Beatles film gets a fab technical makeover, with extras, for its DVD re-release

Have all of you folks picked up your copy of The re-released Beatle film Help! yet?  I have not personally.  I am holding out for Christmas.  No, I am not expecting my wife to spring for the very pricey super-deluxe edition.  It’s simply too expensive, and I don’t need a replica of a script, or a DVD slipcover-box that won’t fit on my DVD shelf.  It’s cool to have all of the goodies, and extras, but man oh man is that baby expensive. 

Couldn’t the folks at Apple at lease made it a little bit affordable?  I don’t think that’s totally unreasonable.  I guess we’ll all just have to keep our fingers crossed, and hope that the Let it Be film, when it is finally released that it too does not break the bank.  I know I will go to whatever means necessary to get the deluxe edition of that monster when it does surface.  For now, though, I am simply enjoying the tongue-in-cheek humor that is known as the film Help!  It really is stunning to see, and the transfer has been done beautifully.

Here’s what we’ve read.

For The Beatles and for director Richard Lester, 1964’s “A Hard Day’s Night” was a tough act to follow and, as it turned out, an impossible one. Besides having the novelty of seeing John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr on the big screen for the first time, “A Hard Day’s Night” captured Beatlemania like it was lightning in a bottle and offered the world a good-natured close-up of The Beatles being themselves. Timeless songs, too, including “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “And I Love Her” and the title track.

The Beatles look – and sound – better than ever in a restored DVD version of “Help!” Too bad it’s still weak on plot.  “Help!,” released a year later, mistakenly tried to build a fictitious story line around the Fab Four’s distinct personalities – a labored, madcap chase to steal a gaudy jeweled ring off poor Ringo’s finger – and saddled the lads whose natural wit and likability had been so disarming in “A Hard Day’s Night” with one clunky sight gag after another. The songs are the film’s saving grace – “Help!” features “Ticket to Ride,” “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” and the wonderful title tune – but in the main they are not in the league of those on the previous Beatles film soundtrack.

When The Beatles aren’t lip-syncing their songs in “Help!” – or pratfalling while the song plays in the background, as with the “Ticket to Ride” snow scene – the film is draggy, and the repeated attempts to abduct Ringo and/or purloin his jewelry (either by Leo McKern and his cult crazies or the hambone team of Victor Spinetti and Roy Kinnear) are as redundant as a Wile E. Coyote cartoon. In short, “Help!” looked like a lot more fun to make than it is to watch.

“Help!” needed help, but it was not a total disaster. (In fact, the movie was commercially successful and immensely popular with fans.) The Beatles look great (especially when in their mod suits), and so do the shooting locations: the greenery of England’s Solisbury Plain, the Austrian Alps, the beaches of the Bahamas. Even with a script that plays second fiddle to the sight gags, Ringo, John and even George get in a fair share of engaging one-liners. (Paul mostly just looks cute, which Paul did so well.)

Though it’s been available on DVD before, “Help!” returns this week in a digitally restored version, with a remastered soundtrack and a companion disc of bonus features.

The film itself hasn’t weathered the passage of time very well – unlike most of The Beatles’ music, it feels too much a product of its era and self-consciously reflective of the psychedelic, anything-goes ’60s. “Help!’s” is a one-joke script, and the boyish clowning is more akin to the Monkees’ TV show than to the clever banter of “A Hard Day’s Night.”

But the digital restoration of “Help!,” described in exhaustingly technical detail in one of the companion disc’s extras, is impressive. The colors pop off the screen now, from the blues of the ocean to the shocking pink leather worn by femme fatale Eleanor Bron; and the contrasts are remarkably vivid, right down to the man-eating tiger that “threatens” a captive Ringo.

“It’s like someone had dragged the (original) film through dirt,” recalls one of the restoration technicians, “and we got the end product.”
Inside info
Notably absent in this new DVD package’s special features is any presence of surviving Beatles Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr. In fact, the only footage of the band members talking about the film dates back to the time of its production and release; it’s black-and-white, and unsubstantial.

That leaves non-Beatle cast members and the production crew to reminisce about “Help!” Director Lester is full of interesting anecdotes (more on those momentarily), and the band’s longtime friend and business confidante, Neil Aspinall, shares a few tidbits. But do we really care what the movie’s makeup and costume supervisors remember? Or actors Spinetti and Bron (the latter at least still looks mah-velous)?

One featurette recalls a scene that was cut from the film that “starred” British actress Wendy Richard (you may know her from the slapstick sitcom “Are You Being Served?”). Another packages two theatrical trailers for “Help!”, and then there’s that film-restoration segment, which could have been half as lengthy.

The 30-minute documentary “The Beatles in ‘Help!’ ” is the most rewarding of the second disc’s amenities. It’s here that Lester explains that the decision was made to build a fictitious story around The Beatles for their second film because the alternative – a movie about their private lives – would have been, in his words, “X-rated.” So much for the lovably “naive” Liverpudlians.
The Beatles’ “Ticket to Ride” sequence in “Help!,” filmed in the Austrian Alps, is regarded by some pop-culture historians as a forerunner of music videos.  Also in that vein, Lester confides that there was “an awful lot of pot-smoking” being done during the shooting of “Help!”

Added Aspinall: “There were red eyes everywhere.”

Only the most sheltered Beatles fans will be shocked to hear that.

Viewed in 21st-century terms, the song sequences in “Help!” could stand alone as music videos: “Ticket to Ride” playing while John, Paul, George and Ringo slide down the Austrian slopes; George singing “I Need You” in the middle of the Wiltshire grasslands, with Stonehenge not far in the distance; the band “performing” “Another Girl” on a Bahaman beach, with Paul substituting a bikini-clad model for his electric bass. (It’s not as provocative as it sounds.)

Lester has since been dubbed “the father of MTV,” points out Aspinall, though the director himself is quick to decline the distinction. Why, we’re not sure.

Lest you forgot…
There’s no single moment in “Help!” that’s as memorable as the Beatlemaniacal chase through Paddington Station or the “Can’t Buy Me Love” frolic in the park in “A Hard Day’s Night.” But “Help!” has its share of bizarre bits:

  • Paul being shrunk down to miniature size, without his clothes yet.
  • The Beatles, armed with brooms, in a heated game of curling.
  • A chase through the streets of London to twangy music that spoofs the 007 theme.
  • Ringo firing oranges out of a vending machine.
  • Daredevil George hanging onto the roof of a moving car. (No, it was a stunt man).

“Help!” did not make cinematic history as did its predecessor, but it has its worthy place in pop-culture, and pop-music, history. To see The Beatles, all four of them, in living, better-than-ever color is – there’s no better way to say it – fab.

Source: Signs on San Diego

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5 Responses

  1. Regrettably, the folks at Capitol Records/EMI that are releasing the help DVD are making claims to content that just are not there. As a Beatle fan, an unreleased track or a previously unseen movie scene is worth the price of admission (or the price of buying this new reissue of HELP!). And there on the box it states as part of the bonus disc.. “A Missing Scene- Featuring Wendy Richard.” Problem is…no scene…a lot of talk about how and why the scene was cut, BUT NO SCENE. When I called Capitol/EMI and asked about it they first said they didn’t know about it and later got back to me and confirmed that it was just talk and no scene. Even though the packaging and the publicity hypes it as being there. I was annoyed having purchased the $25 version. I would be royally pissed if I had shelled out a hundered bucks or better for the so-called deluxe edition. Either way, the set is a RIP-OFF. Capitol should do the right thing here…and by that I mean make good on the advance hype and then correct the box and all the publicity stuff that went out.
    And yes, I know that’s a lot to ask. Would have been much easier if they just told the truth in the first place.
    Left as it is, this is just a Rip Off. Plain and simple.

  2. When will the “Let It Be” film come out on DVD?

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