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Jeremy Thomas, Last Emperor 3D

Andreas Wiseman talks to Jeremy Thomas about the 3D conversion of Bernardo Bertolucci’s feature, which screens in Cannes Classics.

Jeremy Thomas travelled to Cannes this year in the same way he has for the previous 30 editions: by car.

“Smiley face for lunch, one Michelin star for dinner,” the industry vet tells Screen about the menu for his annual highway pilgrimage to the festival.

“I’ll probably put on a kilo. But I’ll take it off on the Croisette. I usually rent a bicycle to avoid the crowds. After 40 years of doing this you tend to meet quite a few people you know.”

However, while some Cannes traditions remain steadfast, Thomas also achieves an impressive first this year, bringing nine-time Oscar winning epic The Last Emperor to the festival in 3D.

The film screens today in the Cannes Classics section, with director Bernardo Bertolucci and Thomas both in Cannes to present the film.

The Last Emperor was such a visually impressive film that I had to discuss the chance of a conversion with Vittorio [Storaro, DoP] and Bernardo”, explains Thomas. “Bernardo had been interested in making a film in 3D for some time and I had already worked with Wim Wenders and Takashi Miike on 3D films. We all thought this would kickstart the film’s life and bring it to a new generation.”

“The 3D upgrade has taken a year and a half in total,” Thomas says. “And the 3D has brought it back to life. Some scenes are so visually enriched that we saw things we had never seen in theoriginal film like buildings and cranes which we then had to take out.”

The film was originally shot with super-wide anamorphic lenses and mostly in natural light as no lights were allowed in the Forbidden City, which meant that Prime Focus, who carried out the conversion after Storaro’s 4K upgrade, needed to avoid heavy clean-plating to preserve the integrity of the photography.

A further challenge came from the size and scale of the scenes, which include armies of extras dressed in ornate costumes. Those scenes required particular attention to detail and heavy rotoscoping in order to create the necessary depth.

The final piece in the puzzle was the film’s sound.

“Initially, when we watched the film back Vittorio said the sound wasn’t good enough,” adds Thomas. “Luckily, in my basement we found the six-track mag we had used for the 70mm prints. We took that to Pinewood, they brightened it up, and we got a soundtrack to match.”

You never know what you might find in your basement.

Thomas is now hoping to work 3D magic over more of his classic catalogue titles, with Bertolucci’s The Sheltering Sky a prime candidate. 

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