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“I’ll strangle the guy who sez CRI Technicolor!”

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It’s hard to drum up enthusiasm for the Tom & Jerry Golden Collection Volume One, and with good reason – it really is difficult to get excited over another Tom & Jerry DVD.

This is the first time, however, that the cartoons are presented in complete, chronological order on DVD, something that hasn’t been done since the Art of Tom & Jerry laserdisc sets eons ago. The set, which you can buy on Amazon for less than $20 U.S., features the first 37 cartoons, straight from Puss Gets the Boot to Professor Tom.

This is, essentially, almost every Tom & Jerry cartoon worth owning. Great shorts like the lyrical Mouse in Manhattan, Flirty Birdy, the most sexually charged T&J ever, the bizarrely racist Lonesome Mouse (with Jerry talking like James Cagney), and uproariously funny entries like Mouse Trouble and Kitty Foiled are all present and accounted for. Every cartoon is also completely uncut and uncensored.

By and large, they look better than they ever have on home video or television. This is due to Warner Home Video utilizing the oft-forgotten CRI negatives, which, at their best, are the elements on the MGM cartoons that look closest to their original negatives. The MGM restorations will never reach the vibrancy of those on the Looney Tunes Golden Collection or Disney Treasure releases, but having seen rare nitrate material on several MGM cartoons, the best restorations on this set are not unreasonable facsimiles. Truth be known, this is the first time I’ve ever seen a copy of Old Rockin’ Chair Tom that wasn’t a faulty composite (meaning inferior, faded source material was used for the final thirty seconds).

The MGM cartoons, in general, never had a particularly striking sense of color. The color styling of the Tom & Jerrys was always pleasingly cool and low-key, in striking contrast to the abrasive subject matter and entertaining but overbearing soundtracks of Scott Bradley. Nevertheless, there is a decent level of prime restoration going on when you can finally make out Tom’s green irises in just about every shot of the cartoon.

Unfortunately, this is not a perfect release. Unlike with other Tom & Jerry offerings, it’s not due to censorship. The huge plus in this release’s favor is the chronological and uncut presentation. Standards slipped however on the following ten cartoons, all mastered from lesser CRI elements (more on this later), so they fall very short of meeting the standards set by the other outstanding restorations contained therein. The quality ranges anywhere from serviceable to downright garbage quality. The tell-all sign is their retaining of the 1960s MGM lion logo (with no mention of Technicolor – because there was no intention of these versions ever replicating it).
Puss n’ Toots
The Bowling Alley Cat
Sufferin’ Cats
The Lonesome Mouse
The Zoot Cat
The Million Dollar Cat
Puttin’ on the Dog
Mouse Trouble
Quiet, Please!
The Milky Waif

I am not aware of all the inner-workings of this release. But, for the record, there is not a single set of CRI negatives for the MGM cartoons as has been perpetuated all over the Internet. Often, they have as many as two or three in existence. Some look amazing, as close to Technicolor as you can hope for, while some look absolutely putrid because they were made on the cheap (hence the later Metrocolor title cards). Puttin’ on the Dog in particular seems to be taken from faded Eastman elements. Seeing these versions mastered for Blu-Ray is akin to if WHV decided to remaster the old Turner material of the 1940s Warner shorts in high-def.

I know for a fact there are various CRI elements because MGM/UA Labs used them for the 16mm prints they distributed to TV stations and sold to collectors. Quality could vary wildly on the same title depending on how high on chemicals the lab technician was that day. Almost always, they looked absolutely fantastic. My print, struck in 1983, of Mouse Trouble looks wonderful, nothing like the embarrassing version seen on this latest release. (A comparison shot can be seen here. The digital camera didn’t get a great shot of the projected print, but the point is made.) Same goes for Lonesome Mouse and Quiet, Please!. On the other hand, some later 16s have passed through my hands that looked like hell because they were taken from what I’d like to call “Metrocolor” CRIs. One of them was Million Dollar Cat.

Perhaps it’s harsh to call the move of settling for the worser CRIs for some of the titles idiocy, but to invest thousands of dollars in brand new High-Definition transfers from source material that looks awful to begin with is pretty asinine. A lot can change in the thirty years since those pristine 16s were struck, but I have my doubts that the masters here were from the only CRI elements they had access to. Even the earlier Spotlight Collections looked better than the offending versions here. This is simply a continuation of WHV’s long pattern of ineptitude with the MGM cartoon library.

Without meaning to toot my own horn, you will never see a 100% perfect Tom & Jerry release unless either David Gerstein or I are looking over it every step of the way. This is a fact. But given that idealistic scenario will never happen, this is about as good as you’ll be getting. And 27 out of the 37 do look perfect. I’d buy it.

Written by Thad

October 24th, 2011 at 10:36 pm

Posted in classic animation

12 Responses to '“I’ll strangle the guy who sez CRI Technicolor!”'

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  1. Thanks for the review!

    Ron Wallace

    24 Oct 11 at 11:52 pm

  2. Gong back to the first three volumes of the LTGC — when it was obvious they had sourced materials from Turner’s ‘95 dubbed versions and tried to slip some of the pre-48s by as being completely from the original negatives — I’ve come to expect at least 1-2 unnecessary audio and/or video time bombs in each new DVD release. So the below-quality prints here are just following in a long tradition. It just would have been nice if the sub-par prints had been paired with some of the weaker T&Js instead of being on some of the strongest entries.

    J Lee

    25 Oct 11 at 2:38 am

  3. While I get your point, can clearly see how the Technicolor version of “Mouse Trouble” has better colors than the BD, and would love to see proper CRI Technicolor restorations of ALL the “Screwed-up 10″, I have to say that at least, Mouse Trouble doesn’t look THAT bad, Eastman or not. Or if it isn’t Eastman, what is it?

    On the other hand, Puttin’ On The Dog looks really nasty. That’s just what I was afraid I’d see when you said Eastman prints made their way.

    Also, you imply that there are different types of CRI elements for T&J (at least used on this set) so it’d be great if you did explain more about the specifical sets of CRI elements for T&J and which shorts are which.

    I appreciate your efforts.

    Matias

    25 Oct 11 at 5:27 am

  4. Thank you for the review. It is obvious that you are very knowledgeable about cartoons. Much more than me for sure.

    Still, the most exciting thing about this set is that we finally have the opportunity to watch these shorts in hi-def

    John

    25 Oct 11 at 12:44 pm

  5. “You will never see a 100% perfect Tom & Jerry release unless either David Gerstein or I are looking over it every step of the way. This is a fact. But given that idealistic scenario will never happen, this is about as good as you’ll be getting.”

    When it comes to cartoon DVD releases, I’ve learned it’s good to think of the adage ‘never say never.’ I posited a very similar idea on the thread discussing this set over on the GAC, and I think that given the right circumstances there could someday be someone like yourself, Mr. Gerstein or, better still, someone willing to seek your advice, on WB’s payroll whose job is to ensure that future ‘ineptitude’ is avoided.

    David

    25 Oct 11 at 1:46 pm

  6. Thanks for this in-depth review. Even though the inferior quality of those 10 cartoons DOES bug me (especially seeing the screenshot comparisons of your print vs. Warner’s print of Mouse Trouble – why the heck didn’t they seek advice/prints from historians like yourself and David?), I’ll probably buy this release anyway. After all, how likely is it that Warner Bros. should issue a disc replacement program for restoring those cartoons once more, and better? (Those things do take time, as far as I know…)

    Still, there is one thing which bugs me even more about this release – and seems fixable. The fact that they used the 60s MGM logo for the opening titles of some cartoons. It just seems completely out of place – and it would probably be an easy matter for Warners to just go in and change those titles to something at least slighty better and aesthetically more pleasing, like the 1950s re-issue titles. (If nothing else, those re-issue openings were at least put together by the artists working on the original T&J cartoons.) So I’m halfway hoping they could at least start a disc replacement for that, and/or change it in future pressings. But getting back to what I was gonna ask… could you also list all the cartoons which have the 60s MGM logo in their opening titles?

    Mesterius

    25 Oct 11 at 8:49 pm

  7. Huh. I just realized that the cartoons with the 60s MGM logo are the same cartoons which look lackluster compared with the best restorations. Guess that makes sense. I hope Warner at least issues disc replacements for those cartoons which actually had better-looking versions on the Spotlight collections.

    Mesterius

    26 Oct 11 at 9:23 am

  8. Sometimes I wonder if restorations don’t harm quality, removing the varnish or vaseline lens of the old prints. I find in the recently antholoigized Warners things I didn’t see heretofore: dirty platen, cel reflections, dirty cels, and uneven opaqueing. Either I have a better eye for these things now, or restoration has brought out all the little imperfections.

    Kirk

    1 Nov 11 at 8:31 am

  9. what does CRI stand for? what does it mean?

    wahoo76

    9 Nov 11 at 11:50 pm

  10. “what does CRI stand for? what does it mean?”
    Color Reversal Internegative (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Color_reversal_internegative).

    R. Araya

    17 Nov 11 at 8:10 pm

  11. I have a random question concerning the cartoons with the 60’s MGM logo… what did the logo look like? Was it the one with Tanner or the one with the current lion? And did it say “A Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer CARTOON” around the logo, or did it just simply say “Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer”?

    Bobby Joe

    19 Nov 11 at 1:47 am

  12. “Was it the one with Tanner or the one with the current lion?”

    It’s the current lion, with the red “A” and “CARTOON” as in Deitch cartoons. It’s just like this one:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fhsCQvmRr48

    D.M.

    9 Dec 11 at 7:19 pm

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