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Shane Hnetka
Published Thursday February 18, 06:53 pm

Right now I’m completely obsessed with the 1927 silent movie Napoleon. It’s an all-time great film that most people have never heard of, and the reasons are many and complicated. I’ll get into them next time — right now I just want to tell you about this incredible movie. Welcome to a special three-part Hnetflix series on Abel Gance’s Napoleon.

All About Abel

Abel Gance was a French filmmaker who made excellent silent movies in the early days of cinema. He loved many now-standard techniques that few filmmakers used in his day — fast cuts, moving dolly shots, etc.

Gance’s masterpiece came in 1927 with a film that was originally meant to be the first part of an epic, six-film series about late 18th/early 19th century French military ruler/legend Napoleon Bonaparte. The first film was to focus on the early life of Napoleon leading up to his Italian campaign. Gance quickly figured out that filming five more movies would be extremely difficult and he abandoned the idea. That made it more important to give his one Napoleon movie an epic ending. To pull it off, he invented his own version of widescreen, which he called Polyvision.

Gance filmed with three cameras that were close to each other, and the plan was to have three projectors play at the same time across three screens to create a widescreen effect. Needless to say not many theatres could handle the film in that format.

The finished film was originally around nine hours long. Gance cut Napoleon down to around four hours, then more cutting happened (long story) and by the time it hit the U.S., Napoleon was down to just over an hour. With no Polyvision.

Gance moved on to other movies and as time passed, Napoleon was forgotten. It didn’t stay that way, though, and next time I’ll talk about the film’s rediscovery.

Ultra HD Is Here, Maybe

I mentioned last year that there’s now an even greater high-definition format out there: Ultra HD. Instead of 2K resolution it’s 4K — handy if you really, really, want to see everybody’s pores and contact lenses on your TV. Ultra HD televisions came out around Christmas but the studios are just now releasing the Ultra HD Blu-rays that take advantage of them. That is, if any stores actually bother to carry them. DVD and Blu-ray sales have declined as streaming goes strong.

In other news, International Business Times recently declared 3-D TVs dead (it might be nice if that was the case for theatrical movies too) so I can’t see this format catching on. I know people who haven’t even gotten into Blu-rays yet — 3-D TV is a hardcore, expensive step. Still, you never can tell what people will get obsessed with.

Shane Hnetka is a professional film and comic book nerd.

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