Friday, June 27, 2008

DVD Review: The Beatles' 'Help'

In 1965, hot on the heels of the terrifically successful A Hard Day's Night, the Beatles showcased the tunes from their hit album Help in another Richard Lester comedy film, this one an eponymous spy spoof that was impossible to not love.

Natural actors all, John, Paul, George and Ringo outsmart a religious cult, pack of crooks and a mad scientist who are all in pursuit of a boffing big red ring with magical abilities that Ringo has innocently purchased. The result is 153 quick minutes of slapstick saturated antics with time out for them to belt out "Ticket to Ride," "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away," "The Night Before," and of course "Help," and more.

There are two great things about the 1997 two-disk box set of Help that the Dear Friend & Conscience and I ate up, one rather obvious and the other a wonderful surprise:

* The majesty of the Beatles is without peer.

I love the Stones, the Dead, Joni, Bo, Bob and Sting, but the Fab Four rise above them all. There is a mix of innocence and worldly wisdom in the beautiful faces of these young men, and I felt twinges of sadness knowing that the years after the making of this movie were punctuated by feuding and later tragedy.

* The box set gives new meaning to the term remastering.

There is not merely the expected conversion from theatrical to wide-screen DVD format, but each frame has been painstakingly color corrected with every scratch and speck excised. The remaster is vastly superior both visually and sound wise to the original.

Be sure to take time to enjoy the bonus DVD. It includes behind-the-scenes footage, outtakes, theatrical trailers, a fascinating explanation of the restoration process, and 40-year-later interviews with a crew whose pride in having helped make Help is obvious.

There are a couple aspects of Help that give pause: The xenophobic stereotyping of Indians is painful to watch, and the James Bond knockoff action tends to get a bit tiresome after a while.

I had always wondered if the Beatles did their own stunts. The answer is "mostly," including the sequence in the Swiss Alps where director Lester simply told the lads, none of whom had ever skied, to let 'er rip and filmed the hilarious results.

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