The rise of streaming and home theaters brings a rise in digital restoration

UKRAINE - 2021/05/18: In this photo illustration the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) logo of US media company is seen on a smartphone screen with an Amazon logo in the background. (Photo Illustration by Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
UKRAINE - 2021/05/18: In this photo illustration the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) logo of US media company is seen on a smartphone screen with an Amazon logo in the background. (Photo Illustration by Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images) /

When the coronavirus pandemic hit, many studios shelved films until a to be determined future release date. With the vast majority of people staying at home, there was an increased desire for audiences to dive back into their library of films, be it on streaming apps, digitally, or in their own collection of 4K and Blu-Ray titles.

They wanted to view old favorites, finally check off films that had been sitting on their watchlist for the longest time, or discover new ones that they had never seen before.

Sales for home entertainment skyrocketed thanks to the global pandemic. “For the period of April 2020 through March 2021, our home entertainment library sales were up 45 percent globally compared to the year prior,” Bob Buchi, the Paramount President of Worldwide Home Entertainment told The Hollywood Reporter.  And according to Buchi, these weren’t just streaming numbers, but for physical home media as well. “That’s digital growth at almost 70 percent and even physical disk growth of 10 percent,” he said.

In April 2020, ViacomCBS gained a 49 percent stake in the Miramax film library, which features over 700 films including award-winners like Pulp Fiction, Chicago, Good Will Hunting, and No Country for Old Men.

Then there’s Amazon’s recent acquisition of MGM, a studio which features around 4,000 titles, including the James Bond and Rocky franchises, and AT&T’s planned spinoff of WarnerMedia to Discovery, which will bring in an additional 200,000 hours of content and media with classic films including 1939’s The Wizard of Oz.

As technology has improved and grown over the years, there is an increased desire from audiences to see beloved older classics restored to the same level of high-definition clarity and surround sound effects they see in more recent and current films.

Some restored films are coming with perfect timing. The 1986 film Top Gun was restored with a 4K release just as its sequel is slated to hit theaters on November 19.

There’s even a 4K boxset coming out titled the Columbia Classics Collection, with films spanning decades from the late 1950s with Anatomy of Murder, to the 1970s with Taxi Driver, to more contemporary pieces such as 2010’s The Social Network. The technology was not around years ago, so audiences are sure to enjoy seeing so many classics in clarity that had not been seen before–not even when they first came out in theaters.

Of course, there’s always the added allure of bonus features, such as a new sing-along and dance-along with Oliver!, and a recording of the 2016 reunion of the cast of Taxi Driver in addition to, “some more background into the history and experience of New York City taxi drivers.”

When it comes to the restoration of films, there is also a need to make sure these projects are not taking away from the original director’s artistic vision. Some have argued that restoring such films as Indiana Jones to 4K “robs the picture of the texture of film grain and the almost-mythical tone of the original.”

However, with original Blu-Ray and DVD releases still available, there is an option for those consumers who wish to see the film in crystal-clear high definition, and for those who prefer to see it in its original, authentic format. It is important to make sure the director and filmmakers behind the movies being restored are able to provide their stamp of approval on the process.

When it came to Indiana Jones, director Steven Speilberg was involved in the process, allowing audiences to be comfortable with both the original version and the restored version, knowing that he approved it and in the end, it comes down to personal preference.

When it comes to the streaming side of things, Disney has remastered its library for Disney+, which includes titles from Marvel, Lucasfilm, and Pixar. 1995’sToy Story and 1998’s A Bug’s Life are now presented on the streaming platform with clearer sound and visuals and are shown with both HDR and Dolby Atmos surround sound.

Grover Crisp, Executive VP of Asset Management Restoration and Preservation at Sony Pictures explained that television is going through the same process, with 4K and HDR being “things broadcasters and streamers seem to be really interested in right now.”

The process isn’t cheap, ranging from $100,000 for films in good condition to $1 million if the negative of the film has aged or there is damage.

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Whether you appreciate the original version of a film or are eagerly anticipating the release of many more classic movies that will be restored with higher levels of clarity and improved sound, there is an increased demand for access to film favorites, and many are being accommodated with streaming services and 4K releases as a new era in home entertainment is upon us.