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Category:    Home > Reviews > Musical > Fantasy > Myths > Backstage > Drama > Rock > Pop > Countercultrue > Country > Melodrama > Remake > Lost Horizon (1973/Sony/Columbia/Twilight Time Limited Edition Blu-ray)/A Star Is Born (1976/Warner Blu-ray)

Lost Horizon (1973/Sony/Columbia/Twilight Time Limited Edition Blu-ray)/A Star Is Born (1976/Warner Blu-ray)


Picture: B-/B     Sound: B-     Extras: B-     Films: B-/C+



PLEASE NOTE:  The Lost Horizon Blu-ray is limited to 3,000 copies and is available exclusively at the Screen Archives website which can be reached at the link at the end of this review.



Hollywood and its obsession with and legacy of Musicals was very challenged by the 1970s since the genre was dead, even after the huge box office of The Sound Of Music (1965, Blu-ray reviewed elsewhere on this site) and critical success of the likes of Oliver! (1968, which won the Best Picture Academy Award), most other Musicals in their wake had bombed.  That did not help the studios already dealing with competition from TV and the second rise of Rock Music (which Hollywood did not know how to deal with) in the 1960s.


However, Rock Operas were successful and the studios tried to figure out how to find new approaches to making possible new kinds of Musicals that would be moneymaking and people would like.  What follows are two very interesting, ambitious and different attempts that show how serious the studios were about making this happen.



Back in 1967, Columbia Pictures made the spoofy version of the first James Bond novel Casino Royale into an overproduced mess that still did business, but had five directors and many big name stars who were fighting with each other.  The bigger surprise was the one thing that did work: the soundtrack.  It was not only a hit, but music fans and audiophiles were stunned by the superior fidelity of the recording, recorded at higher levels than anything that had even been released before save The Beatles and resulting in a superior recording that still is a serious favorite today.


It had Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass performing the instrumental title track, Dusty Springfield singing the classic “The Look Of Love” and all the music was written by the team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David, the most successful writing team of the decade next to John Lennon & Paul McCartney.  The album sold very well, well past the film’s box office and afterlife, so could the Bacharach/David team have another music classic in them and could it make for a hit Musical?


Columbia Pictures was willing to find out and decided to get the famed duo together with Producer Ross Hunter and create a project that might work.  The choice was an odd one.  Take Frank Capra’s 1937 non-musical hit Lost Horizon and make into a wide-ranging Musical production.  That would make it a Fantasy Musical as the characters get stuck in the Himalayas only to discover a secret world that is too good to be true (Shangri-La) and asks all the same questions about freedom, happiness, self-will and life choices.  If it worked, it could be a terrific accomplishment and the Bacharach/David team had been moving towards moviemaking projects, especially since they parted ways with the longtime main vocalist for all their classics, Dionne Warwick.


Peter Finch, Sally Kellerman, George Kennedy, Michael York and Bobby Van would play the travelers and yes, they would all sing.  Awaiting them at Shangri-La would be John Gielgud, Charles Boyer (both playing Asian characters in choices that date the film the most!), Olivia Hussey and in the biggest shock of all, Ingmar Bergman’s favorite actress, Liv Ullmann.  That is the same Bergman whose intellectual films about spirituality, life and death had long passages of silence and very long close-ups, many of which were of Miss Ullmann, so the idea that she would be singing like Julie Andrews in any movie was as big a shock and surprise as the material chosen to make into a Musical.  Bette Midler (the original one who always had wit) even joked she never missed any of Miss Ullmann’s Musicals.


The production was huge (Producer Ross Hunter just scored big with his 70mm disaster film Airport!), the money is one the screen, many big sets were built, the script goes all out even before the music was added, some interesting visual effects would have to be applied and when it was all done, the film would run 149 minutes and when released in 1973, the Charles Jarrott-directed epic turned into a box office disappointment.  Why?


The film is actually not bad and by today’s standards is pretty ambitious, but there is something here that just never coheres and this would be the case for the film at any length.  It has some fun moments and interesting performances, but it also becomes unintentionally funny when the singing is poor or the film gets politically incorrect (like that casting) putting it in line with the dated approach of most of the 1960s Musicals that bombed to begin with.


Also, if you go halfway around the world and find yourself in a mysterious land, the otherworldly music will sound like songs by Burt Bacharach and Hal David?  Needless to say you have to suspend disbelief when you watch a Fantasy Musical and the team still made some good songs for the film, but none of them stand out (including the title song which is sung off camera during the credits by Shawn Phillips) though they all add up and make sense in forwarding the narrative, so they just work well enough to keep the film together.


Unfortunately, the casting is awkward and that has not dated well, though I like all the actors very much down to a brief turn by Kent Smith and no doubt this is a collaboration of some of the top talents in the entire entertainment industry.  However, it has become a cult item since, which is why it is offered in this terrifically restored limited edition Blu-ray.  The magic that the Bacharach/David music stood for with its unforgettable melodies, tricky time signatures and some of the best lyric writing of all time has started to fade, though the compositions remained clever and classy.  Once they parted ways with Warwick, however, that magic was gone and as well, like Lennon/McCartney, they could not and make the transition into the 1970s and beyond so they parted ways for a very long time after this film disappointed at the box office.  However, it is a proud coda to their work and for all involved, a special film that deserves revisiting that hoped to be the biggest Musical since The Sound Of Music, but didn’t quite make it.


Extras include another nicely illustrated booklet on the film including informative text and another fine essay by Julie Kirgo, while the Blu-ray adds Original Theatrical Trailers, TV Spots, Burt Bacharach Song Demos, vintage featurette “Ross Hunter: On The Way To Shangri-La”, Alternate Scene: “I Come To You” and an Isolated Music Score of the soundtrack in stereo that audiophiles will especially love.



The quest by Hollywood to have a new cycle of hit Musicals was expressed the following year by nominating the compilation Musical documentary That’s Entertainment! (reviewed elsewhere on this site) for a Best Picture Academy Award in 1974 and Ken Russell’s Tommy! (1975, reviewed on Blu-ray on this site twice!) would join Godspell and Jesus Christ, Superstar (both 1973) as hit Rock Opera films, even as some other such films did not make as much money.  So what would be the next breakthrough music film hit?



Besides being one of the biggest singers in the world (and for very good reason), Barbra Streisand was also one of the biggest movie stars around and beyond Musicals, she had proven her acting talent in underrated dramas like Irvin Kershner’s Up The Sandbox and Peter Bogdanovich’s huge hit comedy What Up Doc? (see our Blu-ray coverage on the site) both in 1972 alone.  In addition to an unbelievable string of hit singles and hit albums, she was on a roll and was not likely to stop any time soon.


At this point, she started dating a hairdresser named Jon Peters, whose relationship would be surprising (he already had a reputation in the town for womanizing among other things, allegedly) and turn out to be prolific as he would encourage Streisand to take on projects she might not have otherwise considered like the landmark Guilty album with the Gibb Brothers (aka The Bee Gees) creating all-new material for her and backing her up on most songs, the groundbreaking duet “Enough Is Enough (No More Tears)” with Disco Queen Donna Summer and a remake of a film that had been made three times before.


George Cukor has made What Price Hollywood? (1932) early in the sound era and it was a hit about a romance connected to a band leader, but as A Star Is Born in its 1937 and 1954 versions, it would be more about the film world.  A new screenplay was circulating to remake it yet again and Peters got a copy, read it and not knowing it had been made into a hit 3 times before, told Streisand about it.  She was reluctant to do it knowing its legacy, but Peters wanted to become a film producer and she reluctantly agreed.  So in 1976, a new version of the film would hit screens with Streisand and she was determined to make it work.


Though they would not get along during the production, the capable Frank Pierson was hired to direct the film, but Streisand (with and without Peters) wanted to make sure this would be a modern version and went over every aspect of the film from music to costumes to plot to how her character would be portrayed.  Her Esther Hoffman would not be a passive woman but a modern one, a naturalistic one, a sexual one and one that reflected the new woman of the era, feminism and otherwise.


After several tries, Kris Kristofferson was chosen to play the male lead of the star performer who was about to see his star fall as he became increasingly irresponsible and alcoholic, playing Rock/Pop/Country singer John Norman Howard.  Her character would be doing hit pop songs with some Rock orientation and off the movie went.  Though it is not a great film and has as many problems as the Lost Horizon remake (the shrill Gary Busey performance, a set of songs that are not memorable and even bad, moments that do not always ring true), the film was a massive hit, Streisand remained a huge box office star, Kristofferson would be a big box office star until Heaven’s Gate (now restored on Criterion Blu-ray) bombed spectacularly in 1980 and the film’s hit single love theme “Evergreen” became a hit classic that was a #1 Hit and won the Best Song Academy Award.


What does work in the film is the chemistry of the leads, the realism of the concert sequences, the leisurely pace that shows their romance as more palpable than pervious versions, the sexuality and moments that now serve as a time capsule of the period.  Though Streisand was a perfectionist to a fault, it turns out she was also right about almost every choice and here was a hit Rock Music film that was not a Rock Opera or even an outright Musical, paving the way for the soundtrack-driven non-Musicals of the 1980s to date and making way for Grease (1978) to be the biggest Musical since… The Sound Of Music.


At 140 minutes, this is about as long as Lost Horizon, but the idea in both cases was to give the audience a unforgettable Musical experience they would love and though both films have aging issues, they are also ambitious, think big and are by studios who cared and knew how to back big projects because the people running those studios at the time knew and loved movies.  We don’t see that much now, especially where music is concerned, but both films remind us such success is still possible.


In the place of Bacharach/David, Streisand wisely hired and worked with top writes of the day like Rupert Holmes (Him, Escape (The Pina Colada Song)), a young Kenny Loggins (of Loggins & Messina before becoming a writer of way too many movie songs himself) teaming with Streisand’s unstoppable team of Alan & Marilyn Bergman, legendary blues singer and pianist Leon Russell and Paul Williams (see the Still Alive documentary elsewhere on this site) who co-wrote “Evergreen” with Streisand and a few other songs with his then co-writer Kenneth Ascher.  To top it off, Phil Ramone (soon top be Billy Joel’s legendary ace producer) was involved with the recording, engineering and producing of the music on top of all the other talents involved.


That all makes this version of A Star Is Born worth revisiting.


Extras start with the nicely illustrated booklet on the film built into the DigiPak packaging with informative text and stills, while the Blu-ray adds a feature length audio commentary track by Streisand herself, A Star Is Born Trailer Gallery, Wardrobe Tests with Streisand commentary and Deleted Scenes/Alternative Takes also with Streisand commentary.




The 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image transfers in both cases look pretty good, though Horizon can have some fading and softness.  Both films were shot in real anamorphic 35mm Panavision with big screen shooting, framing and the intent of 70mm blow-up prints meaning the makers were aiming for big screen experience performance.  That comes though in many shots on both discs, especially noticeable if you have a big screen HDTV or now, Ultra HDTV.  These were meant to be seen on a big screen and both Blu-rays deliver that big screen quality.


The Director of Photography chosen for each film was also a reason they hold up because they understood the big screen and best uses of widescreen filmmaking and in both cases, it was the great Robert Surtees, who was the debut DP for 70mm film when Todd-AO 70mm was introduced with the hit film Oklahoma! in 1955, then he moved onto large frame widescreen films like Raintree County (1957), Ben-Hur (1959), Doctor Dolittle (1967, the original Musical version with Rex Harrison), plus widescreen classics like The Graduate (also 1967) and black and white gems like The Last Picture Show (1973, see the Criterion Blu-ray elsewhere on this site).  Though the approaches are different, they both work visually and it is ironic they should both be making their Blu-ray debuts at the same time.


The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mix on both Blu-rays are good and the best these films have ever sounded, derived from their 6-track 70mm blow-up magnetic stereo tracks, but each has their own limits since both were experimenting with how to make their sound mixes better and more effective.  Since 5.1 had not been established yet, the sound in both cases tends to be towards the front channels, including some traveling dialogue and sound effects on Horizon, but each also have one-of-a-kind mixes and mixing to begin with.


In the case of Horizon, Bacharach/David and the studio (et al) were determined that the film would have the best possible audio fidelity as they were intending to meet those Casino Royale expectations, the highest standards of the biggest music films made to that time and any other films you could think of.  Though there are some sonic limits at times, the film sounds as good as either Rock Opera of 1973 (as noted above) and any other film from the latest Bond films to the latest Rockumentaries to George Lucas’ American Graffiti (also 1973) to any other film still being issued in 70mm for superior sound.  Except for a very select few older films that have been cleaned extensively and upgraded for Blu-ray and restored movie theater presentations, you will be hard-pressed to find any films up to this one that sound as good.


By 1976, new sound systems were being introduced to make films sound better.  The DBX company had a noise reduction system that was eventually used to record Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979) and that would be the film that introduced what we now know as 5.1 mixing, while Tommy (1975) introduced a magnetic sound playback system called Quintophonic Sound that was trying to play on the rise of 4-track Quadraphonic Sound being made available in many formats as the next big thing for music at home, but it did not get picked up either.  Then there was the Dolby Laboratories, whose concept of noise reduction was controversial (audiophiles did not like the harmonic distortion it could produce) but they were also interested in adding more realistic surrounds.


After experimenting with both on MGM’s 1976 hit Logan’s Run (shot in Todd-AO 35mm (reviewed on Blu-ray elsewhere on this site) and issued in 70mm blow-up prints), Dolby would actually debut their then-4.1 70mm concept on A Star Is Born and that also put the film over the top as audiences who could see it in 70mm experienced an added dimension of realism that shocked audiences, kept Streisand on the cutting edge and would soon (with Star Wars, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind and Superman – The Movie) becomes an industry standard for decades to come.


You can here the experimenting going on here, including some fun choices and a few unusual ones, but the mix in 5.1 here expands the sound a bit more, but also shows a unique character that makes this Star Is Born a one-of-a-kind sonic experience.  Yes, some of the sound is not as good as others, as in both films, the music is recorded with better fidelity than the other audio, but A Star Is Born started to bridge that gap.  Also, Phil Ramone had his hand in this mix and the big surprise for me that was so striking is how some of the choices reminded me of two special editions of hit Billy Joel albums he produced.


Sony Music issued The Stranger (1977) and 52nd Street (1978) in the ultra-high fidelity Super Audio CD (aka SA-CD) format with remarkable 5.1 mixes that too few fans have heard or experienced.  Mixing here on this film mirrors some of those choices.  To give you a further idea of how this all sounds (down to the movie score by Roger Kellaway (Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1978), the TV classic All In The Family), you can read about those special 5.1 releases of Joel’s classics at this link:




That should give you an idea of how interesting this one gets and is why you and anyone serious about music or film should catch both Blu-rays!




As noted above, Lost Horizon can be ordered while supplies last at:





-   Nicholas Sheffo


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