#6 Boxed Set/Live Album/Music DVD for 2007
First Appeared in The Music Box, December 2007, Volume 14, #12
Written by John Metzger
Thu December 13, 2007, 07:00 AM CST
Although fans have been clamoring for upgraded versions of the Fab Fourís albums and films, the remastering of The Beatlesí canon has happened at a snailís pace. Where most outfits have re-released their back catalogues in a single day or, at most, in two or three installments that are separated by only a few months, The Beatlesí offerings have been reissued over the course of 12 years and counting. Beginning with the Anthology series, which succeeded brilliantly in placing the spotlight back onto the bandís almost unfathomably stellar recordings, major re-introductions of The Beatlesí films and solo projects have been interspersed with refurbished greatest hits-style retrospectives. Considering that there is only a finite amount of material available, such milking of The Beatlesí legacy is, of course, to be expected, and, after all, the original CDs, which hit store shelves in the 1980s, actually have held up remarkably well. While surround sound editions of The Beatlesí efforts would be a welcome sight to audiophiles, most folks, many of whom now favor iPods over full-size stereo systems, likely wouldnít care. Likewise, given that the discs would be manufactured to meet todayís standards ó meaning they would be overcompressed ó simply putting new versions of these endeavors on the streets would not do them justice. In the end, everything has come down to walking a line between maintaining interest in the outfit and keeping the market from becoming too saturated.
The Beatlesí second, full-length, feature film Help! is the latest slice of history to receive a complete makeover, and as was the case with A Hard Dayís Night and Yellow Submarine, it has been treated with the level of respect and dignity that it deserves. Although its plot is somewhat more complex than A Hard Dayís Night, it essentially was another chase film that was designed both to feed the fervor that surrounded The Beatles and to promote its music. Help!ís entire storyline was hinged upon a ring that came into Ringo Starrís possession. This time, however, instead of running from fans, the Fab Four traversed the globe, moving from the Alps to the Bahamas, as it fled an Eastern cult that wanted to turn Starr into its next human sacrifice and escaped from a pair of scientists who thought the oversized piece of indestructible jewelry would have allowed them to rule the world.
While Help! hardly could be considered the finest dramatic or comedic venture ever made, its zany hijinks, which often border on absurdist humor, suited The Beatles perfectly. For example, thereís a weird intermission that is hilariously bizarre, and when, a fake, polished granite stone that has been introduced into a curling game explodes and leaves a hole in the ice, a wayward swimmer emerges to ask directions to the white cliffs of Dover. In effect, it was a Peter Sellers-style spoof of a James Bond film, which ought not to be a surprise, given that Help!ís original script actually was designed to be a vehicle for Sellers. Nevertheless, Help! also served as a prelude of sorts to Monty Pythonís escapades, which began four years later and subsequently became an obsession of George Harrison. In addition, much like A Hard Dayís Night, it viewed the Fab Fourís lives through the lens of how fame and fortune had changed them.
The new rendition of Help! comes complete with the usual array of documentaries and interviews regarding the making of the film. Each of the complementary pieces combines vintage footage with newly recorded reflections on the process, and taken in full, these segments provide the appropriate framework for putting the picture into perspective. As for the movie itself, it has never looked or sounded better. Somehow, director Richard Lester managed to keep Help! on track ó that is, he kept it from dissolving in a haze of marijuana smoke and laughter ó and with the help of cinematographer David Watkin and costume designer Julie Harris, he infused the intriguing camera angles and scenic views with splashes of color that captured the psychedelic air that hung over the set.
The soundtrack to Help! was, of course, the filmís raison díetre. At the time, The Beatlesí approach to writing songs was evolving at a ridiculously rapid pace, and Help! marked the dawning of a new era while also providing an indication about where the group would head on its follow-up Rubber Soul. The British version of the album that was associated with Help! featured a hodgepodge of material that seemed as if it was stuck in two different worlds. The simplicity and innocence of Dizzy Miss Lizzy, You Like Me Too Much, and Act Naturally, for example, stood in contrast to the growing sophistication of tunes like Iíve Just Seen a Face and Yesterday. Consequently, it felt entirely transitional in nature.
Similarly, the rendition of Help! that was issued in the U.S. commingled The Beatlesí new compositions with the instrumental interludes that Ken Throne had scored for the movie. Arguably, the seven songs that the group lent to Help! ó Youíre Going to Lose that Girl, Youíve Got to Hide Your Love Away, Ticket to Ride, The Night Before, I Need You, Another Girl, and the title track ó not only built upon the directions that the collective had begun to explore on Beatles for Sale, but it also provided the first real indication that something bigger was afoot in its art. When it came to fruition, it allowed the outfit simultaneously to transcend and augment its own hype.
Presented in DTS 5.1 surround sound, the soundtrack to the DVD rendition of Help! is positively stunning. As the songs spring forth from the screen, the dimensionality of their arrangements consumes everything in its path. Much like Yellow Submarine and, to a lesser extent, the bent and twisted constructs of the Love soundtrack, Help! makes the case that The Beatlesí canon ought to be transformed into an immersion experience. At the very least, the complexity of the groupís work is brought into such an extremely sharp level of focus that the most casual observers simply must appreciate the band for more than just its melodies. Thereís no question that Help! has endured largely because of its music, but even with its flaws, it remains a hilarious, gag-filled, slapstick comedy that provides a peek into more innocent yet strangely more irreverent times.
Help! is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2007 The Music Box