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1959 (USA)  »

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Stunning animation & rich score tracing the origins of steel.
13 June 2014 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

The combination of John Sutherland's eye-popping animation (in a Technicolor treatment) combined with a score composed by 4 Oscar-Winner, young Dimitri Tiomkin (IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, GUNS OF NAVARONE, DIAL M FOR MURDER and many more) are married perfectly to make rather dry subject matter very palatable.

Opening with a burst of dazzling color, movement and full symphonic salvo, the film captures the imagination from the first frame. The great thing about it is, it holds that interest to the very last. The score alone is enough to keep you attentive with subtle nuances and great crescendos that follow Sutherland's animation with the dexterity ala Disney and Stokowsky.

Sutherland changes animation styles as the story time-line progresses from prehistoric origins of the metal that fell from the sky (meteors -- some scientific license taken here) to a time when that metal "will take us to the moon" (quaintly dated as it was written before the moon landing), and as it progresses through various locations, the artistic styles of the periods and cultures are incorporated into the look and feel of the animation quite brilliantly.

The film was an incredibly ambitious undertaking of US Steel, headquartered of course in Pittsburgh. To someone's credit in that great American company, they enlisted Sutherland Studios, no slouches when it comes to animation -- done the old fashion way -- they DRAW it, and maestro Tiomkin to compose and conduct the very engaging score; finally they enlisted the Pittsburgh Symphony to record the work. Well known Gary Merrill was signed to smoothly voice the narration.

On the technical side they were just as ambitious, striking both 35mm prints in IB Technicolor/4 track mag stereo no less AND 16mm prints AND the released an LP album (dual sleeved with a 3 page, full color insert containing stills from the film). One side of the LP had the complete film soundtrack with Merrill's narration, the other side had the complete Tiomkin's score sans narration -- quite a treat indeed for Tiomkin fans.

The 35mm print was booked into theatres -- that was at time when cinemas actually SHOWED short-subjects before the feature instead of TV commercials. The 16mm prints (also dye-transfer IB Technicolor) were given to 16mm non-theatrical distributors which specialized in loaning industrial type films like this free of charge to schools and institutions and other non-profit entities. The arrangement benefited the companies that produced them (getting name recognition and sometimes including not-so-subtle advertising content) and it benefited the end- user as it gave schools and the like an inexpensive and welcome means to put together screen entertainment.

Kudos go to Mr. Merrill who wears the narrator's cap on this project, and is a good fit; he has just the right amount of gravitas but can be light when the script and visuals call for a bit of humor. And this film does keep it fairly light although the overall tone is a kind of awe of a metal we hardly think about, especially now, half a century later.

The end result is a very watchable piece with the only real commercial coming at the closing frame were US Steel's name and logo appear. And accept for the last line at the closing saying that steel will be used on the rockets that will someday get us to the moon and the heavens, where it first came from, one could imagine the film was made today.

It would really be nice to see this work released on BluRay, possibly paired with a movie that has a film with one of Tiomkin's scores... you know, so it plays like is did in the theatres -- a short-subject before the feature.


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