The British Film Institute is on a roll. After rolling out an ambitious, globe-trotting “Shakespeare on Film” program earlier this week, film historian Kevin Brownlow and the BFI National Archive have now completed a extensive digital restoration of Abel Gance’s “Napoleon” (1927) — and making it available in numerous formats later this year, including U.K. cinemas, DVD, Blu-ray, and their burgeoning BFI Player service. (No word yet on plans for a U.S. theatrical release.)
Overseen by the BFI National Archive and Photoplay Productions, working with Dragon
DI post-production in Wales, the project must count as one of the most important restorations in recent memory, and one of the most difficult. Gance’s epic, which clocks it at more than 5 hours, has been pieced back together from a wide range of sources, re-graded, and improved by detailed digital image repair and alignment, restoring the film’s original tinting and toning in the process — including color combinations
which could not be achieved in the existing 35mm print. (The 35mm version was completed in 2000, with the support of the Eric Anker-Petersen charity, the Cinémathèque Française, and the Centre Nationale de la Cinématographie in
Now, the BFI is preparing to present “Napoleon” in a fashion befitting the work that’s gone into restoring it. The new version will premiere in November at the Royal Festival Hall, with a live performance of Carl Davis’ original score —
the longest ever composed for a silent film — by the Philharmonia Orchestra. At that point, it’ll be 8 hours from start to finish, and we suspect it’ll be worth every minute.