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    A Hard Day's Night Blu-ray Review

    Blu-ray Criterion DVD

    Jun 23 2014 09:05 PM | Todd Erwin in DVD & Blu-ray Reviews
    There are very few rock groups that have come close to the success or long-standing popularity of The Beatles. I find it such a delight when a young person first discovers the Fab Four, and their first film, A Hard Day’s Night, can serve as a fun introduction to their music and personalities. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of this classic rock musical, The Criterion Collection brings the recent 4k restoration to Blu-ray and DVD in a feature-packed “Dual Format” package that will please, please any fan.

    Title Info:

    • Studio: Criterion
    • Distributed By: N/A
    • Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
    • Aspect Ratio: 1.75:1
    • Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HDMA, English PCM 1.0 (Mono), English PCM 2.0
    • Subtitles: English SDH
    • Rating: G
    • Run Time: 1 Hr. 27 Min.
    • Package Includes: Blu-ray, DVD
    • Case Type: 3-disc digipak with outer sleeve
    • Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer), DVD-9 (dual layer)
    • Region: A
    • Release Date: 06/24/2014
    • MSRP: $39.95

    The Production Rating: 5/5

    In 1963, as The Beatles were about to embark to the US for the first time, just before Beatlemania became a worldwide phenomenon, United Artists commissioned a three picture deal with the Fab Four, mostly as a way to cash in on the eventual soundtrack albums. Producer Walter Shenson, director Richard Lester, and writer Alun Owen were brought in, with both the studio’s and Beatles approval, to create a musical comedy that could be filmed quickly and cheaply for release in the summer of 1964. The result was A Hard Day’s Night, one of the most original and groundbreaking rock musicals for its time, a film that remains as fresh today as it did when it first premiered 50 years ago.

    The plot of A Hard Day’s Night is fairly simple, offering fans a fictionalized day in the life of The Beatles. Prior to writing the screenplay, Alun Owen spent some time with the group, and observed that they were prisoners of their own success. Building on that notion, the film opens with John, Paul, George, and Ringo evading a mob of hysterical fans as they try to board a train in Liverpool. Once aboard, they are joined by Paul’s trouble-making but “very clean” grandfather (Wilfrid Brambell) and their managers (Norman Rossington and John Junkin), have some amusing interactions with passengers, and perform I Should Have Known Better while playing cards in the luggage area before arriving in London and having to evade yet another mob of fans on their way to the hotel. After settling in, the group escapes to a nightclub while Paul’s grandfather sneaks into a private casino using Ringo’s invitation. The next morning, they arrive at a television studio to rehearse for a live variety show, stressing out the show’s director (Victor Spinetti), even more so when they go out for a bit of fun between rehearsals (and create what many refer to as the first music video, Can’t Buy Me Love). Paul’s grandfather then goades Ringo into embarking on a journey of self-discovery just before final rehearsal, and its up to Paul, John, and George to find Ringo in time before the live broadcast.

    A Hard Day’s Night was both a commercial and critical success, and seeing it again for the first time in over 20 years, it is no surprise. Released approximately one year after their appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, it was a no-brainer that fans of The Beatles would catapult the film to box office success. But director Richard Lester’s documentary-style filmmaking (with help from cinematographer Gilbert Taylor) and Alun Owen’s screenplay suited the Fab Four almost perfectly, allowing them to be comfortable pretty much being themselves on screen, with lots of support from their fellow cast members. The band’s sense of humor comes across brilliantly, something die-hard fans would come to know quite well with their Christmas records. The style also gave the film a sense of spontaneity and improvisation, when in fact much of what appeared on screen was scripted. And it was this sense of spontaneity that allowed the film to cross over to more general audiences and critics, alike. The film paved the way for The Monkees and MTV, for better or worse.

    Video Rating: 5/5 3D Rating: NA

    Previous video releases of A Hard Day’s Night were fairly disappointing in their presentation. “Restored” previously with mixed results for the 20th anniversary in 1984 and again in 2000 for its often delayed re-release through Miramax, I’m happy to report that the third time's the charm in Criterion’s 1080p AVC-encoded transfer that retains the originally intended aspect ratio of 1.75:1 (although it looks more like 1.66:1 on my Samsung UN60F7100). Scanned in 4k from the original camera negatives and two 35mm fine-grain master positives and combined to create a new DI (that was approved by director Richard Lester), the film has never looked better. Dirt, scratches, tears, etc. have been digitally removed for the most part. While that may alarm some, the digital tools aren’t overused, resulting in a nice film-like presentation, film grain intact. Contrast is excellent, with deep blacks and whites that are never blown out, and beautiful grayscale in between. This is a gorgeous black and white transfer.

    Audio Rating: 4.5/5

    Criterion has included three different mixes of the film on this Blu-ray release: the restored, original mono soundtrack in PCM, a new stereo remix in PCM 2.0, and a new 5.1 remix in DTS-HD Master Audio (the latter two were supervised and approved by sound producer Giles Martin). Gone are the disastrous remixes from the 1984 and 2000 (and 2002 DVD) versions. The PCM mono has been cleaned up considerably, free of hiss, clicks, and pops, with a renewed clarity and fidelity. The PCM stereo opens up the soundstage somewhat, yet is still faithful to the original mono mix. The 5.1 widens that up even more, directing dialogue to the center channel and spreading music and ambient sounds (like screaming fans) across the fronts and rears, yet is never gimmicky.

    Special Features: 5/5

    Audio Commentary: Originally compiled in 2002 by Martin Lewis, this commentary track features actors John Junkin (Shake), David Janson (Young Boy), Jeremy Lloyd (Tall Dancer), Director of Photography Gilbert Taylor, and many others. An index option is available in the commentary sub menu.

    In Their Own Voices (1080p; 18:02): Archival interviews with the Beatles discussing making A Hard Day’s Night combined with production stills and behind the scenes footage.

    Anatomy of a Style (1080p; 17:07): Story editor and screenwriter Bobbie O’Steen and music editor Suzana Peric deconstruct five musical segments from the film: the title sequence, A Hard Day’s Night; I Should Have Known Better; Can’t Buy Me Love; And I Love Her; and She Loves You.

    You Can’t Do That: The Making of “A Hard Day’s Night” (1080i; 61:02): Phil Collins hosts this TV special from 1994 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the film, which includes interviews with Roger Ebert, Victor Spinetti, Richard Lester, etc. Upscaled from a standard definition source.

    Things They Said Today (1080i; 36:17): Produced in 2002 by Martin Lewis, this documentary features interviews with director Richard Lester, producer Walter Shenson, former VP of United Artists David Picker, music producer George Martin, and others discussing the production and success of the film. Upscaled from a standard definition source.

    The Running Jumping and Standing Still Film (1080i; 11:10): Richard Lester’s Oscar-nominated short film from 1959, featuring Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan, Graham Stark, and Bruce Lacey. Upscaled from a standard definition source.

    Picturewise (1080i; 27:13): Written and produced by critic David Cairns and narrated by Rita Tushingham, this documentary looks at the influences on and impact of the early work of Richard Lester.

    The Beatles: The Road to “A Hard Day’s Night”: (1080p; 27:43): Mark Lewisohn, author of The Beatles: All These Years, Volume 1 - Tune In, discusses the Beatles’ career up to A Hard Day’s Night.

    Trailers: Includes the trailers for the 2000 Miramax re-release and the Criterion’s 2014 re-release.

    80-page Booklet: Featuring chapter listing for the Blu-ray and DVD, cast and crew list, an essay by Howard Hampton, an interview with Richard Lester, and notes about the transfer.

    2-Disc DVD version: Includes the movie on DVD (in mono, stereo, and 5.1, all encoded in Dolby Digital at 384 kbps), plus all of the bonus features (spread out over the two discs) from the Blu-ray.

    Overall Rating: 5/5

    Beatles fans can rejoice now that the band’s first (and best) film is now not only available on Blu-ray here in the US, but in a pristine and restored edition, with hours of bonus material. Highly recommended!

    Reviewed by: Todd Erwin
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    • lukejosephchung likes this


    24 Comments

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    Scott Merryfield
    Jun 24 2014 05:37 AM

    Thanks for the review, Todd. I am glad to read that the sound mixes were well done -- I agree with you that the mixes on the previous DVD's were horrible.

     

    I usually wait for a sale to buy Criterions, but I pre-ordered this title. My copy should be in the mailbox today!

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    Mike Frezon
    Jun 24 2014 07:46 AM

    Yup.  I'm with Scott.  I was curious to see what reviewers thought of the audio mixes, too. 

     

    But I'll be waiting for the upcoming B&N sale to pick this up. 

     

    The 5.1 mix, then Todd, doesn't include a surround mix of the music?  But dialog's in the center, music is in the front L/R (or maybe spread across the front three speakers?) with only ambient noises in the rears?

     

    Thanks for the review! 

    The 5.1 mix, then Todd, doesn't include a surround mix of the music?  But dialog's in the center, music is in the front L/R (or maybe spread across the front three speakers?) with only ambient noises in the rears?

     

    Thanks for the review! 

    There is some "bleed" to the rears to give a sense of surround presence, but never gimmicky.

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    Steve Tannehill
    Jun 24 2014 08:16 AM
    Actually, it wasn't nearly a year between the Ed Sullivan appearance and this movie. It was just under 5 months.
      • Jack K likes this
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    Vahan_Nisanain
    Jun 24 2014 08:25 AM

    Actually, it wasn't nearly a year between the Ed Sullivan appearance and this movie. It was just under 5 months.

     

    And the group spent two weeks in America doing five performances from February 7-21 (2 for Ed Sullivan on February 9, 1 at Washington D.C., 1 at Carnegie Hall, and 1 for Ed Sullivan in Miami), and 1 week recording songs for the film from February 25-March 1. They recorded 9 songs for the film, and 6 of them made it there. You Can't Do That was cut from the film, and Long Tall Sally and I Call Your Name were on the Long Tall Sally EP. They eventually recorded the title track on April 16.

     

    Filming started on March 2, and ended on April 24.

    I'm still waiting for my copy, it should arrive tomorrow.  I did get it on iTunes about a month ago and it also looked more like 1.66 than 1.75 to me.

    Just watched BR AHDN and I think it's FABulous!!!!!!! Picture quality is first rate, and all 3 audio offerings are wonderful also, each offering there own unique signature on how the music sounds. There does however seem to be a growing discussion (of course) concerning the films speed pertaining to the music being slower. As we all know, it's been that way since it's theatrical release but some are complaining over whether it should have been brought up to original concert pitch. The problem is many have a different take as to how this could be achieved without affecting the video portion of the presentation and I think this topic would be better served by this forum The title track AHDN on vinyl, cd and usb is in the original concert key of G major. I personally think Criterion did all the right things here...no revisionism since the director Dick Lester has singned off on it with no complaints from the Beatles camps. What do you folks think?

    The image area measures 1919x1080 for a 1.747:1 aspect ratio.  I guess the pillar boxing was just more noticeable than I was expecting.

    All the Beatles movies have been released on blu-ray except Let It Be which has only been released on laserdisc and bootleg copies sold on Ebay.  I do read about a release soon but nothing yet.

    I'm pretty sure I saw Let It Be back in the day on what I believe to be legitimate VHS.

    This will be an XMAS gift under the tree for me this coming Holiday season, later this year, for the following reason: it has already been decreed as my 2015 New Year's Midnight Movie!!!!!
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    Walter Kittel
    Jun 27 2014 12:49 PM

    Watched the new BD release with a friend earlier today and it was a lot of fun seeing the film again.  I thought the presentation was beautiful.  Just a gorgeous transfer.   Highly, highly recommended.

     

    - Walter.

     

    Edited for spelling.

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    Mike Frezon
    Jun 27 2014 12:58 PM

    And which audio track did Walter and friend listen to? 

     

    The mono?

     

    :biggrin:

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    Walter Kittel
    Jun 27 2014 03:01 PM

    Actually, we listened to the DTS 5.1 track, Mr. Smarty-Pants :)

     

    I do want to compare the tracks at some point, but that wasn't part of today's presentation.

     

    - Walter.

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    Mike Frezon
    Jun 27 2014 05:49 PM

    Well...didja like the 5.1 track?

     

     

     

    --Mr. Smarty-Pants

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    Walter Kittel
    Jun 27 2014 06:11 PM
    Well...didja like the 5.1 track?

     

    I'm not sure how much I can comment upon it without a comparison to the other tracks, but we both enjoyed the audio presentation.  The harmonies came through really well.  The DTS 5.1 track was a lot like Paul's other Grandfather - very clean. 

     

    All My Loving is probably one of my favorite songs from the 'early' period and it really sounded nice on the BD. There isn't a lot of rear channel action on the soundtrack, but that was fine by me with most of the action in the front three channels.  (Pretty much what Todd indicated in his posts in this thread.)

     

    Once again, for fans of The Beatles - Highly recommended.  Easily one of my top BD releases of the year.

     

    - Walter.

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    Mike Frezon
    Jun 27 2014 06:22 PM

    Thanks, Walter. :thumbsup:

    I watched the movie as soon as I received my copy in the mail the other day. This is my third digital version of this movie. I am also happy to report that Criterion finally got it right. I thoroughly enjoyed the You Can't Do That....documentary, as well.

    Now, if we could just get Universal to release the under-rated Robert Zemeckis film I Wanna Hold Your Hand on Blu-ray, it would make a great double feature!

    And the group spent two weeks in America doing five performances from February 7-21 (2 for Ed Sullivan on February 9, 1 at Washington D.C., 1 at Carnegie Hall, and 1 for Ed Sullivan in Miami), and 1 week recording songs for the film from February 25-March 1. They recorded 9 songs for the film, and 6 of them made it there. You Can't Do That was cut from the film, and Long Tall Sally and I Call Your Name were on the Long Tall Sally EP. They eventually recorded the title track on April 16.

     

    Filming started on March 2, and ended on April 24.

    Your post implies (at least to me) that they recorded the songs for the film in the U.S.   That is not the case.   All the songs were recorded at EMI.   And I think your dates are incorrect.  According to my notes, most of the songs for the movie were recorded on March 4, 1964 and most of the other songs that appeared on the British version of the album were recorded June 1st to 3rd, 1964 with the exception of "You Can't Do That", which was recorded sometime between January 29th and February 25th, 1964.  

     

    The American (United Artists) version of the album contained 8 tracks + music from the score composed by George Martin.   The UK album contained 13 tracks and no score music. 

    All the Beatles movies have been released on blu-ray except Let It Be which has only been released on laserdisc and bootleg copies sold on Ebay.  I do read about a release soon but nothing yet.

     

    According to rumor, Paul doesn't want it released in his lifetime, because of the argument he has with George over playing guitar on Hey Jude and the general discontent expressed by all four Beatles in the film, although they seem to have gotten their act together for the rooftop concert at the end of the film, which is actually quite joyous. 

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    Vahan_Nisanain
    Jun 28 2014 12:10 PM

    Your post implies (at least to me) that they recorded the songs for the film in the U.S.   That is not the case.   All the songs were recorded at EMI.   And I think your dates are incorrect.  According to my notes, most of the songs for the movie were recorded on March 4, 1964 and most of the other songs that appeared on the British version of the album were recorded June 1st to 3rd, 1964 with the exception of "You Can't Do That", which was recorded sometime between January 29th and February 25th, 1964.  

     

    The American (United Artists) version of the album contained 8 tracks + music from the score composed by George Martin.   The UK album contained 13 tracks and no score music. 

     

     

    I AM aware that the songs were recorded at EMI. And I was going by Mark Lewisohn's book, The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions.

     

    Where did your notes come from, by the way?

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    AnthonyClarke
    Jul 01 2014 10:31 PM

    For me, the great flaw of an otherwise lovely transfer is Criterion's lack of decent chapter points to the songs. The Beatles WERE the songs. Although Richard Lester made a very pleasing film, I would want to watch it complete only maybe two or three times .. .but cue to the songs all the time!

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    Tony Bensley
    Jul 19 2014 12:20 PM

    For me, the great flaw of an otherwise lovely transfer is Criterion's lack of decent chapter points to the songs. The Beatles WERE the songs. Although Richard Lester made a very pleasing film, I would want to watch it complete only maybe two or three times .. .but cue to the songs all the time!

    Hi AnthonyClarke!

     

    This is a great plus of "The Beatles 4 Complete Ed Sullivan Show Appearances,"  though I usually watch the complete Episodes, anyway.  I wasn't quite born when the first three aired, and though I've never seen any of the former Beatles' perform live, I did get to see the late Davy Jones at our North Bay Heritage Festival almost 10 years ago, and it is a great thrill to me that I got to shake the hand of somebody who actually appeared on that February 9, 1964 broadcast, though I wasn't really too conscious of that fact at the time!

     

    Anyway, getting back to the chapter points:  While I think this would have been a nice little bonus, in my opinion, when it comes down to discussing such minor quibbles, it's generally a strong sign that the crucial things were really done right!  My own personal quibbles are that the "You Can't Do That" Film Clip looks as though its Video was unnecessarily put through some sort of Filter that certainly didn't help its appearance, and I would also have liked to have seen the Original 1964 U.S. and UK Trailers play in their entirety.  However, given the amazing looking (Especially the Blu-Ray!) and sounding results for the Movie itself, and lots of great Bonus Features (Including the Commentary Track that I believe was supposed to be on the 2002 Miramax DVD.), the minor quibbles are in my opinion, just that!

     

    CHEERS!

     

    Tony