Russian sci-fi landmark digitised to 4K

BY CRAIG DINGWALL

The NFSA has digitised the landmark Russian feature film Aelita: Queen of Mars (1924). The film will premiere at the Melbourne Recital Centre on 22 June 2018 with a live score by The Spheres.

Russian and Soviet Republic director and screenwriter Yakov Protazanov directed one of the world’s first science-fiction features, Aelita: Queen of Mars in 1924. Based on a novel by Alexei Tolstoi and produced only seven years after the Russian Revolution, this silent film employed science-fiction to promote the Communist cause.

It is also noted for its remarkable constructivist Martian sets and costumes which directly influenced the more famous Metropolis (1927), directed by Fritz Lang, and even the much later Flash Gordon (Mike Hodges, USA, 1980). Aelita is visually breathtaking and was, in many respects, ahead of its time.

Digitising Aelita

The projection print of Aelita held by the NFSA has a run time of just under two hours. It comprises nine separate 35mm film reels with each reel averaging 335 metres (1100 feet) in length. 

The print retains the original 1924 Russian intertitles but also includes English translations, added in 1983. Though in relatively good condition, the print has been screened many times and inevitably contains artifacts such as projection scratches.

After being prepared and cleaned we scanned the print on our Blackmagic Cintel scanner. The Cintel scans negative and positive 35mm film in real time into 4K files.The process creates a single digital file for every sequential frame of the film.

We then graded the film using DaVinci Resolve software to generate a Digital Cinema Print (DCP) for the upcoming Melbourne screening.

Grading Aelita proved to be challenging as the intertitles varied in exposure to the main action of the film. In total, we performed 980 grades over three days, which also improved the readability of the English subtitles.

The newly digitised Aelita: Queen of Mars will screen at the Melbourne Recital Centre on Friday 22 June 2018  with a live score by The Spheres.