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.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 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
Run Time: 1 Hr. 27 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray, DVD3-disc digipak with outer sleeve
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer), DVD-9 (dual layer)
Release Date: 06/24/2014
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 Production Rating: 5/5
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.
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.
Video Rating: 5/5 3D Rating: NA
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.
Audio Rating: 4.5/5
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.
Special Features Rating: 5/5
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.
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!
Overall Rating: 5/5
Reviewed By: Todd Erwin
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