Dr. Strangelove in Sony 4K: or How I learned to Start Worrying that My Standard 2K Cinema Pictures Don’t Cut the Mustard

Earlier this week I was fortunate enough to attend a screening of a newly restored 4K version of the classic 1964 Stanley Kubrick movie Dr Strangelove, starring Peter Sellers, at the charming Everyman Screen on the Green cinema in Islington.

It was an interesting evening, with the film prefaced with an interview conducted by Guardian film critic Jason Solomons with Mr. Grover Crisp, the executive vice president of asset management for film restoration and digital mastering at Sony Pictures. He’s basically the guy who took the lead on overseeing the 4K digital restoration and re-mastering process on this and several other movies. He explained the difficulties behind restoring the film, which was particularly challenging as the original negative was destroyed in a lab in the 1960s.

Before the 4K showing of Dr Strangeglove, (or to give it its full title, ‘Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb’), Crisp showed two identical frames from another film he is currently working on restoring, the classic 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia. The first was scanned at the current digital standard of 2K, (2048 x 1080 pixels) and the second at 4K (4096 x 2160 pixels). It was a close up of Peter O’Toole’s face, covered in a desert head covering, full of texture and grain, and the two images were switched between. As Crisp himself said, “the detail literally goes away when you look at the 2K version.”

Explaining more about the benefits of 4K scanning Crisp said that, “it’s not enhanced in any way. What it allows us to do is to actually see the information that’s actually in the negative.

A frame showing Sony's 4K restoration of Lawrence of Arabia

It was quite literally an eye-opener as while I would have tended to think of 2K as pretty impressive, the 2K version looked relatively blurry by comparison. I think I actually feel short-changed by mere 2K now – I want all my movies in 4K.

The 4K restoration process involves a full 4K workflow with no downsizing, so there’s enough resolution to convey the detail contained in original film stock. Cinemas suitably equipped with Sony’s 4K digital projector can then show the film unaltered – it’s like seeing a studio master, that is, as the cliché goes, “exactly as the director intended’, rather than a downsized version.

We were also shown a clip from the 4K restoration of Bridge on the River Kwai, and the rich colours and fine detailing were clear to see, and helps draw you in to the film.

The before and after restoration on Dr Strangeglove was like night and day, but then considering the amount of damage to the existing prints, that’s little suprise. That said, the richness, depth and clarity of the image is truly impressive, despite it being a black and white movie.

It’s not just about restorations though. Movies are also being captured in 4K, such as the new Brad Pitt vehicle MoneyBall, while a Sony representative was on hand to confirm that the forthcoming James Bond movie Skyfall, will also be shot in 4K. Excellent, Mr Bond.

Good news then that Sony says it will have 8,800 4K screens globally equipped with its 4K SXRD projectors by the end of the year, and hopes to reach 13,000 soon. To find out where you can see 4K films, Sony now has a Facebook page that enables people to type in their postcode (its on the left hand side) and find their closest 4K screen and it should be constantly updated as and when new screens are added, so you can actually make a point of seeking one out. Outside of the BFI IMAX, it’s the best experience you’ll have in the cinema.

More good news comes from the fact that 4K master are perfect for created the Full HD standard Blu-ray discs, so we get fabulous looking versions to watch at home, which is why I pretty chuffed with the free copy of Dr. Strangeglove on Blu-ray we were all handed. The film itself by the way, is hysterically funny, so if you haven’t seen it, it’s a must watch.