How The West Was Won features a stellar cast of pioneers in the most ambitious western ever filmed. Inspired by the majesty of a vast and unsettled land, the film follows the adventures of the Prescott family in their relentless drive westward. How The West Was Won was filmed in Super Cinerama® with some sequences in Ultra Panavision 70, optically converted to the Super Cinerama format with 7-channel Cinerama sound.
Special features include a feature commentary track; the original theatrical trailer; a 97-minute documentary Cinerama Adventure; a memorabilia, including a 20-page theatrical press book reproduction; ten behind-the-scenes photo cards and ten postcards; an addiitonal disc with the movie in uniquely curved "SmileBox" format, which virtualy re-creates the true Cinerama® experience in your home theatre; and a 32-page booklet of rare press materials.
The anamorphically enhanced 2.85:1 DVD (letterboxed) shows good resolution, but compared to newer releases it is noticeably soft. Black levels are deep and unwaivering—a noticeable improvement over the previous release—and shadows are nicely delineated. Source element artifacts, like dirt and scratches, have been cleaned up very well, but the dirt that was on the lenses when shooting has been maintained. The join lines from combining the three Cinerama panels have been blended almost perfectly, with barely noticeable changes in brightness noticeable on occasion where the lines should be. Colors are deeply saturated and bright, in spite of the original film's age. Focus and skew artifacts are noticeable on the extreme edges of the letterboxed frame, due to the optics used when filming, which is not a limitation of the DVD but rather the original format. This is a huge upgrade over the previous DVD. The VC-1-encoded Blu-ray Disc shows fantastic resolution, especially considering the age. Colors are bold, and vibrant and contrast is nicely balanced. The letterbox version shows the same distortions as in the DVD, but the SmileBox® version improves this some. While the distortions are still visible in the SmileBox version, it fits the wrap-around picture more naturally. While watching in the SmileBox version is slightly unnerving at first, it really does create a more immersive experience. While it may not be for everyone, Ihope future Cinerama-shot releases on Blu-ray Disc will take advantage of the process. While the join lines are nearly invisible, changes in luminance where the join lines should be can be seen. (Danny Richelieu)
The Dolby® Digital 5.1-channel soundtrack is very similar to the previous release, with dialogue leakage around the room and poorly focused imaging. The surrounds are not very engaging and rather ineffective. The LFE channel is incorporated well, and occasional effects drop into the lowest audible octaves, but bass is relatively poorly defined—more of an unnatural rumbling than anything else. Dialogue is always intelligible, but there are times when it sounds dated, with a thin and tinny character. Dynamic range is good for the recording's age, and there is a fair sense of depth in the front stage. The mix is rather limited, though, and while underlying noise is audible, it is cleaned up very well, compared to the previous release. The Blu-ray Disc's lossless Dolby TrueHD encoding provides impressive fidelity, especially considering the age. The mix is basic, and dialogue can sound muted and aged. The audio is encoded at relatively low levels. Raising the volume on the processor brings out the low-level noise that the encoding engineers must have been trying to hide. Still, the soundtrack is enjoyable. (Danny Richelieu)