Doc SalvageD, The Fan-edit of Bronze!

Doc SalvageD, The Fan-edit of Bronze!
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Brief Synopsis:
This is intended to give George Pal the swan song he deserved and to save a true classic from the menace of the filming industry.
George Pal suffered far more indignity in his life than a man of his talent and gentility should be required to bear. In the 1940s, his popular ‘Puppetoon’ shorts were consistently nominated for Oscars (and won him an Honorary Award from the Academy in 1944). Through the 1950s, FOUR of the science fiction films he produced won Academy Awards for Best Special Effects (DESTINATION MOON, 1950; WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE, 1951; WAR OF THE WORLDS, 1953; and THE TIME MACHINE, 1960). In 1964, his 7 FACES OF DR. LAO won William Tuttle an Honorary Award for makeup acheivement (and surely Jim Danforth would have won the special effects Oscar that year for ‘Dr. Lao’ had it not been for very stiff competition from Disney’s MARY POPPINS). Sadly, by the early 1970′s, he was all but forgotten by moviegoers. While this is regrettable, the public *does* have a short memory. But that Hollywood itself should have forgotten this man was – and is – nothing short of a crime…

During the last decade-and-a-half of his life, George Pal couldn’t get sneezed on in Hollywood. During this period, he got a grand total of TWO of his many creative projects green-lighted: the under-rated and poorly-sold THE POWER in 1968, and DOC SAVAGE: THE MAN OF BRONZE in 1975. It is especially ironic that he should not have been more celebrated during the science fiction boom of the late-1970s brought on by the success of STAR WARS and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND as those films (and the run-up to them) bore such an indebtedness to Pal and his work.
So often, a man like George Pal is only given his due during the retrospective period that follows his death, but here again, fate dealt him a shabby hand. When Pal died on May 2, 1980, Hollywood and the world barely took notice: Sir Alfred Hitchcock had passed on a mere THREE DAYS prior, and poor old George just got lost in the shuffle in death as it seemed he had toward the end of his life…

That DOC SAVAGE: THE MAN OF BRONZE should be his final film is perhaps the unkindest cut of all. Pal had high hopes for this film – a string of sequels was planned, and a television series – but such was not to be. Long-standing rumor holds that two versions of this film were cut: one a straight adventure and the other a campy version to satisfy the “suits” at Warner Brothers – who insisted that any kind of serious film treatment of a hero like Doc Savage would not sell to “hip” audiences in the mid-70s. This rumor may or may not be true. While the inclination is to say that the project was taken out of George Pal’s hands and so became the debacle we all know (and are so ambivalent about), contemporary interviews indicate that Pal was, for one thing, very fond of Frank DeVol’s score – and any critic of the film will tell you ‘The Doc Savage March’ was the first great misstep. Wherever the fault lay, the film is as it is today, and the question is what to do about it…

Fans of the Doc Savage pulp novels and fans of George Pal’s films were equally disappointed with DOC SAVAGE: THE MAN OF BRONZE. Yet, many recognized that beneath the campiness, the germ of a decent film existed. A group calling itself “The Save Savage Society” sprang up not long after the film’s original release. They circulated petitions in hopes of raising enough interest to spur Warner to recut, rescore and re-release the film – but again, to no avail.

In 2000, an individual calling himself “The Phantom Editor” used a common desktop computer to re-edit George Lucas’ STAR WARS, EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE into STAR WARS, EPISODE I.I: THE PHANTOM EDIT… and forever changed the way cinephiles “appreciate” film. Yet, two years earlier(!), a thread in the newsgroup had fans entertaining the idea of re-editing the film to “cut the music, the twinkle, the voice over, the fight labels, the crib” and the “cartoon snakes”. Even before the advent of the ‘fan edit’, DOC SAVAGE has been sitting patiently, and waiting…

Warner Home Video released DOC SAVAGE: THE MAN OF BRONZE as a fullscreen (“open matte”) videocassette in 1986 (large plastic case), then released it again (cardboard slipcase) in 1991. The hard-to-find LaserDisc (it seems that only a small number were pressed), released in 1998, was matted to its original theatrical 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The film’s only (legitimate) DVD release thus far was in Germany in 2005 (again, open-matted fullscreen).

The genesis of this project was in late June of ’06 when “The Doc” (henceforth, “TD”) secured a DVD capture of the LaserDisc version of the film. Inspired by finally having a superior copy to watch, he began to think about a version he’d downloaded from Usenet, wherein some like-minded individual had replaced ‘The Doc Savage March’ with a straight (non-vocal) version of Sousa’s “Thunderer March”.

“A step in the right direction”, TD thought, “but a pretty slapdash job. Wouldn’t it be more effective to use the *actual* backing track(s) from the film?”

He right away bought a copy of the La-La Land Records compact disc release “The Fantasy Film Music of George Pal” which he had learned contained at least *some* of the soundtrack to DOC SAVAGE. Alas, of the three ‘Doc Savage March’ occurrences in the film, only the ‘Main Title’ was included on the CD in non-vocal form. Certainly this was better than nothing, so he experimented by ripping the DVDR to his hard drive, de-multiplexing it, and just replacing that first musical cue. Despite the loss of a couple of minor sound effects that were laid over the music (the snow cracking off Doc’s igloo and the sound of Doc’s duffel bag thumping to the ground), TD was surprised at the effectiveness of this simple change. He began to give some thought to other changes he’d make if he were ever to tackle a re-edit of the film. The list of changes – some big, some small – took shape quickly, and he fished for an experienced editor to take on the project. No bites. TD concluded that he’d just have to do it himself, so he studied “ADigitalMan’s Guide” and set about to work…

Robert M. Price, in his online “Hero Worship” column, said in 2004:

“(Or) the humor may seem incongruous with the usual humor quotient of the particular hero. I am thinking here of the Doc Savage movie. In one scene we saw one of the villain’s henchmen sleeping in a huge rocking crib. What the hell was that? Purely arbitrary. But there is a later scene in which the celibate Doc tactfully spurns the romantic advances of the heroine, praising her courage but little else with the comment, “Mona, you’re a brick!” This is an actual quote from the original novel! I guess I think it is better in such a case to preserve the original corn, no matter how campy it may seem, than to modernize, in which case Doc would have bedded the babe. (Such James Bondage didn’t sit well with me in either Superman 2 or the 1989 Batman.) The result is humorous precisely because it is faithful to the corny original.”

The philosophy of this project is much in accordance with the universal and not-so-secret wishes of Doc fans since 1975: to coax this film into a more faithful straddling of the line that Mr. Price defines so well. To that end, some of the changes entertained by the “Save Savage Society” and others have been effected – “the music, the twinkle… the fight labels, the crib” – while others have not. With the “Doc Savage March” vocals removed from the front end of the film, the voiceover seems less innocuous (especially with the Long Tom “short circuit” excised). Likewise, the “Green Death” was left intact: in 1975, it was not too far from the “state-of-the-art”. (All very academic as it would leave a vacuum were it removed.) Arbitrary dialogue and action that made characters seem silly or downright stupid has been cut.

Much of the editing has been accomplished quite successfully. Where it could not, a decision had to be made whether to leave footage intact (e.g., some of the shots that too clearly revealed the South American Indian assassin to be obviously-Caucasian actor/stuntman Dar Robinson) or make changes that left an imperfect result (the bleed-through remnants of “La Cucaracha” which can be heard behind Don Rubio’s shouting as Captain Seas’ men steal “his” gold). A full accounting of the changes made is provided in the accompanying “Changes – by Chapter” file…

This project is not intended to trample on anyone’s copyright, be it Warner Brothers or Arnold Leibovit or whomever. It is intended more as a “proof of concept”, to demonstrate the redeemability of a film that may well never receive the re-crafting it warrants. Consider it as a labor of love for George Pal. Lord knows he deserves it…
Additional Notes:
Has anyone else ever tried to create a “soft-matte subtitle stream”? This may be a *first*…
Release Information:
Editing Details:
Audio and video for this project were taken from the 2005 German DVD. In retrospect, a LaserDisc capture might have made better source material as the 1998 LD transfer was done with MUCH more care: reel change markers were not cleaned up on this DVD, the print is dirty, it seems to suffer sprocket-hole damage in spots (‘Johnny’ leading into ‘Long Tom’ in Chapter 3, and elsewhere), and is generally little clearer than the LaserDisc.

VirtualDubMod (with many ‘vdf’ and AVISynth filters) and the HuffyUV codec were used for frame-accurate video editing and subsequent conversion to NTSC-film format. Audio editing was done using Sonic Foundry’s Sound Forge. TMPGEnc was used to convert the 27 video chapter AVIs to 6000kbps VBR MPEG, and BeSweet converted the audio WAVs to AC3.

Closed captions were extracted from the LaserDisc capture DVD-R and reworked into subtitles using Subtitle Workshop and a number of other tools. The timing of these subtitles is not always perfect, but they’re there.

This film is a faily well-composed “open matte”. Though intended for presentation in a matted 1.85:1 aspect ratio, it suffers from few of the bugaboos of open matte productions: visible boom microphones, incomplete sets, partial matte paintings, etc. Viewers with 4:3 displays will not find it distracting to watch this DVD “fullscreen”.

Nonetheless, an experiment was attempted on this project to see if a subtitle stream could be used to “soft matte” an open-matted film for selectable-letterbox presentation on a 4:3 display. As the result was only partially successful (it works on some DVD players but not on others), a menu was not provided to highlight this “feature”. Also, as this film is “open-matted”, viewers with 16:9 displays are advised to use the “Crop to 16:9″ feature of your television or DVD player for best results.
Cuts and Additions:

Here’s a short rundown:

Replaced the ‘Doc Savage March’ cues with a non-vocal version. While unfortunately the “Fantasy Film Music of George Pal” CD contains only the “Main Theme” track without vocals, I have been able to make good use of it to replace both the opening music and the “Journey to Quetzemal” sequence (by recutting the latter sequence to match the length of the musical cue). Much of the melody line is lost (as vocals replace the horns in De Vol’s arrangement) but it still works well, and I prefer it to substituting another version of Sousa’s “Thunderer March” that does not have the same “feel”…
Got rid of the cheesy red, white and blue “USA” in John Philip Sousa’s name in the opening credits.
Got rid of the animated “twinkles” in Doc’s eye.
Reduced – as much as possible – screen time for the emabarrassingly-Caucasian “Indian sniper”…
Removed all visual references to Don Rubio sleeping in a big crib(!) (and ‘Rock-a-bye Baby’ musical cues).
Removed *most* musical/audio references to “La Cucaracha” (setting is supposed to be fictional “Hidalgo”, not MEXICO!)
Removed hard-coded subtitles showing fighting styles of Doc and Captain Seas
Removed some of the cornier and/or more annoying dialogue (Captain Seas’ “sideshow” and “law of the jungle” lines, Borden’s “may they rest in pieces”, Karen’s “CHOW!”, and many others)…

Changes chapter by chapter:
The chapters and chapter titles for this film were gleaned from the LaserDisc release of the film.

Chapter 1 – Opening Logo:
No change.
Chapter 2 – Main Title; Fortress of Solitude:
The first and most important change in this chapter is the replacement of the “Doc Savage March” with the “no vocals” version from “The Fantasy Film Music of George Pal”.
The first of three “twinkles” in Doc’s eye has been removed. In the first two versions of this re-edit, the offending frames (6 frames for each “twinkle”, BTW) were exported to a series of BMPs and an un-twinkling eye was cut and pasted (from a “clean” frame) into each. However, without the twinkle, the close-up is superfluous, so it has been removed in favor of an extension of the medium shot to compensate. A dissolve was added in place of the jump cut from Doc to a snowy horizon which left the viewer with a lingering “after image”; this change also diminishes the obviousness of the backward footage used to accomplish the aforementioned medium shot extension. Also, with the twinkle gone, the corresponding triangle strike in the music seemed unnecessary, so it was removed.
The letters “U”, “S”, and “A” in the name “JOHN PHILIP SOUSA” have been changed from red, white and blue to yellow. (The task was simplified by the use of a Paint Shop Pro script to act on the series of exported bitmaps. There is no corresponding change to the closing credits as they are presented as a “roll” and a similare approach would be problematic.)
The “Fortress of Solitude” banner over the doorway of Doc’s igloo has been cropped out.
The shot of the rocket was shortened to skip the silly “fish” thing.
Chapter 3 – The Fabulous Five:
Long Tom’s “short circuit” was removed. To make up (somewhat) for the abruptness of the resulting cut, reverse footage was used.
Doc’s minor stumble while rising from the lotus position has been edited out.
Chapter 4 – New York City:
Throughout this chapter and the next two, much effort was made to minimize the fact that the actor portraying the South American Indian assassin is all-too-obviously a blue-eyed Caucasian. His close-ups were eliminated, but some medium shots were problematic to remove so they remain.
Removed close-up insert of Doc’s face from scene where he is pulling bullet out of wall and replaced with close up of hand. (Doc’s teeth were not clenched in the insert, but they were in the flanking shots!)
Chapter 5 – Bad News for Doc:
Removed Renny’s “Hi Doc” line (for cleaner intercutting).
Removed Doc’s “I picked up your thought waves…” line.
Chapter 6 – Pursuit of the Gunman:
Removed the assassin turning to fire on Doc, Doc’s subsequent duck into the stairwell, and Doc shooting his pistol at the assassin. This was done for cleaner intercutting, NOT to eliminate the one instance in the film of Doc using a gun!
Chapter 7 – Doc’s Problem:
Removed Monk’s “We know that sound by now” line. Also removed the word “buddies” from Monk’s line about fighting together in the trenches.
Chapter 8 – Dogfight:
No change.
Chapter 9 – Somewhere in the Caribbean:
Removed Borden’s “rest in pieces” toast and everything from Captain Seas’ “I started out in a sideshow…” line to the end of the chapter. Dissolved the end of this chapter into the beginning of the next.
Chapter 10 – Deception of the Deed:
Cut Don Rubio answering and talking on the phone for use in the next chapter.
Chapter 11 – Too Much to Drink:
Removed Don Rubio sitting in giant crib speaking on the phone with Captain Seas and replaced it with the shot of Don Rubio on the phone from the previous chapter. (This shot was reversed for better effect.)
Chapter 12 – Doc’s Good Example:
The cook drooling over Doc (after swatting the two young maids for doing the same) has been eliminated.
Chapter 13 – Flying Snakes:
No change.
Chapter 14 – Pleasure Cruise:
Edited out the waiter licking his lips in anticipation of Johnny’s drink order. (Replaced this with a shot from a few seconds earlier in the scene.)
Removed Karen’s “Chow!” line.
Chapter 15 – The Last Supper:
Removed Monk’s hiccup reaction after Seas’ informing the men that the meal was their last.
Chapter 16 – Village Stories:
Removed the first of several musical references to “La Cucaracha” (hackneyed if not completely inappropriate).
Removed Doc’s second “eye twinkle”, using the cut and paste method described under Chapter 2.
Chapter 17 – Jungle Safari:
Removed two shots containing Don Rubio’s giant crib.
Chapter 18 – Setting Up Camp:
Removed “hungry as an ape” exchange between Ham and Monk. Also removed Doc whistling “La Cucaracha”.
Left intact the singing of “La Cucaracha” in the car: it is less conspicuous in this context and trying to remove it would cause a problem with Mona indicating their approach to her village.
Removed Ham and Monk interacting with the girl in Mona’s village.
Chapter 19 – Danger Ahead:
The second of three “Doc Savage March” cues were removed from this chapter. To do so, it was necessary to re-edit (and significantly shorten) the trek to the ‘Edge of the World’ to fit the available non-vocal musical segment.
Chapter 20 – The Edge of the World:
No change.
Chapter 21 – A Pool of Gold:
Removed Captain Seas’ “law of the jungle” line.
Chapter 22 – Elixir of Death:
Removed Monk’s exchange with Chief Chaac.
Re-edited so the Fabulous Five untying their hands seems like less of an afterthought.
Chapter 23 – Have No Fear, Doc Savage is Here:
Monk’s “Have No Fear, Doc Savage is Here!” (perhaps a bit too energetic for a guy with the life sapping out of him) has been replaced with a quieter acknowledgement of Doc’s arrival.
Removed hard subs indicating fighting sytles.
Replaced more musical references to “La Cucaracha” (with mixed results).
Chapter 24 – Nature Seeks Revenge:
Removed Doc’s third (and last) “eye twinkle”, again using the cut and paste method described under Chapter 2.
Removed medium shot of Don Rubio covered in gold.
Changed/removed some musical cues.
Chapter 25 – Doc Savage Rehabilitation Center:
No change.
Chapter 26 – An Urgent Message:
No change.
Chapter 27 – End Credits:
Replaced the last of the three “Doc Savage March” cues (again, replacing it with the available non-vocal musical segment). For the balance of the credits, a section of the “Doc and the Girl” track (from “The Fantasy Film Music of George Pal”) was used.
Cover art by darksaber (DOWNLOAD HERE)

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(Updated: August 31, 2012)
December 15, 2009
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