Search for Paradise, Blu-ray (1956/2014)
Voice: Lowell Thomas
Director: Otto Lang
Studio: Cinerama/ Flicker Alley FA0038 [11/18/14] (3 discs, incl. DVD)
Video: widescreen curved screen 16:9 (“SmileVision”) 1080p HD
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1, PCM 2.0
Extras: The original Search for Paradise breakdown reel used in 1956 theatrical run, Behind-the-scenes video of the Cinerama crew setting up for the Air Force base shoot and location, 16mm footage of the Nepal shoot, The 3-panel 2012 Cinerama short In the Picture, as well as The Last Days of Cinerama, which goes behind-the-scenes of the making of In The Picture, 1998 interview with director Otto Lang, David Coles Search for Paradise presentation, Demonstration on how the original negatives were restored, A brand new re-release movie trailer, a 1950s black & white announcement trailer, and image gallery, facsimile representation of the original program booklet
Length: 127 minutes
I am completely conflicted over this lovely looking Blu-ray of the fourth three-panel Cinerama movie. Search for Paradise is basically a Lowell Thomas hosted travelogue, with visits to the Himalayas, the Karakoram mountains of Central Asia, and a visit to Katmandu for the elaborate coronation ceremony of King Mahendra of Nepal.
It’s beautifully photographed, and lovingly restored, as have been the previous Cinerama releases. The problem is the story, the music and the script. I’m really not sure of the point of the film, as it meanders to and fro looking for paradise on earth, but mysteriously ends at an Air Force base in Florida where jets break the sound barrier. Not my idea of paradise. It’s a jarring story line, made worse by strange narration decisions letting Thomas talk about the “weird” religions and practices of the Asians he visits with his super-wide Cinerama camera.
Perhaps the worst sin is an amazingly bad music score by the great Dimitri Tiomkin. I swear I hear calypso music during some of the scenes, references to some of Tiomkin’s western movie music, and even some notes that were clearly later adapted for his Guns of Navarone score in the ‘60s. I’m a fan of Tiomkin, and consider him a master of film music, but either the master had taken leave of his senses for this score, or Thomas and his cohorts badly determined what the composer needed to do musically. To add insult to injury the talented Robert Merrill is dragged into this film singing ridiculous lyrics about the Cinerama lenses and some faux romantic numbers about being in paradise.
I thought for a moment I was just too cynical, so checked reviews that were concurrent with the 1957 release. The New York Times trashed the structure of the film and the insipid music, so it’s not just a matter of modern sensibilities looking down on fifties pop culture.
Extras on the disk go from interesting to silly. Some behind the scenes footage from the original shoot are interesting, and the details of the restoration show how truly bad this film was cared for. The fact that it looks just terrific on a large TV panel or a projector is a real tribute to David Strohmaier and his team. Not only is the video clean and sharp, the audio which was originally seven channels, has been re-mapped to a 5.1 DTS HD presentation. It’s not extended in frequency response, but it has excellent directionality and sounds pretty good considering its age.
Other extras are a forgettable attempt to use a restored Cinerama camera to make a 20-minute demo reel. It wasn’t worth the 20 minutes I invested.
The highlight of the extras is the Cinerama breakdown reel. All Cinerama movies had them, because mechanical problems with the three synchronized projectors were common, and a standby projector had emergency footage of Lowell Thomas apologizing for the problems and hemming and hawing while the film got fixed. On this disc Thomas interviews composer Tiomkin (who should have been in hiding) and then Thomas starts rattling off odd gibberish about the production and a hike he took up a mountain. It’s funny, but wasn’t designed to be.
I have loved the restored Cinerama films I’ve seen. The original 1952 This is Cinerama is quaint but was worth a watch. Cinerama Holiday (1955) was a fun ride with a sort of story to hold it together about two families visiting places they had never seen. The Seven Wonders of the World (1956) was also a pretty good film, with dramatic shots of places a lot of us will never see in person. While Search for Paradise had possibilities, it was pretty much squandered with it’s aimless form, especially at the end visit to an Air Force base, and Thomas, who really thought the picture was about him so he interjects himself into too many scenes.
A word about the packaging. When you open the box, you’ll see two discs. One is a standard definition DVD of the movie, the other is extras. The Blu-ray version, the only version worth watching, is hidden behind a booklet on the right hand side of the box. I’m sure many will buy this wondering where the Blu-ray is; dumb packaging.
I have the highest regard for the artists and technicians who brought Cinerama into the world, and the restoration here is miraculous, but if you could only see one Cinerama film this would not be the one I’d choose.