It Belongs In a Museum

"It's not the years, honey, it's the mileage." - Indiana Jones

For its debut on DVD, the Indiana Jones trilogy had to look better than ever. The incredible picture quality of the DVD format delivers crystal-clear detail and rich colors ... but it's only as good as the source material from which the DVDs are made.

Films do not last forever. Their photochemical nature coupled with the wear and tear of exhibition or mishandling, often take s toll on classic films. Thankfully, DVD promises a permanent recorded of films in pristine quality. But repairing the ravages of time isn't easy. That's where Lowery Digital Images comes into the picture.

"People say film lasts a long, long time, but in fact, movies do deteriorate relatively rapidly," says John Lowry, the company's founder. Burbank, Calif.-based Lowery Digital Images has restored a number of classic films for home video and, in some cases, theatrical re-release. "The quality of images is very much a function of how well the film has been handled over the years."

Lowery Digital has been erasing the signs of age from classic films since 1998. Paramount Pictures has entrusted the company with some of the most cherished films in its vaults, including sunset Boulevard and Roman Holiday - and now THE ADVENTURES OF THE INDIANA JONES.

"We are basically in the business of restoring, cleaning up and extracting information from motion images," Lowery explains. "We've done 60 films in the last three years, many of which are well known." A large percentage of classics that Lowery Digital has restored date from the time the Indiana Jones movies are set - not from the 1980s, when these movies were released. Relatively speaking then, the Indy films were easer to work with.

"There were still a few challenges, but it was much easier than doing a film from the '30s, '40s or '50s," Lowry says. "The films were, in our opinion in quite good shape compared to most. Raiders though, had a very serious scratch on about 30-some-odd-thousand frames and blue line that was right across all the faces and eyes of the characters that proved to be an interesting challenge."

Lowery Digital uses more than 300 computers and more than 40 terabytes of computer space in its restoration efforts. Technicians scan and convert motion-picture imagery into digital information at high resolution, and examine it frame by frame from imperfections. They correct flaws using proprietary software. "We will do a number of things that the granularity, sharpness and the stability of the images, dirt, scratches, flicker - the whole range of things that really come about from film being used over and over through the years," Lowry says. "For example, in some movies we deal with hundreds of pieces of dirt per frame - literally millions of pieces of dirt that we have to remove from a motion picture. IN the case of the Indiana Jones films, we had maybe 100,000 pieces of dirt per movie. Now, that sounds like a lot, but when you have 172,000 frames its only one piece of dirt on average, every frame or every second frame."

Enhancing the detail of the original photography also enhances defects dating back to the time of production. Even these, though, can be corrected - provided they do not compromise or alter the director's envisioned shot. IN one scene originally filmed in front of a blue screen for instance, the image "ended up with blue 'fringing' in the shot, and this has been in the movie since day one: a blue fringe around all the edges," Lowry says. "When we enhance it and clean it up, it looked pretty ugly." After working on the shot for just a half an hour, "We had removed all of the blue fringing. It's an example of an interesting little case where something could easily be cleaned up by using our automated processes."

While the ability to alter these imperfections is powerful, Lowry's technicians take great care not to tamper with the content of the original image. "Rather than dealing with art, we tend to deal with science," he says. "For example, we make very little, if any change to the contrast or color or things of that nature. We are not in the color-correction business, because that is an art. We can improve the overall quality of the picture, but generally speaking, we try to do it from a very scientific perspective. It is extremely important that we do everything we can not to impair what the director or cinematographer was trying to do in the first place."

Having restored such landmark titles as Sunset Boulevard, North by Northwest and Snow White and the seven Dwarfs, Lowry says he is happy to ad the classic Indiana Jones series to his company's roster. "Oh, I love it," he says. "It's a joy to work on movies of this caliber."

The filmmakers, meanwhile, are equally happy, says Jeff Radoycis, Senior Vice President of DVD Production for Paramount Pictures. "The work that Lowry Digital Images did on the Indiana Jones movies was so tremendous that it made the people who created the films look at them in an almost brand-new way."