|Left to right: Bruce Dern and Will Forte|
One of my favorite films of 2013 as well as a nominee for six Oscars at this year's ceremony, director Alexander Payne's Nebraska, is having a strange new resurgence this upcoming weekend as it makes its debut on TV. While it has happened before, it seems increasingly unprecedented that films would be shown in two formats. Not HD and standard definition. I am talking about something more blatant that may help to shape the way that we literally view the film. For those interested, the Epix movie channel is having a "limited" run of the film in a never-before-seen form of color. This is done without Payne's permission, but does it necessarily mean that it won't be worth a gander? To me, it is worth checking out solely to understand how color and black and white formats can impact a film tonally.
I love Nebraska and feel like there was a reason that it was shot in black and white. To quickly summarize, it helps the film to feel like a Georgia O'Keefe painting with its beautiful Midwestern scenery set to Mark Orton's excellent score. It has a homely vibe and while maybe unintentional, feels like The Last Picture Show for an aging generation. The lack of color itself feels like a callback to how the protagonist is from an ignored generation. I could go on more about the lack of color adding a poetic vibe that helped it to stand out, but instead, I will choose to create a defense.
While the film never had intention of being released in color, Payne shot it in the format and post-converted it. The same can be said for The Artist prior to that. While this feels like unnecessary extortion for a film that didn't necessarily have a successful box office run, there is something that can be garnered from it. Epix in general has had an intriguing collection of new releases that has helped it to compete with HBO and Showtime's releases in a rather impressive way. With that said, they haven't really become a household name as those networks, save for a few specials that aren't necessarily high profile.
Nebraska isn't exactly a movie to gamble on. While a lot of people loved it, the film is geared more towards an older audience that doesn't care about Epix. Maybe they watch it because it is part of their package, but this move isn't going to get the young, hip people interested in films like The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (which recently premiered). This may draw an older audience, but they don't likely know about this gambit anyways. In fact, with exception to the network and the studio having exclusive rights to release material, it doesn't make any sense. To those outraged by this colored version, I am with you, in theory, as it would take away the timeless feel of it.
However, I am a fan of seeing how colorized versions alter the perception. Like many, I have a Christmas tradition of watching It's a Wonderful Life. I bought the DVD featuring the original and a colorized version. Out of curiosity, I watched the altered version, which was done in a more painstaking way than Nebraska. It may be a version that I never revisit, but having the color allowed me to have an altered experience. I got the chance to feel Frank Capra's Americana warmness. There was a humanity that made it feel like a novelty and created a new feeling watching it. It made it feel modern and made James Stewart feel younger.
I am not saying that Nebraska will be entirely worth the investment, but for those that want to see how the tone changes based on colorized footage, this is worth an evening. Coming this Sunday, Epix will air the original cut and the altered one back-to-back. I will be curious to see the original film, if just to see what the film looks like when it is taken out of context. It is all technically the same, but not the intended vision. Like deleted scenes, it will work in showing something in its rawest form. It won't have a lasting impact, but it will show just how much better the black and white really is. It will serve as a visual thesis on how a single change can impact a film's quality. For some, it likely won't matter. For me, I am excited to see how it will play out.