Lost Horizon (1937)

Lost Horizon (1937), directed by Frank Capra.

Years ago, I remember my first serious thought about cinematography was while watching this film -- projected in some campus venue -- and being moved by the scenes of the gateway to Shangri-La, the interface of the howling Himalayan wilderness with the hidden utopian valley:


I thought: "They could not do this shot today. Too lushly romantic, it would be ridiculed". Films were in an anti-romantic phase then. And yet how well the images tell the story. Thank Joseph Walker, Capra's long-time photographer, for that.

Romance and adventure are strong in this one. Being hijacked and flown deep into central Asia, a thousand miles beyond the map to a hidden civilization: that's real Indiana Jones stuff.

The well-intentioned message is still touching: in a world descending into war, a vision of escape to a life ruled by the principle "Be Kind". A dream of life after the war, when Shangri-La would still be waiting, having preserved all the good things.

On the down side, when Capra is earnest he tends to be talky and some conversations drag on a while. His rough cut was six hours long and a three hour version was shown to a test audience. He got it down to 132 minutes, the official release. It has a complicated editing history thereafter: pacifist sentiments by the hero were cut almost immediately and other political considerations took their toll.


Dimitri Tiomkin score.

My thumbnails are from an all-region imported Blu-ray by "ViaVision / Madman / Columbia Tristar". In 1998 a complete 132m version of the film was assembled from bits and pieces from all over. According to the cover of the Blu-ray:


Now for the first time this world premiere on Blu-ray showcases the stunning all new digital 4k 2014 restoration, completed using the preservation negative created in 1998 as the primary source, scanned at 4k and integrated with the director's personal nitrate print and features an additional one minute of previously lost footage preserving the original performance and another full minute of picture previously represented by the original soundtrack and still images.

The running time is almost identical to the North American DVD created from the 1998 source. Image quality of the Blu-ray is quite a lot better, both in detail and in contrast. The whites on the DVD were often blown out and that is corrected here.

Quality declines during some moments (some of the recovered segments are from worn 16mm prints) and the whole title shows heavy grain or what is probably just age.

As with the DVD, a few minutes of missing film are replaced with stills while the soundtrack continues.

The Blu-ray does not have the subtitles or commentary track from the DVD, but these fit the Blu-ray version perfectly when extracted.