Late in 2000, Miramax Films brought out a restored version of the Beatles' famed mock-documentary "Hard Day's Night" to a new generation, many of which likely hadn't seen the picture previously. The restored version made about one million theatrically, after which, fans eagerly awaited a new DVD version to replace a prior edition from a different company that had gone out-of-print (and was fetching remarkable sums of money on Ebay).
Unfortunately, the wait continued - and continued. While there were announcements and release dates, delays would often occur. Thankfully, someone at the studio realized that fans would be appreciative of a definitive DVD edition of the film and, after viewing the 2-disc set that has been put together, I must say that it's worth the wait.
While not a hardcore Beatles fan myself, I still find the film largely enjoyable - a playful sugar-high of a mock documentary that manages to be witty, sharply filmed and occasionally hilarious. Directed by Richard Lester ("Superman II & III"), the black and white feature follows the group through what is supposed to be - and seems like it could be - a day in their lives, running from girls, hitting the recording studio, trying to answer questions from reporters at a press confrence and preparing for a big gig.
As pop stars continue to flock from music to movies today, it's still fun to see the Beatles acting in this picture, as all of them turned out to be exceptionally good. While the innocence and joy of the picture still charms, the sarcastic, edgy humor that is often supplied by Alun Owen's screenplay still manages to get a lot of solid laughs that don't seem very dated. The other star of the show remains Gilbert Taylor ("Star Wars")'s outstanding cinematography, which energetically documents the proceedings; while it offers a hurried documentary feel, there's a lot of nice compositions and inspired work on display. "Hard Day's Night" remains a highly entertaining, timeless classic that really gets solid treatment on this DVD release.
VIDEO: "Hard Day's Night" is presented by Miramax in 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen. While the feature was originally filmed in 1.37:1, this reformatted presentation still looks exceptionally good, with generally solid sharpness and detail, aside from a few sequences that appear slightly softer in comparison.
Miramax has put together a remarkably clean presentation, considering the age of the film. Obviously, considerable work has been done, as the print appears free of all but some scattered specks and a couple of marks. No major wear & tear is seen at all. The film's slight layer of grain is not bothersome, either, while the presentation includes no pixelation or noticable edge enhancement.
SOUND: "Hard Day's Night" is presented in remastered Dolby Digital 5.1, as it was during its theatrical re-release a few years ago. The original mono soundtrack is not included an, in this case, it's possible that the original soundtrack elements may not have been available or needed too much work. Still, the new 5.1 soundtrack hits the ears wonderfully from the opening moments with the title music.
The music sounds terrific throughout the picture, with a warmth and clarity that impressed me. However, it's a little strange to have the soundtrack go from dialogue-only scenes that sound somewhat rough and as if they were recorded back then to scenes where the music - which sounds as if it was recorded more recently and has a very distinctly smoother sound - takes over the soundtrack.
While redone in 5.1, the surrounds recieve little work to do, aside from some light reinforcement of the music. Essentially, the rest of the film is still mono; when the music comes up, it's delivered by the front two main speakers and occasionally lightly reinforced by the rears. After the music concludes, the soundtrack essentially folds back up into the center channel. Overall, this is a very nice new soundtrack that has been cleaned up well, especially in regards to the music. A French 5.1 soundtrack is also included.
MENUS: While not too lively, the subtly animated main menus are a classy and fun opening to the discs.
EXTRAS: Miramax has put together a 2-DVD Collector's Edition set for the title, made up of what appear to be largely newly produced video supplements. While a commentary would have been appreciated, the immense amount of featurettes included here are certainly more than satisfactory.
The first disc does include some extras, most noticably a 35-minute new documentary called "Things They Said Today", which includes interviews with some of the executives involved in the 3-picture deal that the Beatles signed right before they became an even bigger worldwide sensation. Director Richard Lester and screenwriter Alun Owen also provide a discussion of their careers and opinions about what it was like to be a major part of a film that turned into a historic event. The documentary is admittedly on the dry side, but it's still very informative. Also included on the first disc are DVD-ROM features, including a screenplay viewer and the website.
The second disc is where the majority of the supplements are located. These newly produced featurettes are all broken up into several sections, which does make it somewhat easier for viewers to go through or locate subject matter they might find more interesting. The first section is "Their Production Will Be Second To Note". The featurettes here are: "Look At My Direction", with director Richard Lester; "Then There Was The Music", with musical director Sir George Martin; "Better Hurry...Cause It May Not Last", with David Picker, studio executive and "You Know His Name", with Denis O'Dell, associate producer.
"With The Beatles" (cast featurettes) includes: "Shake", "TV Choreographer", "Simon Marshall", "Young Boy", "Millie", "Club Dancer", "Casino Croupier". "Working Like A Dog" includes featurettes on: director of photography Gilbert Taylor, camera operator Paul Wilson, hairdresser Betty Glasow and 2nd assistant director Barrie Melrose. "Busy Working Overtime" offers featurettes on post-production crew Pam Tomling and Roy Benson (assistant editors) and Gordon Daniels and Jim Roddan (sound editors).
"Listen to the Music Playing in Your Head" includes a documentary with song-by-song recollections from musical director Sir George Martin. "Such a Clean Old Man" offers memories of Willford Brambell, while "I've Lost My Little Girl" offers thoughts about Isla Blair, an actress whose scenes with Paul were left on the cutting room floor.
"Taking Testimonial Pictures" is a featurette that looks at the work of photographer Robert Freeman, whose work is highlighted in the end credits sequence of the film. "Dressed To The Hilt" visits with tailor Gordon Millings, who provides insight into trying to dress the group for the picture. "Dealing With 'the Men From The Press'" offers an interview with Beatles' publicist Tony Barrow. "They and I Have Memories" offers recollections from Beatles friend Klaus Voorberg. Finally, "Hitting the Big Time in The USA" focuses on promoter Sid Bernstein, whose memories of trying to get the Beatles to America is fascinating to listen to.
While these interviews provided background details into the production and insight into the making of the movie that I think seems largely new and fresh, there are featurettes here that seem a little drier than others. Beatles fans, however, will likely be delighted to get a sneak peek into the band that doesn't seem like more of the usual.
Final Thoughts: After a long wait, "Hard Day's Night" finally gets the royal treatment, with a 2-DVD set that offers superb audio/video quality and lots of well-produced supplemental features. Highly recommended.