- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 16, 2006

Fans of British superspy James Bond have one man to thank for the rerelease of the Bond franchise on DVD.

Lowry. John Lowry.

Mr. Lowry, a film restoration expert who previously cleaned up the original “Star Wars” trilogy, oversaw a two-year project aimed at making every Bond feature look as if it wrapped principal photography yesterday.

Mission objective? Prepare a quartet of DVD packages to be released around the debut of the latest Bond film, “Casino Royale,” in theaters today. The first two of the four sets came out last week, and the remaining volumes hit DVD shelves Dec. 12. All retail for $89.98 each.

The packages arrive with the expected trove of DVD extras, but Bond-aholics will revel in their clarity. Pop in 1964’s “Goldfinger” and see the inert body of Jill Masterson, played by Shirley Eaton, glazed in a sparkling coat of gold. The wax on Bond’s Aston Martin never gleamed so brightly.

When possible, film restorers work from the original negatives, as was done with most of the Bond features, to bring damaged films back to life. If that isn’t feasible, they will take two of the least damaged prints and cull the best images from each.

Films suffer a variety of ailments thanks to age, abuse and simple handling.

Film emulsion sometimes peels during a shoot and collects in the “gate,” the rectangular part of the camera where the light enters.

“It looks like a piece of hair,” says Mr. Lowry, who has been working in various film-related jobs since 1952. Modern filmmakers clean the gate after every take, but older movies weren’t shot with such meticulous attention to film hygiene.

Just moving a reel from one projector to another, or even rewinding the film creates static electricity that attracts dust and dirt onto the film. At Lowry Digital Images in Burbank, Calif., workers operate in a clean room where the air is changed every minute to minimize the amount of dirt added during the restoration process.

Mr. Lowry says film restoration took a gargantuan leap forward a decade ago when the craft entered the digital age. For Bond, Mr. Lowry enlisted 600 Apple computers, each armed with four gigabytes of RAM, to serve as his tool kit.

His company’s homegrown software examines images frame by frame to spot incongruities. The computers differentiate between a part of the background that appears over multiple frames, like Oddjob’s bowler hat, versus a piece of dirt that appears in one or two but then vanishes.

A film restoration specialist could do more than just remove the ravages of age, but Mr. Lowry says it’s his responsibility to clean up film, not attempt to alter the finished product.

“Generally speaking, we’re trying to take away things that will distract from the storytelling,” he says. “The grain we remove helps the picture, and it makes it watchable for today’s audience.”

Plenty of new DVD covers shout, “Restored” beneath the title, but Mr. Lowry cautions that not all DVDs are created equal.

“It’s a catchword,” he says of “restored.” “They may have cleaned up the dirt, but we do frame-by-frame restoration.”

Mr. Lowry, who previously helped NASA spiff up footage taken by Apollos 16 and 17, finds a peculiar joy in bringing old film back to life.

“From my perspective, I never had so much fun in my life,” he says.

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