Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Greatest Lost Film Of All Time Now Available For Free Download

"The Greatest Lost Film Of All Time Now Available For Free Download" - sort of.

You've heard all of the horror stories about Miramax, right? How they bought films and shelved them, released them years later, if at all. And how the Weinsteins would wield scissors willy nilly, butchering masterpieces left, right and centre?

They truly have been guilty of crimes against cinema. But what they did to The Thief and the Cobbler was, I'm afraid, their biggest crime of all.

Richard Williams is probably best known these days as the animation director on Who Framed Roger Rabbit, but he was, I'm quite confident, the greatest ever director of "traditional" hand-drawn animation. Working with a handful of master animators including Ken Harris - most probably the greatest ever animator - Williams began to realise his feature film The Thief and the Cobbler in the late 60s. It was a hugely ambitious, epic fantasy, and I'll probably be better off letting the trailer below do the talking. Suffice to say, an uncompromised Thief would have challenged such masterworks as Brazil, Pinocchio, Vertigo or Toy Story 2.

To cut a long story short, Miramax got their hands on the uncompleted film in the 90s, then had it completed - but with rather unsatisfactory new animation and pointless new expository scenes. The main characters of Tack the Cobbler and the nameless Thief were given voices, whereas Williams had masterfully conveyed their every emotion and thought through their expression and motion. New characters were charmless, the ambition was somewhat curtailed, and William's integrity was dumped on. From a very great height.

In all honesty, watching the two hacked up versions, The Princess and The Cobbler and Arabian Knight, was the most heartbreaking viewing of my life.

I met Williams only once, in the early part of this decade, while he was giving a wonderful animation masterclass. He had happily discussed, often brilliantly dissected, just about everything he had worked on until that date - but not this film. In fact, it was almost as though The Thief and The Cobbler had never happened. I spoke to him just for a minute, and dared allude to the corruption of his masterpiece, not naming it, just hinting. His face didn't change, but something way back in his eyes did. I changed the subject myself for fear of causing too much hurt.

Tragedy. But now, thank heavens, a restored version of the film is available online. It's not the film Williams would have made, but it is a lot closer than I had ever hoped, certainly. Perhaps by downloading it in droves we can force the hand of whoever grabbed the rights in the Disney/Miramax shakedown and a true restoration will occur.

You have various viewing options. To see the improved version in pieces, you can go to You Tube, and watch it in chapters. Better still, a DVD quality version is available from various bit torrent sites, such as mininova or demonoid. And once you have downloaded it and marvelled at it, seed it yourself and spread this wonderful film for all to see.

There is also a nice, hi-res cover that you can print out for your download.

Garret Gilchrist, the dedicated restoration artist responsible for this painstaking reconstruction has provided me with a link through which you can learn more about just what he set out to acheive here, and why, as well as another about the history of Richard Williams work and The Thief and The Cobbler.

(A better quality version of this trailer can be downloaded, too)


Anonymous said...

I gotta say, this is actually a pretty cool blog, sir. I'll be reading this more from now on - it's got some great movie news. Damn those Spiderman 3 spoilers!

Brendon said...

So, the You Tube version of the trailer has been "removed". Just follow the other link.

Better still, download the whole film and then distribute it freely to everybody you know.

Nathan said...

I just wanted to ask a question:
Why is the restored cut of the film presented in what looks like 1.66 when the original film was, if I'm not mistaken, intended to be presented in 2.35? Does a cut of the film exist in that aspect ratio?

Brendon said...

That's a very good question - and possibly one best answered by Garret Gilchrist, who carried out this restoration.

I will put it to him, and invite him to respond here.

Garrett Gilchrist said...

Hi there.

My cut of the film is indeed in 2.35:1. (Although the aspect ratio varies slightly due to the hodgepodge nature of the cut.)

Youtube has stretched the 16x9 image vertically into a 4x3 image, so presumably that's confusing you.

Mugsy said...

Garret Gilchrist should have been in charge of the new dvd.

Anonymous said...

This version of The Thief and the Cobbler misses one of the most amazing scenes in the movie, which I saw on English television when I was visiting London in the fall of 1988. I suspect it was an episode of "The South Bank Show" hosted by Melvin Bragg. Anyway, the scene must have been an expanded version of the atmospheric but very short introduction that the recobbled version starts with. In it, one has the powerful, incantatory narration while looking from a distance at the golden city. The camera or shot moves into the city in an amazing, surreal, hallucinatory and spiralling way, as if created with the most complex dolly shot in all of history, although it's all done by animation, of course. It was absolutely magical. I thought the narrator for that scene was Vincent Price, which would explain the drawings of the wizard's hands which one sees in the recobbled version's opening.

If I had to review the film: First of all, it's great to see this masterpiece, or the remains of a masterpiece, in some sort of recognizable form. I saw the execrable American butchering in the 1990s, and every moment, every second of that made me squirm with displeasure. Here, I'd say that the best parts are the scenes of evil, with their deep, saturated colors and visionary power. The comical and heroic characters generally have a cutesy feeling, and a lot of the shots of the golden city, all candy-colored pastel and soft-focus drawing, look rather dated in a 1960s/1970s way. But the scenes of evil are undying classics.

If you are not burning a CD and you simply want to view the movie, you only need to download 4 .vob files from the numerous files in the bittorrent: vts_01_1.vob, vts_01_2.vob, vts_01_3.vob, and vts_01_4.vob. That should save you some on download time.

Then you might want to do what I did, which was to convert the .vob files to .mpg files. I used my free file conversion software from eRightSoft, and then watched the files with Windows Media Player, which all worked out fine.

If someone has better movie making software than I have, or is more skilled than I am, maybe it would be a good idea to make the four .mpg files, then splice them together and then post the film as a zipped file at Rapidshare.