A Hard Day's Night Miramax Collector's Series
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In 1964, the Beatles had just recently exploded onto the American scene with their debut on "The Ed Sullivan Show." The group's first feature, the Academy Award-nominated "A Hard Day's Night," offered fans their first peek into a day in the life of the Beatles and served to establish the Fab Four on the silver screen, as well as to inspire the music video format. Songs: I'll Cry Instead, A Hard Day's Night, I Should've Known Better, Can't Buy Me Love, If I Fell, And I Love Her, I'm Happy Just to Dance with You, Ringo's Theme (This Boy), Tell Me Why, Don't Bother Me, I Wanna Be Your Man, All My Lovin', She Loves You.
None of the remaining Beatles participated in the DVD supplements for A Hard Day's Night, but you get an abundance of the next best thing. The film's surviving cast and crew members were assembled for an extensive series of retrospective interviews, resulting in a totally fab tapestry of detailed reminiscence. Virtually all of the major and minor players are included, from director Richard Lester and musical director George Martin, to publicists, Beatles' friends, and key offscreen personnel. The result is a vivid portrait of British film production in the early '60s, placing A Hard Day's Night in rich context to further appreciate its groundbreaking audacity. Particularly amusing are vintage clips from the Brit-com Steptoe and Son in a tribute to character actor Wilfrid Brambell (a.k.a. Paul's "very clean" grandfather), and a Ringo remembrance by actor David Janson (from the film's memorable "Ringo's Theme" sequence). Best of all is an interview with Klaus Voorman, whose connection with the Beatles goes back to Hamburg in the early '60s (pre-Beatlemania), and whose affectionate, still-vivid memories add a wonderful touch of intimate nostalgia. Arguably, these and other interviews create a more fan-friendly portrait than the Beatles could've provided. With extensive DVD-ROM features including Alun Owen's original first-draft screenplay and an extensive Web site archive, the Hard Day's Night DVD is definitely not grotty! --Jeff Shannon
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However, this release is imperfect. The stereo sounds a bit muddy and the picture is cropped though not quite as bad as the Criterion release. Why is it so hard for distributors to release this classic uncropped?
As for how this compares to the Criterion Collection version, it all depends on what you're looking for. The Criterion release is better restored and has better sound, and is less expensive. However, this version is less cropped. It also has more extra features. I prefer the Criterion because of the restoration but to each his own as they say.
As to the film itself, I would like to address the sound issues discussed by previous reviewers. Yes, in an age where we are all used to hearing the digital upgrades to the studio recordings on modern sound equipment, the sound will seem muddy. When a source close to the project said "blame Apple," he meant that the Beatles' licensing company had insisted that, from now on, the soundtrack must be authentic. The 5.1 soundtrack on the DVD and Blu-Ray does modify the sound (and previous calls for an alternate original mono track should be heeded), but is made entirely from the original film track. When songs begin, the sound is moved off of the center channel and out to the left and right channels. A very slight delay is added to the rear channels to provide a sense of depth, but it does not come off as added echo. (The reverb added to "Tell Me Why" was also on the original soundtrack album - along with a good deal of left to right panning!) Basically, the tracks remain in their original mono, and, more importantly, in their original movie mixes.
Aside from the obvious single-tracking of Paul's vocal on "And I Love Her" and John's in the intro to "If I Fell" (which, by no intent of the Beatles, became the mixes used on the U.S. single of those two songs), there are other, more subtle changes in the mixes made to accommodate the film. (Guitars are brought forward when the camera is on them, the drums when it moves in on Ringo, and so on.) There are also sound effects which were lost when stereo versions were substituted (such as when John knocks over the music stand during "And I Love Her.")
In short, the sound may not be up to the albums we listen to at home, but it is what we heard in theaters in 1964 (if we could hear it at all over the screaming!)
As to the picture, the widescreen video does cut off a small bit of the top and bottom of the picture we saw on the VHS tape, while showing a silght bit more on the sides. It should be remembered, though, that the film was shot and framed for widescreen viewing. (Note how the credits are placed far from the top and bottom of the screen. There is also no feeling of cut-off heads or action missed offscreen.) Widescreen was the norm in theaters in 1964, and most theatrical prints were made to accommodate them. We did not watch a square picture in theaters when we saw the film in 1964 - we watched the Beatles explode across the wide screen! The square picture on the MPI VHS version was a nice accommodation for square TV's, but the widescreen on the current release is far closer to the original presentation. And plugging in the stereo versions of the songs may have been a sonic upgrade, it was a move away from what the producer created.
I wish that the Blu-Ray had been an actual 24/fps transfer from a film source, and I wish that an alternate "true mono" soundtrack had been provided - but all in all, it's an excellent presentation the original film in its original form. Yeah, yeah, yeah!