The Beatles have long been hailed as a pop/rock phenomena that transcends generations,
racial boundaries and continents. For the few that don't like or at least
can't appreciate the music of the Beatles, that fact will not be argued
here. Instead I'll give you a look at the new 2-disc DVD set of their first
film A Hard Day's Night from a perspective of a casual fan.
The first thing anyone likely unfamiliar with the film will notice is the amount
of popular culture that has borrowed from it. From Austin Powers, That Thing
You Do and any surreal sketch comedy show, they all owe a debt of gratitude
to this film. This is just one of the many examples that show the amount of
influence this band and this movie have had on the popular culture of the world.
The film basically has the Beatles as themselves on the way to a television
appearance. The character of Paul's comic relief, the character is continuously
leading the band into different situations but doesn't provide the majority
of the laughter.
This comes from the fact that the Beatles were funny. Whether this was all
scripted or a process of their personality coming through in the process, they
often provide the funniest moments in the strangest places. Everyone will likely
recognize one of the quotes used in the press scene. The band mingles through
the crowd answering questions in a one-on-one setting. When asked about what
he calls his hairdo, George answers in a deadpan, Arthur. This one section sums
up the groups feelings toward the media and their wish to do their own thing
The movie not only displays a biting wit but also acts as a preview of the
culture that was to come. More than just Beatlemania, everything from the film—from
the irreverent attitude and the surreal skits—would eventually filter
into every form of popular culture.
Director Richard Lester developed a style that fit perfectly with what the
Beatles were and did not attempt to fit them into roles they were not—like
Elvis Presley. His style jumps and skips between cuts and takes. The black and
white imagery feels like a documentary rather than a studio picture, which allows
you to get closer to the characters. In the 1990's director Richard Lester
was hailed by MTV as the father of the music video. Later he jokingly remarked,
"He wanted a paternity test."
It's impossible to sum up the importance of the film to their career
and pop culture as a whole. It's easier to describe it as an immense amount
of irreverent fun that everyone should see once. It's full of clean fun
and a blend of childish innocence and devilment. Much of the humor comes off
as realistic kidding and joking that many will recognize as jokes that close
friends play on each other. The film shows that they have a talent for the screen
as well as music.
Video: For this 40th anniversary edition Miramax has produced
a beautiful transfer of the original 35mm negative. Matted to a 1.66:1 aspect
ratio, the image feels the screen without feeling too cropped. The digital re-mastering
of the image has reduced the grain and spots associated with older films and
only a few flaws remain visible. The black and white is reproduced with a nice
contrast, making the image pop in all the right places. The whites do look al
little dull in places, but that's to be expected with a film of this age.
Overall, there are no real complaints about this transfer.
Audio: Audio purists will likely cringe to find that only
the re-mastered 5.1 soundtrack is included. The English version sounds perfectly
good but lacks a little in the true surround mix. Only a little audio is heard
from the rear speakers when the concert footage plays. The rest is mostly stereo
and a good stereo mix at that. Similar to their CDs that have been re-mastered,
the DVD has no annoyances in the audio department.
Extras: This disc is packed with lengthy interviews, with
all except one being conducted by noted Beatles authority Martin Lewis—who
also produced the DVD. First up on the same disc with the movie is the more
than 30 minute special Things They Say Today. Composed of interview forage not
used elsewhere and movie footage, this documentary gives a great overall look
at the making of the film. For most, this would be a great look at a great film.
Thanks to Beatles historian Martin Lewis, there is much, much more on the second
The second disc will likely only be appreciated by the most die-hard fan. Several
hours of interviews with 30 individuals involved with the film have been collected.
Everyone from a girl in a cut scene with Paul to the costume designer is interviewed.
They are asked little to no questions but they give a personal relation of the
events in which they were involved. Each individual's perspective on the
events surrounding the picture and the Beatles key to success make for an interesting
and intimate look at the band. Detailed and always unique, these interviews
can become monotonous at times. Filmed with a single camera and from a static
angle, they are best viewed a few at a time. Thankfully footage from the film
was cut into them to make things a little more interesting.
One sequence features Sir George Martin and he discusses the process the Beatles
went through when recording songs for the film. He likens them to individual
compositions, instead of sequels to other songs (even using Star Wars as an
example). He then breaks down every song in the film in the order it appears.
He critiques each one honestly, letting you know who wrote it and why it was
or wasn't a big hit. The other interviews are all structured the same
way and feature each individual commenting on their particular task.
A script to screen feature is included and will likely excite some. It not
only includes the screenplay but it has a first-draft version as well. Top this
off with hundreds of pictures, the entire content from the website and some
beautifully created menus and you've got a perfect disc for Beatles fans
and non-fans alike.
On a side note, none of the surviving members have been interviewed or participated
in this disc in any way. It's a shame that they aren't included
and/or refused to participate in such a nice set.
Overall: Deserving of the attention garnered upon it, A Hard
Day's Night is a truly unique film. It's a concert/band film that
is actually witty, entertaining and groundbreaking at the same time. Combined
with first-rate extras and a nice slipcase, die-cut package and you've
got one of the best musical DVD releases of the year. Expect this to show up
on many wish lists this holiday season.