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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 April 2007, 12:28 GMT 13:28 UK
Henry V gets digital makeover
Henry V
Henry V was voted the 18th best British film in 1999
One of the most renowned Shakespeare film adaptations ever made - Laurence Olivier's 1944 version of Henry V - is to have its score performed live as part of a digital makeover of the film.

For a screening at the Brighton Festival on the south coast of England this year, composer Dominic Sewell has digitally removed William Walton's original score so that the film can have its music performed by a live orchestra.

The orchestra will play the music in synchronisation with newly-remastered images on the screen - digitally enhanced as part of an ongoing project to celebrate the centenary of Olivier's birth.

Sewell told BBC World Service's Digital Planet programme that a company in France had developed software that could take the music out of the soundtrack - at least, in scenes which do not have large amounts of talking over the top - making the live orchestral performance possible.

"It's as if the audience are sitting in on the recording," he said.

"I think you will get quite a powerful effect from it, because it will be not just the live music but also the other aspects - so you get the horses' hooves, the sound effects, the arrows flying into the air as they decimate the French cavalry."


Only fragments of Walton's original manuscript for the score survive, which meant Sewell had to transcribe much of it by ear.

"What I've had to do is reconstruct the entire film score as if I was Walton writing it," he said.

Laurence Olivier
Olivier's career spanned over 50 years
An additional problem was that the soundtrack to the film was put together in such a way that in some parts, the score was impossible to remove.

"When the film is running, some of the music couldn't be taken off - so the live orchestra will actually be playing alongside the existing soundtrack," he explained.

"But if they're doing that, they obviously need to be exactly in synch."

Henry V, made to boost morale during World War II, is regarded as a British film classic.

Olivier was both its star and director, and as such the film is at the centrepiece of the centenary of his birth in 1907.

Once it has been fully restored, it will be screened in a number of venues later this year - including at the Cannes Film Festival.

The process of digitally restoring it is being overseen by Fiona Maxwell, director of operations and servicing at British media company Granada International, which owns the rights to a number of Olivier classics.

She said that by going back to original 35mm negatives and retransferring them on modern equipment, "we can get them back to their former glory."

"We can regrade them, get the colour that is within those negatives," she said.

While some restoration will also be in real time - by passing the negative through a bath to get rid of dirt, for example - the frame-by-frame restoration made possible by computer has meant that even scratches that occurred within the negatives on which the film was originally shot can now be removed.

"You can literally take a wipe across the screen," Ms Maxwell said.

"Sometimes it's like turning on light - because people have got used to dirt and fading, and think this is what an old film looks like."

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