If you've avoided purchasing 'Cinerama'-formatted widescreen DVDs in the past (because of the irritating lines indicating each camera, and often blurry images), you're in for a treat; "How the West Was Won (Ultimate Collector's Edition)" has all but removed the lines, and restored the depth of detail, richness of color, and superb stereophonic sound lacking in every previous edition. Add to this one of the most entertaining, informative Audio Commentary tracks I've ever listened to, and you have a DVD that is truly worth owning!
Taking a moment to reflect on the Commentary...I am disappointed that no 'Making of...' video has been made, as "How the West Was Won", with it's stellar cast, legendary directors, and massive production, certainly deserves one. But the Audio Commentary makes a sincere effort to make up for it, offering information on the locations, how the extraordinary shots were created, and backstories about casting and the production. A surprising bit of HTWWW trivia: Did you know that Bing Crosby was originally slated to narrate the film, with Spencer Tracy to portray Ulysses S. Grant? (The reason Tracy switched to narrating isn't explained in the Commentary, but I am familiar with what happened; Tracy collapsed at his home, prior to filming, and had to be rushed by ambulance to the UCLA Hospital; under doctor's orders to rest, he was unable to perform in a role, but still wanted to participate in some manner, so Crosby, graciously, gave up the narration to him). A health issue created another change, as well; Dimitri Tiomkin, the contracted composer of the musical score, broke his leg, and had to be replaced by Alfred Newman, who did a magnificent job. Another surprising fact: Hope Lange was originally cast to play George Peppard's wife, with a long subplot revealing she was Henry Fonda's daughter, first seen working as a showgirl at the railroad camp, where she was courted by both Peppard and Richard Widmark. Despite some scenes being filmed, it was decided the subplot took too much time from the main storyline, so her scenes were cut, and reshot to remove any reference to her, with Carolyn Jones cast in a far shorter version of her role, for the final sequence of the film.
Much more is included in the Commentary, which really encourages a viewer to watch the film at least twice!
The third DVD in the collection (the first two discs are of the film, itself), is devoted to a long history of the Cinerama process, from it's roots during the silent era, it's value during WWII as a training tool, the spectacular, and once, tragic, Cinerama travelogues, through the decision to scrap the 'three-camera' process in favor of a less difficult 70mm 'single-camera' process (HTWWW would be the last film using the original format), and it's ultimate demise, in favor of less costly formats. As someone whose first Cinerama experience was the 'single-camera' "2001: A Space Odyssey", the documentary makes me wish I'd experienced the superior 'three-camera' films, with full stereophonic sound, on a giant curved screen!
Lots of reproductions of original release promotional materials are included in the package, as well, which are fun to browse through, while you're watching the film.
Entertaining, educational, fun..."How the West Was Won (Ultimate Collector's Edition)" is all this, and MUCH more!