensely, at least when it comes to getting immersed in the weirdness of Easy Rider. If you know the film well, you may be wondering what the enhanced resolution does for the imagery. The short answer is: Not much. In large part, really nothing. But the expanded dynamic range and enhanced color gamut bring the cinematography to life in ways that home video simply hasn’t been capable of doing until recently.


I’m reminded of my observations about the new 4K HDR release of The Wizard of Oz. In similar respects, Easy Rider benefits not only from more vibrancy and purity of colors, but also from the selective intensity of primary hues. In past transfers, the 

entire palette had to be boosted or muted, brightened or darkened universally. With HDR, dazzling Crayola-colored reds and blues comfortably share the screen with more subdued pastels and weather-worn pigmentations, and intense flashes of light comfortably share the frame with deep shadows that nonetheless contain nuance. Peter Fonda’s flag-adorned chopper practically glows against a backdrop that’s more often than not dull and dingy.


To put it simply, for the first time, the home video presentation of Easy Rider actually looks and feels like film, and thankfully the restoration efforts—while cleaning up dirt and scratches and other ravages of time—have done nothing to rob the footage of its wonderfully organic and grainy photochemical chaos.


Of course, the film’s sound mix is what it is. The iconic music tracks sound amazing, in both the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and stereo mixes. The dialogue and other on-set audio still sound as if they were recorded with a couple of tin cans and some string, though, and there’s just not much to be done about that, short of egregious meddling.


The Kaleidescape download also comes with a couple of bonus goodies: An audio commentary with Dennis Hopper and an hour-long documentary from 1999 

Easy Rider (1969)

called Shaking the Cage. I would recommend skipping the former, since it provides a rather unbalanced perspective on the making of the film. Perhaps if Sony Pictures owned the second commentary track included with the Criterion Blu-ray release—featuring Hopper, Peter Fonda, and production manager Paul Lewis—it would be worth a listen.


Truth be told, you get everything you could want from a commentary and more from Shaking the Cage, which should be viewed as an essential companion piece—almost more like annotations for Easy Rider than a traditional making-of retrospective. It’s true, you don’t get much in the way of insight into the themes and mysteries of the film, but rarely have I seen a more unbridled examination of the personality conflicts, fights, compromises, and sheer pandemonium behind the making of any film. In some ways, it’s almost more entertaining than Easy Rider itself.

Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-
end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of 
Alabama with
his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound 
American Staffordshire
Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.