How Criterion Collection Brings Movies Back From the Dead

There are few names that represent a commitment to the distribution of classic films like the Criterion Collection. Since the 1980s, they have remastered and released hundreds of movies on Laserdisc, DVD and Blu-Ray. We recently visited the Criterion headquarters in New York to get a first-hand look at the meticulous restoration process that brings cinematic gems back to life.


When we spoke with technical director Lee Kline and the team of editors and re-touchers at Criterion, they were in the process of restoring Alfred Hitchcock's 1940 espionage thriller, Foreign Correspondent. In the video above, Kline talks about how the first step in the process is tracking down the negative, or a print, that is in decent condition. In this case, that meant going to the Library of Congress, which had the original negative of the film. Criterion scanned it at 2K resolution, frame by frame, into digital files.

The digitized reels then make the rounds from department to department. Color is graded; dirt and scratches are retouched; audio is remastered. The team uses a combination of automated software that detects and removes flaws in the image, and manual re-touching of every frame. The entire process can from a few weeks to a few months for a single film, depending on the original condition it was in. Once the fidelity of the final product is assured, Criterion art director Eric Skillman conceptualizes the terrific art that accompanies the disc.

For every film Criterion tackles, the end result is a beautifully packaged ode to movies. For a company that has to constantly reinvent its process to accommodate changing technology—remember, Laserdiscs—they have a firm grasp on how to make each look and sound the absolute best it can. Check out the video up top for a closer look.



I hold out hope for a Criterion Collection run of the original Star Wars trilogy. Fix the black levels in space, fiddle with some of the compositing ghosts (see-through AT-ATs in ESB), re-master the audio... that's it. No "special edition" effects, no audio-redubs from the new trilogy actors.

There was a fan project to do exactly that several years ago, but I don't think they made any significant progress. ...not that I'd be interested in illegally downloading such a DVD ISO if I happen to be wrong about that, of course.