It may have seemed like a minor news item that “The African Queen” was released on DVD and Blu-ray formats. After all, movies are released in these formats seemingly by the hour. But this is big news. Moving from one format to another is an arduous task in any case, but when you have an almost sixty year-old movie there has been well, considerable water under the technological bridge to – bridge that gap effortlessly. In 1951 when the film was originally released, a car cost $1,800 and the gas for it was at 27 cents per gallon. That was the year of the first ever customer-dialed phone call. Now we don’t even dial anymore.
“The African Queen” was the first complete film using the then advanced Technicolor process. It is therefore a long road from then to the 4K digital technology of today. The restoration work began six years ago when Paramount ran down one of the few remaining original prints of the movie. Each frame was cleaned, removing dirt and scratches – three times. It was filmed as a three-strip negative in red, blue and yellow that was projected for viewers to see a movie in color. Along the way adjustments were required to correct for variations in the three films stretching.
All of this was quite difficult because Director John Huston and his team cut the shots together and now the Paramount team wanted to create the appearance of one continuous scene. Additionally, the sharpness of Blu-ray and DVD revealed unforeseen flaws to be corrected. Meanwhile the audio was recorded on a single track and that was another challenge. So while we may take Blu-ray and DVD for granted, behind the scenes is another story. And about the boat of the same name? It was built in 1912 in England, used as a shuttle in Africa till 1968 and now spends its days in retirement in Key Largo, Florida.