Tuesday, November 6, 2007

HELP! The Beatles butchered again!

"HELP!' starring The Beatles is one of my Can-Watch-At-Any-Time favorite movies. If it's on television, I'll drop everything and watch. I've had various video incarnations of the film over the years and I bought them without hesitation, including the Criterion Collection Laser Disc that had the definitive presentation of the film until now.

The movie itself is just about perfect, even moreso than "A Hard Day's Night" in my book. AHDN was a bit too stuffy for me in parts, while "HELP!" is a perfect pop music movie. Today, it came out on DVD for the 2nd time in the US (the first time was via MPI's original remaster in the late 90's which was quickly withdrawn due to rights issues, f$*#'n ABKCO). I've been waiting for a proper DVD release forever, but I waited with some trepidation since the MIRAMAX DVD of AHDN was fairly horrid: Letterboxed, a 5.1 soundtrack made from the original MONO audio (!) and lamentable extras that were a chore to watch.

So, I bring home the new DVD today and find that it was released by APPLE / CAPITOL / PARLOPHONE. Somehow, that didn't impress me, since those companies didn't actually make the movie, they released the music from the movie. Mind you, I bought the 2 disc regular edition as I didn't have $130 bucks to spend on a box set. I'm extremely glad I didn't, since this movie is handled with about the same reverence as AHDN's MIRAMAX release.

First of all, it's Letterboxed 16:9. I know this is a bit of a gray area considering the age of the film, but I personally prefer the film to be presented in academy 1.33:1 ratio. The LBXing, however, doesn't detract from the images and actually hints that the movie was formatted for 1.70:1. It's not too much of a let down, but at least the visual restoration is very well done. The print is blemish free and wonderful in it's Technicolor flourishes.

The audio treatment of the film is quite the different story. I understand completely why, in 1982, the two films were released theatrically and on videotape in a new 2 channel digital stereo mix. Even in it's stereo mix, it at least approximated the sound of the original. Still, it just wasn't the same since the mono mixes of the songs in the films were, in many cases, very different from their stereo counterparts on vinyl. Here, on this DVD, we're given the choices of a PCM 2.0 Stereo track and a DTS 5.1 Surround track. There is no choice of the original MONO track and that is a grave error. One of the first big jokes in the film is that The Beatles' first appearance in their "ALL NEW! ALL COLOR!" movie has them in black and white. The new DTS soundtrack, with it's instruments coming at you discreetly from all speakers belies the effect that the film of their performance in the film is actually being watched by the villains on a 16mm projector! The 5.1 remix doesn't work during other songs, either, since nearly every song has The Beatles performing on camera. I'm watching George playing his guitar right in front of me, so why is the sound coming from the rear right speaker? The only bits that do work are the Ken Thorne orchestrated pieces that SHOULD be coming from all speakers. The 2.0 stereo mix is rather flat and kinda close to the mono mix, but not quite.

The English subtitles track is also problematic in that it's apparently for the hearing impaired with sound effects and music cues parenthetically shown along with the dialogue. It's also not a literal transcript of the screenplay, either, with simplified versions of the spoken dialogue appearing on screen. A lot of asides and, worse, inflections at the beginning and end of sentences are cut away for no apparent reason. I didn't check in on the other tracks (Portuguese and French)

Sadly, there is no commentary track to speak of. You'd think Richard Lester (who wrote a lengthy piece in the accompanying booklet) would have had a moment to step behind the microphone to share anything that came to mind during the course of the film. I suppose, since "HELP!" is sort of a bastard step cousin to AHDN (for reasons I've never truly understood), no one wanted to commit to a proper commentary track.

The second disc houses all of the special features (save for the radio spots; 4 appear on the main menu of disc one and one on the main menu of disc two... all as Easter eggs) and they're pretty standard for "special edition" DVDs.

There is a Documentary on the making of Help (2 actually, one with extra cast and crew reminiscences, and they were both Incorporated into a BBC television special on the film earlier this year) which is pretty straightforward in their mix of interviews with people who were there and behind the scene slideshows. There are 3 Theatrical trailers windowboxed in the 16:9 frame (2 from the US and one from Spain). Strangely, the trailer from the MPI releases is absent, but the trailers that are here give a nice glimpse of the mono mix of "Ticket To Ride", especially the Spanish trailer, which runs without narration. There is also a featurette on the digital restoration of the film. I found it very entertaining and informative, but the average viewer might find it too dry for their tastes. Finally, there is a "missing scene featuring Wendy Richard" which, while not false advertising, certainly isn't what one would expect. Instead of actual footage, we're treated to a series of frame stills and vocal descriptions from Richard Lester and Wendy Richard, who played in the scene with The Beatles and Frankie Howard. Slightly interesting, and I'm sure the actual scene doesn't exist any longer, but the feature could've been worded better. I was being set up for something a bit more special. None of the features from the Criterion Collection LD are present, and that's a pity.

Overall, I'm happy to have the movie in any official form and it does, admittedly, look and sound great. I guess my bone to pick is that, since the soundtrack has been remixed and the image matted off, it isn't a true restoration. It's years ahead of the AHDN DVD release, however. I recommend it completely to everyone since no one has the lofty standards and sour grapes that I do.

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