'The Sound of Music:' The Story Behind Its 4K Restoration

The restored version will open the TCM Classic Film Festival with a special screening of the film, which will be attended by Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer.
Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

In celebration of The Sound of Music’s 50th anniversary, a restored 4K version of the 20th Century Fox classic will be screened Thursday at the TCL Chinese Theatre IMAX to open the sixth-annual TCM Classic Film Festival. Scheduled to attend are the film’s stars, Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer.

Originally released in 1965, the iconic musical had been restored once previously in 2000, when Fox completed a photochemical restoration working with the Academy Film Archive. Director Robert Wise, who died in 2005, had approved that 70mm print.

Schawn Belston, executive vp media and library services at Fox Filmed Entertainment, recalled that Wise chose to review the restoration during an Academy screening at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater that he attended along with castmembers who played the von Trapp children — and the director’s response was “celebratory,” as he had no changes. “My take was that [Wise] seemed enormously proud of it,” Belston told The Hollywood Reporter. “He said, ‘It looks better than it did when it was new. I haven’t seen it look like that since the premiere.’ ”

Since Wise and cinematographer Ted D. McCord are no longer alive, that restored print was used as the guide for this new 4K restoration, which was supervised by Belston and completed at Burbank-based postproduction house FotoKem (which also happens to be the last remaining motion-picture lab in Southern California).

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This time around, using digital color-grading tools rather than a photochemical process, FotoKem colorist Mark Griffith was able to address quality issues present in the sourced material, such as flicker and variable color fading. “In the scene during which Maria meets the children in the foyer, from shot to shot the walls changed color,” explained Belston, noting that they had to choose between a consistent look of the actors or the background wall in 2000. Of course, they focused on the actors. “But digitally, we could do both,” he added of the new version.

FotoKem's Andrew Oran remembered some classic scenes including the one that featured Andrews and Plummer in the gazebo. “There’s an anecdote that Robert Wise had to light it down because Julie and Christopher couldn’t stop laughing because they though it was cheesy," he said, adding that low lighting is exactly what is maintained in this new restoration.

The FotoKem team began the project by creating new 65mm intermediate film components on the facility’s 65mm contact printers. Next, those film elements were digitized at 8K resolution (16 times the resolution of HD) on its 65mm scanner. It was then digitally graded and remastered in 4K by Griffith.

Through a Fox partnership with Fathom Events and TCM, the restored film also will be shown on two days, April 19 and 22, in roughly 500 theaters in the U.S. The new master also was used to create the five-disc 50th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition Blu-ray + DVD + CD + Digital HD.

Email: Carolyn.Giardina@THR.com

Twitter: @CGinLA

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