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High Plains Drifter (Regraded)

9 Replies, 3128 Views

Just sharing information about a regrade I did a couple of months ago. I was in the mood for an Eastwood western, and popped in "High Plaines Drifter" (Universal, 40th Anniversary). 

Just in the first few minutes the colors annoyed me as they were off. There was a nasty slight blanket green, color temperature felt too cold, like the movie was shot in Spring and not in Summer, overall it was undersaturated and the contrast was just not there. I felt like watching a TV movie and not a theatrical feature. I might be wrong here, but it looked to me like somewhere down the line during working on the release they used the wrong color coefficient. It's more of a gut feeling, but it looked like Rec.601 instead Rec.709 was used at some point and ruined the colors. At least this would explain some of the shortcomings, especially the slight overall tint and the magenta tint around the knee. Had to stop watching and fire up Resolve on the next weekend before being finally able to enjoy the movie that I had not seen since it's DVD release.

I checked some other BDs: they are all the same transfer/grade, but the Universal BD had the best encode. Though mine had a uncrecoverable read error I had to insert a couple for frames from the 2018 Capelight BD. No one will notice, it just right after a cut. Did not check any DVD release or a LD for reference, as I had none at hand. But well, it was pretty straight forward for me what was wrong and how to movie should look. No need for more reference material as there was never any elaborate coloring timing done for sure back in the days. So nothing for purists, but well my regrades never are.

Beside that the black levels on the BD were a bit squeezed, almost crushed at night, and the shadows were to dark in general. The theatrical print already as deep blacks for sure, given the way it was lit and shot and the film stock used, which fits the plot perfectly. In other scenes the shadows on the BD were a tad washed out though. I expanded them a bit mostly, so that in dark scenes with harsh contrast there are still visible details in faces, which would otherwise would be problematic even for OLED TV. The blacks nowl feel a bit software overall, but still going very deep. The highlights were way too low even though they had a slight white blow out indications ofc lipping, and looking at the scope it seems clear to me that some normalization filter was used for whatever reason as they all stopped at levels usually used in Rec.601 SD transfers for TV broadcasts. Yeah, the plot thickens...

As mentioned already, all in all the film didn't look like shot in the Summer of '72 but more as it was shot on a cold Spring day. Given the sweat on the actor's faces and looking up some production stroies on the net (it was hot, very hot), the colder look with sometimes almost neutral color grading did not seem plausible at all. Some moron just did an white balance correction for sure with some stuff he thought should be white. Why do people are allowed to do color correction for BD releases when they have clearly no understanding what they are doing? So I adjusted the white balance and temperature a bit, all subtle changes to get the right ambience back how the movie once must have been looked or better how the audience back then perceived it and translate this to modern viewing habits.

The 3rd act is a disaster. The flames have a clearly visible green tint and the whte balance is completly off. Yes, it is perfectly fine to grade eveything blueish in night scenes when there is only neutral lighting, even going into teal is fine. But that does not work when the actors are in front of fire and the only light soruce in orange. It makes no sense to grade the 3rd act this way and was clearly digitally done. Someone noticed this in QC probably later and their solution was not to fix the grade but to seriously lower the saturation to cover their tracks. I wouldn't be surprise if Lowry was invovled in color grading or restoration. Color wise they have screwed up everthing they ever touched for DVD or BD releases.

In the end I did a full regrade of the 3rd act (flames rotoscoped), but also took some artistic license to create a specific atmosphere. These are clearly modern techniques that were not possible back in the days. For example when Eastwood uses the whip on the bad guy on the ground some shots are deliberately drowned in red, especially in the shadows. You know, when you look into bright lights and then close your eyes that you see a red "afterflow" on your closed lids? Yup, I was exactly going for that. Because the scene has many quick cuts between fire and the guy on the ground, I wanted that red afterglow to get specific emotional reaction out the audience: they should feel the flames, they should think there was more blood on screen then there has been. Yeah, good ol' editing back of tricks. Screw with the audience and make them think they saw stuff that was never there to begin with. Without me telling you this, you probably would never noticed that a few scenes are deliberately altered to fit the larger context. There is a screenshot below of one frame, where - out of context - you see that it is actually way to red in the shadows, but it works great this way with the overall scene.

There is a slight chroma noise, but not much and not really annoying and even with trained eyes you barely see it, so I did not do any work on it or the grain.

Summart of what I did:
  • removal of blanket green
  • removal of blue tint around the shoulder
  • remove of magenta tint around the knee 
  • color temperature correction
  • white balance correction
  • custom contrast curve
  • contrast detail enhancement
  • shadow expansion around the toe
  • boosted highlights 
  • fixed gamma level
  • rebalancing of shadows in serveral scenes
  • unsharpen/resharpen to bring back some details
  • slight edge enhancement as the edges were frayed out
  • full regrade of the 3rd act
Some problems are left, like pulsating grain in a few shorts and some other minor shortcomings I didn't want to address because it would be too time consuming. All in all I aimed to create a modern interpretation how the movie was once perceived by the audience but for modern viewing habits without betraying the actual theatrical presentation or the decade the movie was shot in. Should be good enough until a new transfer with proper color grading arrives.

Audio was just taken from the BD, nothing fancy going on there, so even didn't check if something better was available...

And here we go for screenshots (BD first, then regrade, had too lower the image count) - as usual, subtle difference best seen by opening pics in separate tabs and switch between.

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Did not read the post because I'm busy doing other things, but I promise I'll read it ASAP... still, wanted to tell that I watched only at the picture and, while the difference in the daylight shots is subtle, it is much more pronounced in the night shots, in particular about fire, so... good job! Ok

Hint: using framecompare site, you can compare up to six screenshots - so, up to three shots before/later; much handier for lazy people like me! Wink
Sadly my projects are lost due to an HDD crash... Sad
Fundamental Collection | Vimeo channel | My blog
This is awesome.

I have the french dub + alt. french dub + english mono mix from the old DVD, is your release in sync with the Blu-ray?

If yes, my tracks will fit.
fave psychedelic western not directed by jodorowsky Smile
(2020-06-20, 08:26 PM)Stamper Wrote: is your release in sync with the Blu-ray?

Any track that matches the Universal BD would match my version as well...
Not sure if this is of any use, but there's a High Plains Drifter I.B. Tech print that came up on an eBay auction and there are a couple of pictures showing the frames from the first reel.

[Image: s-l1600.jpg][Image: s-l1600.jpg][Image: s-l1600.jpg][Image: s-l1600.jpg][Image: s-l1600.jpg]

It's definitely not to be taken heavily since it's not a proper scan or projection image or anything, but it could at least help serve as a possible loose ball-park reference? Idk. It's cool to look at in the least I suppose.
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(This post was last modified: 2020-10-20, 01:50 AM by LucasGodzilla.)
looks like Scythe42 is absent few months and isn't replying to PM's. If someone still has this HPD regrade, please PM me. thanks!
Same here, I didn't get an answer from him.
Same actually, which is a shame since I would've loved to revisit this movie.
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Your regrade screencaps show a much warmer image than the original BD. It matches exactly what you'd expect for being filmed in the summer. It looks like you hit it right on the button. Well done!!! I'm looking forward to seeing your edit.

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