The first feature film to be photographed and projected in the panoramic three-camera Cinerama process, this epic Western is almost as expansive as the West itself, chronicling a pioneering family's triumphs and tragedies ... more »in numerous episodes spanning three generations and a half century of westward movement. Divided into five segments directed by veteran Hollywood filmmakers Henry Hathaway, George Marshall, and the legendary John Ford (and including uncredited sequences directed by Richard Thorpe), the film was one of the most ambitious ever made by the venerable MGM studio. Its stellar cast reads like a virtual who's who of Hollywood's biggest stars. Debbie Reynolds plays a sturdy survivor of many pioneering dangers, and the eventual widow of a gambler (Gregory Peck), who is later reunited with her nephew (George Peppard), a Civil War veteran and cavalryman who heads for San Francisco as the transcontinental railroad is being built. Many more characters and stories are woven throughout this epic film, which is dramatically uneven but totally engrossing with its stunning vistas and countless outdoor locations in Illinois, Kentucky, South Dakota, Monument Valley in Arizona, California, Colorado, and elsewhere. --Jeff Shannon« less
"This is the first (and only) CINERAMA film I ever saw, without doubt the most thrilling aspect of the movie is the grand scale of the Cinerama process and the multi- channel soundtrack. The transfer to DVD is an insult. In this era of digital technology it is easily possible to correct the color balance errors evident in the "seams" of this otherwise remarkable motion picture. I agree with other reviewers, lose the Turner promo. The color balance, saturation, and pictureresolution are very average, and fall well below of what the DVD process is capable. One redeeming feature is the soundtrack. Finally, after viewing the VHS tape, and Laserdisc of this movie, the DVD release incorporates the correct rear channel information of the original release. Finally, and most regrettably, this DVD release has been cropped. Don't we buy widescreen movies to see how they were originally shot? HELLO HOLLYWOOD!"
DVD Comparative Review and Re-Inventing the American Cinema
Arthur Blenheim | Boston | 08/01/2006
(3 out of 5 stars)
"[I wrote this DVD review of "How the West Was Won" a while ago, but I have added this paragraph to account for a third DVD, released 22 May 2007, as part of a set called "The John Wayne Collection." This third DVD by Warner is the same as MGM's 1998 release. There has been no DVD re-mastering effort. All three DVDs have precisely the same content, and so all the information within my following review about the 2000 Warner release can be applied to "The John Wayne Collection" DVD of Warner in 2007. Of special importance is how it wrongly states the disc is an anamorphic DVD. It is not anamorphic.]
There are two [three] DVDs of "How the West Was Won" (1962) available in the U.S.
MGM Video's earlier disc (released on 28 July 1998) and Warner Video's second disc (released 12 Sept. 2000) [and Warner's third disc of 22 May 2007] have EXACTLY THE SAME DISC CONTENT! Even the menus are the same! They both contain the film's theatrical trailer and contain the same "Making Of" documentary with a run time of 15:30. The only difference is the earlier MGM release also includes an 8-page booklet with large essays filling all but the cover pages, including a section about the "800 pounds" of Cinerama camera equipment used for this spectacle; that plus a plastic DVD box. The later Warner release uses the cardboard case, but even its cover art does not match the disc menu screens as does the earlier MGM release.
This movie with its Cinerama glory deserves a place on the shelf of video collectors involved with American cinema culture. If one wants to buy this movie on DVD, opt for the earlier edition with the booklet. I noticed the DVDs (having the same exact imagery) have four negatives: the extremely wide screen image is only letterboxed and not anamorphic DVD, the theatrical 7-track audio has been degraded to 4-channel matrix-encoded Dolby audio, the DVD picture image suffers from film scratches and dirt, and Ted Turner's logo appears BETWEEN the prologue overture and the beginning of the film. Nevertheless, the great music is worth the price, alone. I was never a fan of the movie, but it was one of the single most ambitious film projects ever and cost a fortune! This film is a crucial landmark of a cultural evolution in American cinema and any collector serious about American film culture needs this DVD. Of course, the great John Ford directed one segment, but also the famous Henry Hathaway and George Marshall directed their segments of this film.
An interesting part of the documentary focuses on the ideas and investments behind the three-camera Cinerama format and three-screen Super Cinerama theater used for this film. Despite the success, only two fictional films used the three-, angled-screen Cinerama format: this movie and "the Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm" (1962), the George Pal stop-motion extravaganza. Cinerama was next re-formulated into a single camera process for a curved screen using a 65mm image on Ultra Panavision 70 film, and these newer camera processes weighed a lot less than the original Cinerama cameras. The first film made in the latter process was a comedy, "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" (1963) and, according to that DVD, the carpet had been laid in the first of the new single curved-screen Super Cinerama theaters only three days before this comedy's release. The re-formulated Cinerama/Ultra Panavision 70 cameras were so light, Director John Frankenheimer had them mounted onto Formula Three racecars (dressed as Formula One cars) for his 1966 film, "Grand Prix."
The most critically acclaimed and remembered film made for Cinerama three-screen OR curved-screen theaters was "2001: a Space Odyssey" (1968). Read Roger Ebert's website reviews of this movie. Both, Ebert's original review from 1968 and the review from its re-release of 1997 appear on his website.
Movies made before 1952 were predominantly black and white. Because studios blamed theater ticket sale diminishment on television, film studios either invented new technologies or reinvented existing ones such as Cinerama, which at least appears very similar to Abel Gance's use of three camera images during the battle scenes of his 1927 silent epic, "Napoleon." Some of the fads blossoming during the `50s and `60s and remaining today are the use of Cinemascope anamorphic lenses, wide-screen panoramic films, color photography, epic plots, large-budget movies, multi-track stereophonic audio, and other artistic special effects. Some of the fads not quite permanent were stop motion animation like the works of Ray Harryhausen, loud musicals, "3-D" movies, and Cinerama.
However, some ideological remnants of the Super Cinerama remain with another distant format: IMAX. Both processes use curved screens about 110-feet wide although an IMAX screen is dome-shaped because it is twice as high, they both use at least 6 discrete tracks of audio, and they both use theaters specifically designed for exhibitions using their processes.
One of Cinerama and IMAX's fundamental differences is that IMAX's fictional movies are usually transferred from pre-existing wide-screen movies into the IMAX format whereas, unlike IMAX, the fictional movies in Cinerama were made FOR their Super Cinerama theaters. For instance, the IMAX production of "Apollo 13" cropped the original Super 35 film images having a length-to-width ratio of 2.39:1 down into a ratio of 1.66:1 enlarged, according to Ebert's website. Although "How the West Was Won" was mostly shot in its system of three images, some of it was actually shot in Ultra Panavision 70, the second Cinerama format, and optically converted into three-image Cinerama, according to Widescreen Review's website. This means that, even when Cinerama originally meant three screens, it still utilized Ultra Panavision 70 photography for part of "How the West Was Won," the first of the two fictional films using three-screen Super Cinerama Theaters.
The studio had researched volumes for "How the West Was Won" and the Cinerama process, which was one of the many efforts to re-invent the cinema during the 1950s and '60s. In 1963, when "How the West Was Won" released into Cinerama theaters, it was a huge hit and played for nearly two years.
Today, no three-screen Super Cinerama theater remains, and almost all (if not yet all) single-, curved-screen Super Cinerama theaters have vanished. For the sake of American culture, the government should do something to protect at least one of these theaters. America needs some history of culture to protect and a Super Cinerama theater seems worth saving since the cinema provides the largest venue of American entertainment today. The Super Cinerama theater is a landmark of American culture. "
This is it folks!
T. Robin | 01/24/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"How The West Was Won is a true classic from the glory days of MGM. Everything about this film is done on a grand scale. The cast includes some of the biggest names ever to appear in a motion picture. Including: Gregory Peck, James Stewart, John Wayne, Debbie Reynolds, Spencer Tracy and Richard Widmark. The widescreen cinerama process appears dated and inconsistant by today's standards and it should be noted that the new DVD edition is not in anamorphic widescreen. The DVD edition appears to be a new transfer from the same previous 35mm print but contains notable improvements which include brighter more accurate colors and a clarity and definition that the picture has never had before on home video. The aspect ratio is also closer to the cinerama widescreen ratio, but there is still a noticeable cropping of the sides. The film also has the characteristic visable cinerama seams. The new DVD edition is the best the film has looked outside a cinerama theatre and is probably the best edition we will ever get. The restoration effort on "My Fair Lady" cost 1.2 Million dollars over a two year period. It probably would not be economically sound to treat HTWWW to the same restoration effort as it does not have as much consumer support. If you want HTWWW I suggest that you buy this edition, otherwise you may be in for a long wait."
Some people are missing the point
H. Hedrick | 12/09/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I don't write many amazon reviews, but some people here are really missing the point. I saw this movie in the theatre when it first came out. It opened with all of the fanfare of a "Cleopatra" and "Ben Hur", and it does belong in that category. It used an obsolete filming technique, Cinerama, where three cameras to create a wrap around effect. It was only shown in specially equipped theatres.
It is the story of a single family starting with the father and mother pressing out on the Erie Canal and follows the lives of the children through the years until the end of the Old West. Epic movies sometimes fail because they take themselves too seriously. This movie never does that.
First, this is an extremely well known movie, and anyone interested in film must see it. It won Oscars for story and screenplay. Secondly, it is a very stirring film and anyone interested in history will be affected by, perhaps quite deeply affected. It does have problems as a film in the same way that "Gettysburg" or "Gods and Generals" do. Perhaps it underplays the drama and expects the audience to understand too much.
It does have a problem with the lines between the three cameras not being seamless. This was also true in the theatrical release, but I don't remember it being as bad. I would hope that a future release can improve this. However, to not watch it because of this is like not watching "Citizen Kane" because it is in black and white."
Come, Come, It's A Wondrous Land
H. Hedrick | 11/14/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"In the early 1960s, Life magazine ran a serialized historical narrative on the settling of the American West. It was a project full of old photographs, maps, line drawings, reproduced paintings and sketches from 19th-century artists, and specially commissioned contemporary artwork from noted illustrators. It followed along the same lines as a series Life had done on World War One, and another on the Civil War.In many respects it was a print media prototype for the kind of historical documentaries that filmmaker Ken Burns would later become lauded for.
Like its predecessors, this Life Magazine series became enormously popular with the American reading public...and quite a sales draw for Time-Life. It also laid the groundwork for Time-Life's later book series, "The Old West".
It was called "How The West Was Won".
Hollywood, ever mindful of good prospective "hooks" for siphoning off the public's spare dollars, was so greatly impressed with the popularity of "How The West Was Won" that "it" (in this case MGM) purchased the screen rights to the magazine series. This was somewhat unusual, as most of the time it was novels or biographies that were rights-secured, or fiction stories from magazines such as the "Saturday Evening Post"("Red River" being an example of such). Something from a serialized non-fiction source was a bit of an oddity.
But MGM thought it was onto something, and it turned out they were. The studio envisioned something BIG, and the settling of the west had just the scope they felt they were looking for. And they had this gimmick they wanted to play with as well; a film process called Cinerama that could make big things even bigger. Bigger than Cinemascope, bigger than Panavision, bigger than VistaVision. This process used three synchronized cameras shooting the same scene, and when you put their imagery side by side and projected it all simultaneously, you definitely had yourself something B I G. So Metro and the Cinerama Company (which owned the patents on this process) joined forces and made this mega-movie, which is one of the cultural icons of the post-WWII"baby boomer" generation. So, is it any good? Yes it is, as a matter of fact. But it IS a strange beast to evaluate. It is choppy and episodic, and runs through multiple story lines all bridged together under the framework of a family history. Some people evaluating it now often "see" it as being too "Euro-centric" and "white", with not enough prominence or empathy for the Indians in evidence (yes, INDIANS! That's what they call themselves TO THIS DAY, and I'm not going to let any contemporary PC silliness about "Native Americans"...They WEREN'T...not if they immigrated here across a pleistocene land bridge from Asia...cause me to forego using a long-standing and totally no-offense-intended terminology to describe them). This "not enough empathy" bit I find nit-picky, disingenuous, and mostly bogus. This movie makes the Indians good guys right from the start, in the mountain man sequences with Jimmy Stewart as Linus Rawlings. They are shown as his friends and "woodland brothers". When they appear later on in the film it is in direct contention with the railroad..the "Iron Horse"..and in this section of the film the Indians are shown as being IN THE RIGHT and being "Done Dirty" BY the high-handed railroad...the straight-up historical TRUTH (and the reason the railroads were so roundedly hated...and those who harassed them...everyone from Frank & Jesse James to Butch Cassidy's Hole In the wall Gang...so roaringly popular with the common folk). If there IS any ethnic short-changing here it mostly involves the Chinese (ENORMOUS influences in the settling of the west) and blacks (nearly one out of every four cowboys was black).But, Jeez, this movie has only SO MUCH TIME to cover SO MUCH GROUND that it is absurd to think they could have accomodated everybody's "credit due". Get real. Despite all its perceived "flaws" (many of them real and many of them agenda-driven), "How the West Was Won" gets the job done as entertainment, and even does the same FAIRLY well as a historical piece. It overcomes its episodic nature with heart, verve, and enthusiasm; with great photography of marvelous locales (provided you can overlook the annoying Cinerama seam lines on the picture), with effective performances from a gaggle of big-name actors and actresses, with superlative stunt work and slick editing and optical printer compositing, and with one of the most stirring and memorable musical scores ever recorded for the medium. This score is legendary and gives the film so much of its power that the presence of it alone is one of the main things that puts "Won" over the top as successful movie entertainment.THIS is MOVIE MUSIC!!!! And the train battle with George Peppard and Lee J. Cobb vs. Eli Wallach and friends at the conclusion of the film is a DOOZY! When all is said and done, this is a feel-good movie that makes the grade as "good stuff" DESPITE its imperfections. And it is also the kind of film that can't be made today...because the controlled salary rate of the old Studio system is gone now and nobody, but NOBODY, can afford to pay the salaries of THIS MANY bona fied stars within the framework of one feature film...not unless Bill Gates wants to allow himself a big-a** tax write-off!"