Here’s Why a ‘Legend’ 4K Blu-ray Release Won’t Happen

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With the limited edition Blu-ray of Ridley Scott’s Legend due out from Arrow Films in September, fans may be disappointed to learn that a 4K Blu-ray release of the film won’t happen.

Arrow Films producer James Flower took to Twitter (via The Digital Bits) in an attempt to clear up confusion, explaining in a lengthy thread the complex levels of red tape and technical issues surrounding an Ultra HD release for Legend and why that prevents a 4K Blu-ray of the film from being released.

The 1985 fantasy adventure film currently exists in three versions: the 113-minute Director’s Cut, restored by Universal in 2002 and 2011, the ninety-three minute International Cut, released by Fox, and the ninety-minute cut with Tangerine Dream’s score, released in the US by Universal. The lengthier Director’s Cut was restored from one of only two surviving 35mm answer prints (the first version of movies put on film), and there is no surviving negative.

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Image via Universal

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In Scott’s notes from the 2011 release, tweeted by Flower, he commented that answer prints “by their nature offer limited latitude in the transfer process”, and tend to result in “less-than-optimal picture quality”. In other words, there is quality loss to the film itself that cannot be reversed, particularly not in terms of 4K restoration. Universal would also be responsible for completing unfinished visual effects for a 4K cut of the film, and according to Flower, “its imperfections would be utterly naked in 4K, and the diminished dynamic range would make HDR a moot point”.

And to make things even more complicated, the negatives to Legend are confirmed to be from the International cut, which is tied up in a mountain’s worth of red tape. The negative itself is owned by Universal, but its distribution of said cut is currently controlled by Fox, now owned by The Walt Disney Company. Flower noted that Arrow could not come to an agreement with all three companies in order to access the International Cut as an extra for the Blu-ray.

While Arrow has access to a 4K scan of the negative, any attempts to upgrade the existing Director’s and U.S. cuts of the film would result in two “compromised, Frankenstein masters that would inevitably fall short of people’s high expectations”, as Flower puts it. An incomplete overhaul of the film would not match Arrow’s standards for “massive improvement”.

Even without a fully restored Director’s Cut, Arrow’s limited edition release will include a version of the U.S. Cut, restored in 2K from a 4K scan of original camera negatives, along with a new commentary track for the theatrical cut by Paul M. Sammon.

Arrow’s Legend: Limited Edition will be released on September 28, and you can pre-order the deluxe set through Diabolik DVD or Zavvi, for exclusive cover art. Check out Flowers’ entire thread for more context below, and check out some key art for the release.

As Flower tells it:

“So, the big controversy from today’s @ArrowFilmsVideo announcement: no 4K UHD for Legend. As I hinted a few weeks ago, there are sound reasons for this, and I’m going to try and explain why in this thread. Obviously we wanted to, and it’s not Universal stopping us (they have no plans either AFAIK). It’s a visually stunning film and I understand people’s dismay when Alien and Blade Runner are both on UHD and they want Legend to sit alongside those. Believe me, I get it. But… It’s important to understand Legend’s post-production and release history and the materials issues relating to it, which is much more complex and fraught than Alien or even Blade Runner, both of which have enjoyed multi-million dollar restoration projects by Fox and Warner. Reputation is an important factor too. Alien and Blade Runner are undisputed classics, one an instant franchise-spawning hit and the other a hard-earned unlikely triumph. Legend has still never quite enjoyed that level of respect, as much as we may love it.

“The Director’s Cut was restored from one of only two surviving 35mm answer prints, with additional post-production by Universal. There is no better quality source for this version, certainly not a negative. So why not scan the answer print in 4K? I mean, go big or go home right? These are Scott’s notes from the 2011 Blu-ray explaining the inherent quality issues on the Director’s Cut master. He sums it up well; even though an answer print is often struck direct from the negative, there is significant generational quality loss that cannot be reversed. In addition, the answer prints do not wholly represent what is in the Director’s Cut HD master; they contain unfinished effects and other issues that would need to be corrected all over again in 4K. Universal spent a lot of money in 2011 getting the Director’s Cut to look as good as it does in HD, but make no mistake: its imperfections would be utterly naked in 4K, and the diminished dynamic range would make HDR a moot point. Some wise aleck might be piping up with one of the rare examples to prove me wrong. “What about the Cannes cut of Dawn of the Dead, restored in 4K HDR from a CRI!” True, but the Cannes cut is a curio, not Romero’s preferred cut that most people would reach for before any other.”

“The negative of Legend is conformed to the 93-min International Cut… and here’s where things get tricky. The negative is owned by Universal, there’s even a Universal copyright at the end… but Fox/Disney own distribution rights to that particular version of the film. We went ahead and did a 4K scan of the negative anyway, knowing we could still put it to some use and hoping that we might be able to pull off a miracle and clear a US/UK edition with all three cuts, which might make UHD a little more feasible logistically and financially. We tried very, very hard to make headway with Fox on clearance to include the International Cut as an extra, but no dice. Ever notice that the International Cut’s never been released in the US, nor the US cut in the UK? You need both to sign it off and we couldn’t make it happen. You may ask, “Why not use the negative to make the Director’s Cut look even better? It’s only 20 mins shorter, right?” In fact, there are so many tiny cuts and minute differences throughout that less than an hour of negative material could be used in a Director’s Cut restoration. So even if we used our 4K negative scans to upgrade portions of the Director’s and US cuts, what does that leave us on UHD? Two compromised, Frankenstein masters that would inevitably fall short of people’s high expectations, no matter what we did.

Make no mistake, if Arrow does a new 4K master, whether it’s Tremors or King of New York or Donnie Darko, and spend as much as we do on restoration, UHD authoring etc, we want it to be a massive improvement. Legend in this form would not qualify. So here’s the deal: the Arrow Blu-Ray, in addition to awesome new extras, has both Director’s and US cuts in the best quality they’ve ever been seen in. It’s still a stonking upgrade, thanks in no small part to those neg scans of the one cut that’s unfortunately missing. If Disney ever play ball and the opportunity ever comes to do a UHD with three cuts, we can re-assess what to do with the Director’s Cut, whether it’s a rescan or AI upscaling with fake grain and fake HDR (as I know one non-US label has done without you lot noticing)… Because at least then there’ll be one cut of the film that looks amazing, 100% restored from negative, which would make the visual flaws in the other two cuts a little more forgivable. I sincerely hope it happens one day… but knowing what we know, don’t hold your breath. Once again for those at the back: there is no surviving negative of the longer cut, and any 4K improvement on what’s been released before would have been nominal and not currently worth the substantial hassle and expense. One day, that may change… but not today.​​​​​​​ Until then, the story of Legend remains, such as it ever was, one of messy compromise. We’ve done the best we could with what we have in the meantime – so, enjoy! (FIN)”

Even if we won’t get a 4K release, the upcoming Arrow Video release of Legend looks worth the hype and tribulations, just look at this Blu-ray cover:

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Image via Arrow

KEEP READING: Ridley Scott’s 11 Director’s Cuts Ranked From Worst to Best


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