Notes on the Audio Restoration of Exodus – Part 1: The Source Element

Notes on the Audio Restoration of Exodus – Part 1: The Source Element

Posted by Mike Matessino on Mar 8th 2016

The presentation of 4.0 and 5.1 discrete audio for Otto Preminger's award-winning epi Exodus (1960) was a unique challenge. The endeavor to present it began when our friend and supporter Stephen Pickard, formerly of the Walt Disney Company, informed us that the 6-track multi-channel audio had been transferred a number of years ago from what was, apparently, a surviving 70mm print from the film’s original release. Relaying this information to MGM resulted in the discovery that, indeed, 6-track 35mm mag was housed in the vaults. We decided to have it transferred and see if it could be used to create a discrete audio track, reflective of the considerable efforts of the film's original sound team of Paddy Cunningham, John Cox and Red Law.

Upon hearing the raw transfer it became clear that this was a challenged track from the very beginning, with, by today’s standards, less-than-perfect dialogue and sound effects edits which became even more transparent when presented discretely. The fact that the transfer was made directly off a 70mm print brought even more sonic issues to the table, but nevertheless, as the only surviving element from which discrete audio could be salvaged, it was worth the time and effort, especially considering the historical importance of this great film.

The configuration of the six tracks for 70mm presentation of the era was five tracks across the front (behind the screen) and one monaural surround track. While some films were mixed with five genuinely unique front channels, a more common practice was to create the two additional front channels by combining the side and center channels (left + center = left/center extra, and right + center = right/center extra) and then adding offset (delay) to one of them and phase inversion to the other. The resulting sound would seem “bigger” when played in such large theaters as the movie palaces where the film premiered in December 1960, the 2,750-seat Warner in Manhattan (now demolished) and the 2,000+-seat Wilshire in Beverly Hills (still operating as the Saban, a live entertainment venue).

In order to determine how the two additional tracks were created for Exodus, I consulted with several engineers to discuss how elements of this type have been worked with in the past. These were valuable discussions even though it was eventually determined that, in the case of Exodus, the two additional front channels contained completely redundant information (Both Dolby and SDDS have prescribed methodologies for dealing with tracks in this configuration). For their valuable assistance and information I’d like to thank Bruce Buehlman of Fox, John Blum of Universal and Jim Young of Deluxe Audio.

Tomorrow's Part 2 covers the intensive work process of audio recovery. Exodus sails into port on Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray next Tuesday March 15. Order here: