A Hard Day's Night on Blu-ray
by Jim Bray
A Hard Day's Night is part musical event, part time capsule, and all fun – especially with this relatively state-of-the-art "Collector's Edition" Blu-ray release from Alliance Atlantis Home Video.
Relatively state-of-the-art, indeed. While most Blu-rays are released in 1080p resolution these days, this disc (like many concert discs I've seen) is only in 1080i.
Will that make a difference to your enjoyment? Probably not, though I noticed that the high def transfer doesn't "leap off the screen" like the best movies on Blu-ray - regardless of when they were made originally - do.
Still, it's a decent transfer, with good picture and sound. More about that later.
The film stars the Beatles, of course, shortly after they took the world by storm in early 1964, though the film was in the works before then. The script is loosely structured around “a Day in the Life” (hey, what a great idea for a song!) of the four mop tops from Liverpool as they travel to a TV gig. Also along for the ride is “Paul's grandfather” (Wilfred Brambell), a crusty old fart who spends the movie alternately getting into trouble and trying to exploit the Fab Four – and getting into trouble over thatt. Also in on the action are the group's manager Norm (Norman Rossington) and another associate “Shake” (John Junkin).
We get the Beatles basically being themselves (which is exactly as it should be, of course), with their infectious humor and personalities, and of course we get the Beatles' music, from what's in my never humble opinion their best period, before they got “important” and their music got increasingly pretentious (Abbey Road excluded, except perhaps for the one song "I Want You (She's So Heavy").
Director Richard Lester (the man who, unfortunately, helped turn the Superman movie franchise from a classic to a joke) and screenwriter Alun Owen have combined with the Four Lads (sorry, that was a different singing group!) to craft a delightful flick with a "near-documentary" feel that makes it seem as if you're getting to know these giants of the music industry as they really were. They've also imparted plenty of energy and just enough anarchy to delight teenagers of all ages.
But regardless of its "innovation" or "freshness" as a film, it's the Beatles who really shine here, as individuals (each of them gets a short section of his own) and as a band – and the highlight of the film has to be the concert that ends the movie.
And the songs! Besides the title tune, we're treated to such early Beatles classics as “Can't Buy Me Love,” “If I Fell,” “And I Love Her,” “I Should Have Known Better,” and “I'm Happy Just to Dance With You.” They're all wonderful, and they've been given a new life thanks to digital remastering that probably sounds as good as the original CD's do, which is far better than this little film could possibly have sounded in 1964. I wish they'd used the stereo mixes, though.
On the other hand, I bought the remastered "Rubber Soul" last night, in stereo, and while it probably sounds better than the original CD, it's still rather thin-sounding and compressed, and the stereo mix is lousy - mostly vocals in one channel and mostly instruments in the other. Using the mono mixes for the A Hard Day's Night movie at least keeps the sound near the screen, where it should be to avoid the voices and instruments sounding disembodied.
I also wish they'd have included in the disc's menus a series of chapter stops - like just about every other BD and DVD disc does! Here, you can jump ahead from chapter to chapter with your remote, but blindly - and I'd have liked to see the ability to jump straight to the songs, rather than just to different sections of the movie.
A Hard Day's Night has been given a good video treatment, though as mentioned it doesn't go all the way to the superior progressively scanned picture they should have. But it features a crisp and sharp black and white widescreen picture (1.66:1, so there'll be black bars to the sides of your widescreen HDTV) that's very watchable. As mentioned above, it doesn't feature that lovely 3D-like "depth" I've grown to love with many Blu-rays, but it's the best I've seen for this movie.
The audio is, on the whole, pretty good – leaping to very good when the lads start playing (or at least lip synching). The volume also leaps upward when the music starts, and that's just fine with me. The dts HD soundtrack is clean, though again the closest it comes to leaping from your speakers is when the music starts. I'd have liked to see better audio all around, but if they had to concentrate on one area they picked the right one.
Then there's the abundance of extras, though like the movie itself it appears to be a pretty straightforward porting over of the earlier DVD release's stuff. The most interesting of these, for fans of the group's music, have to be the interviews with Sir George Martin, the Beatles' producer and mentor, the man who moulded them in the studio and helped them become the musicians they were so capable of being (remember, none of the Beatles could read music!).
There's also a very interesting documentary “Things They Said Today” which is a fascinating look at the movie's genesis, featuring Martin, the producer, the director, the screenwriter, and more. It's highly entertaining, though as with most of the extras it isn't presented in true widescreen, so the images are stretched side to side, making everyone look short and fat.
Other sections of the special features include: Their Production Will Be Second To None (which features four videos) - With The Beatles (The cast, via seven videos) - Working Like A Dog ( The Production Crew, as told in four videos) - Busy Working Overtime (two videos) - Such A Clean Old Man! - I've Lost My Little Girl - Taking Testimonial Pictures - Dressed To The Hilt - Dealing With "The Men From The Press" - They And I Have Memories - Hitting The Big Time In the USA. In all, it's nearly 200 minutes of bonus footage and there's plenty of meat to get your Beatle-nut-stained teeth into!
It's great stuff, in all, though rather than stretching the 1.33:1 images I'd rather they'd left black bars to the sides so the picture wouldn't be distorted - since TV burn-in is pretty well a thing of the past now.
But talk about a wonderful time capsule! A Hard Day's Night is a terrific look at Beatlemania and the fab four from Liverpool who were at its center.
A Hard Day's Night, from Alliance Atlantis Home Video
Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.