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The Best Colorized Movies

Let’s stop being dinosaurs and colorize MORE old movies.

It's not just my opinion - famed sci-fi movie maker Ray Harrryhausen has overseen the colorizing of several of his 1950s classics, projects shot in black and white purely because he didn't have the budget for color.

Before you read on, here's my current top 5 best colorized movies:

It's A Wonderful Life (1946): The timeless Christmas classic starring James Stewart as a man who really doesn't know how wonderful his boring, mundane life is - until an angel named Clarence shows him. Restored black and white version also included.
Holiday Inn (1942): Bing Crosby sings White Christmas and other Irving Berlin classics while Fred Astaire dances up a storm in this wonderful piece of nostalgia. 3-disc edition includes color and black and white versions plus featurettes AND a 12 track CD!
20 Million Miles To Earth (1957): Special effects pioneer Ray Harrryhausen oversaw the colorizing of this classic film about a (green) space monster accidentally brought back to Earth. Great documentaries in this release. Restored black and white version also included.
Miracle on 34th Street (1947): Macy's Santa Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn) thinks he really is Father Christmas. They wanted to lock him away, but a lawyer (John Payne) is determined to prove Kris is the real deal. Timeless Christmas classic. Restored black and white version also included.
It Came From Beneath The Sea (1955): Another Ray Harrryhausen sci-fi classic that looks great in its new color version. Documentary shows how Legend Films brought sparkling new life to the movie under Harryhausen's supervision. Restored black and white version also included.

 

Here's why I believe there's a place for colorized movies: If Beethoven were alive today do you think he`d be satisfied with the tinny pianos, thin-sounding violins and lightweight sound of yesterday`s orchestra?

‘Course not. He’d want a beefy Steinway Grand Piano and the punch of a modern symphony orchestra with which to raise the roof.

It’s the same with movies originally filmed in black and white because they just didn’t have the budget for colour. Give those filmmakers the chance to see their masterpieces in colour and many would jump at it.

Notice I’m making the distinction here between movies intentionally filmed in black and white and those shot in black and white because of budgetary restrictions.

I accept that Citizen Kane and Casablanca would not have the same look or feel to them if colorized. The masterful play of light and shadow used in them would almost certainly be lost. However, I’m open enough to want to see colorized versions before completely dismissing the notion.

I do not agree with critic Roger Ebert, who famously wrote in 1988: “Anyone who can accept the idea of the colorization of black and white films has bad taste…”

He went on: "Colorization" does not produce color movies, but only sad and sickening travesties of black and white movies, their lighting destroyed, their atmospheres polluted, their moods altered almost at random by the addition of an artificial layer of coloring that is little more than legalized vandalism.”

Wow - lighten up Roger. We’re talking movies here, not the Middle East peace process.

OK, a coupla points in Ebert’s favour: In 1988, colorization was primitive…crap is the word I’m looking for. The worst example was the first color version of It’s A Wonderful Life (1946), which sure wasn’t a wonderful exercise in colorization. I believe Jimmy Stewart’s face was green.

Also, Ebert was specifically targeting then-media mogul Ted Turner’s bull-headed insistence oncolorizing Casablanca, just “to piss everybody off”.

You did, Ted, you did.

Fast forward almost 20 years and colorization has undergone a breathtaking technical transformation. The colors are subtle and true to life, instead of vulgar. And good research of studio photos and production documents enables costumes and sets to be reproduced in their actual colours. In fact, check out the new colorized version of It's A Wonderful Life - it looks magnificent!

Witness for the Prosecution: Special effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen, whose 1957 cult classic 20 Million Miles to Earth was released in a special 50th anniversary edition in 2007 featuring both the black and white original and the newly colorized one.

Harryhausen is now an enthusiastic supporter of colorization and was closely consulted in the color transformation of 20 Million Miles To Earth - a film he originally wanted to do in color. He raves about the quality of the finished product which breathes new life into his little green monster from Venus. It looks like a completely different movie - and Harryhausen has given his blessing to several more colorized projects, with Earth vs. The Flying Saucers and It Came From Beneath The Sea both released in early 2008.

Hopefully, Ebert would at least recognize the right of a filmmaker to artistically alter a project years later. After all, we get Director’s Cuts that extend and change the mood of a movie - why not versions changing the look of a movie?

Witness for the Prosecution 2: Miracle on 34th Street. This 1947 Christmas classic came out in a dual B/W/colorized version in 2006 and it’s terrific. If this means thousands of kids will watch this timeless classic then I’m all for it. Ditto for the sparkling 2008 3-disc release of Holiday Inn - the movie that introduced the world to Bing Crosby singing White Christmas. It looks fantastic!

Let’s face facts: many film fans under 40 simply won’t watch a black and white flick because they think it looks “old fashioned and boring” … to quote my kids. Add the colour they’re used to and they’ll at least give it chance.

If the project is done with artistic integrity and, if possible the consent of people involved in the original production, I’m all for giving colorization a chance.

It’s all about choice.

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