Directed by Richard Lester
New 2-disk DVD release
Even if there are movies greater than Help! — which recently arrived in a new DVD edition — it's hard to think of movies more wonderful. The Beatles were great enough without their film work, but the double whammy of Hard Day's Night and Help! was yet another significant force in the creation of their iconic stature.
Unlike Elvis' films — in which the King played a number of different characters, only a few of whom were straight retoolings of his persona — the Beatles played themselves. Of course, the films were scripted, and it would be naive to think that the characters named John, Paul, George and Ringo were identical to the real Fab Four. But these films gave the appearance of a glimpse into their real personalities — which is part of the reason this double bill became something of a communal ritual for the boomer generation, back in the days before home video. Since fans had to rely on sporadic repertory house bookings, many showed up at all of them.
The decade-old MPI DVD was sucky on a number of grounds, and a new edition is long overdue. Apple, through EMI, has assembled a new two-disc release, which is decidedly a mixed bag.
First the good news: The visual presentation is far superior. The new edition employs the theatrical aspect ratio of 1.75:1, which alone is enough to make it worthwhile. The MPI disc was 1.33:1; worse yet, a few random frame comparisons suggests that MPI didn't merely remove the mattes and give us too much image, but rather cropped the sides off of a theatrical print. In addition, the image seems richer on the new disc, even if there was no new restoration work.
Another plus: The standard package — there is also a much more expensive "gift edition," if that sort of thing floats your boat — includes a booklet with legible credit information, a brief memoir by director Richard Lester and a tribute by Martin Scorsese. Scorsese's essay is — how can I put this? — exactly right.
Next, the medium news: There is a new DTS 5.1 mix, which sounds good, and a PCM track that is less artificial and expanded. But such "improvements" — really the audio equivalent of colorization — are only acceptable if we are given the option of listening to an approximation of the original theatrical sound. The PCM track may be closer, but I don't think it's the genuine thing.
More medium news: The extras, all on the second disc, total under an hour, including the 11 minutes of restoration details. The best thing here is "The Beatles in Help!" It includes what appears to be recent interview footage with Lester, costar Eleanor Bron and others, intercut with stuff from 1965 — on-the-set footage and audio interviews with the band members. "Memories of Help!" adds about another six minutes of material.
This is all okay, but a little inadequate; nearly all the older footage and audio is reedited from the extras on the MPI disc, which included some other bonuses that have been dropped — an old interview with Lester and his 1959 short, "The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film."
Finally, the bad news: Apple/EMI has sullied their generally good release with a terribly misleading item on the packaging and in the promotional material: Both mention "A Missing Scene — Featuring Wendy Richard." I can imagine many fans deciding to upgrade from their old discs just to see this "missing scene." Unfortunately, there is no missing scene; what you get is a short doc called "A Missing Scene" — about a missing scene that remains, to this day, altogether missing! They could have called it "Wendy Richard Talks about the Missing Scene," and there would be no problem. But, as it stands, the wording is sleazy and, frankly, disgraceful.
Andy Klein writes for Los Angeles CityBeat