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A Hard Day's NightA Hard Day's Night on DVD

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 Series" DVD release from Alliance Atlantis Home Video.

The film stars the Beatles, of course, shortly after they took the world by storm in early 1964. 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 it – and 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 arguably their best period, before they got “important.”

Director Richard Lester (the man who, unfortunately, turned the Superman movie franchise into 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 documentary feel that makes it seem as if you're getting to know these giants of the music industry. They've also imparted plenty of energy and just enough anarchy to delight teenagers of all ages.

But, not surprisingly, it's the Beatles who really shine here, as individuals (each of them gets a short section of his own) and as the 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, while not as good as you can get on CD, sounds far better than this little film could possibly have sounded in 1964. It's even stereo!

The film goes into Dolby Digital 5.1 for the concert sequence, wrapping you in the ambience of the theater, and it works very well.

A Hard Day's Night has also been given a good video treatment, featuring a black and white anamorphic widescreen picture (16x9 TV compatible) that's sharp and clean and which fills the widescreen TV's screen completely. The audio is, on the whole, very good – leaping to nearly excellent 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.

Then there's the abundance of extras! 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!).

Disc One of this two disc set includes the movie and a new 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.

Disc Two is loaded with stuff as well, though most of it isn't presented in anamorphic widescreen (not surprising, since it's all “made for video” material”). Broken down into sections, it deals with:

The Production,
The Cast,
The Music
The Crew
Post Production
Memories of Wilfred Brambell (“Paul's Grandfather”)
and a variety of other interviews and reminiscences.

It's great stuff. My particular favorite, as mentioned above, is where Sir George Martin talks about each of the songs, placing them in context of the time and the Beatles' overall songbook. It's great!

There's also some DVD-ROM stuff, including “Screenplay Viewer, Reproduction of the Entire First Draft of the Screenplay, A Hard Day's Night Scrapbook, Roundtable Discussions, and Web links.

Talk about a wonderful time capsule!

A Hard Day's Night, from Alliance Atlantis Home Video
87 min. black and white, anamorphic widescreen (1.66:1), 16x9 TV compatible, Dolby Digital 5.1
Starring John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr
Produced by Walter Shenson
Written by Alun Owen , Directed by Richard Lester


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Updated May 13, 2006