MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR
Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: The Beatles, Ivor Cutler, Neil Innes, Nat Jackley, Jan Carson, George
Director: The Beatles
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Full Frame 1.33:1
Features: See Review
Length: 53 minutes
Release Date: October 9, 2012
“Don’t get historical!”
Film *** (for die-hard Beatles fans)
In 1967, on the heels of one of the greatest and most influential albums of all time, the world’s greatest and most successful rock band could do no wrong. Well, almost.
Magical Mystery Tour was the first movie created by The Beatles themselves under their new Apple Corp banner. It was written and directed by themselves (and you have to use the words “written” and “directed” loosely), featured some new songs, and basically gathered the band, some actors and friends, and put them all on a bus for a magical adventure. It was intended for release on British television.
The project has high spirits, and definitely draws on some respected film influences like Jean-Luc Godard and Stan Brakhage, and was an obviously influence on the likes of Monty Python. But at best, it was a hit and miss effort…you can’t just approach a project with that much randomness and hope every moment will be a winner.
There are some funny moments, such as the British sergeant’s energetic but nonsensical speech, as well as Ringo’s banter with his “aunt”, and a classic slapstick gag involving the whole team gathering inside a small tent that is much bigger on the inside (owing to a classic Popeye cartoon, if I’m not mistaken).
But a great deal of the film is spent wandering around in search of an idea. I don’t mind a little strangeness or goofiness, but there should be some kind of gel holding it all together, some kind of direction, and some kind of cohesive structure.
Of course, The Beatles are The Beatles, and if you love them as much as I do, nothing they do seems like a complete waste of time. This film is hit and miss, but there are some hits, not the least of which are some terrific new songs. “I Am the Walrus”, “The Fool on the Hill” and the title track run the gamut from adventurous to grand to just plain fun. Put those moments in any film and that film is instantly much better than it was before.
And at around 50 minutes, the movie doesn’t stay long enough to wear out its welcome.
When the film was first shown on the BBC, it was broadcast in black and white, much to the dismay of the band. The studio quickly scheduled a re-broadcast in color.
It didn’t really work either way. Reviews were mostly mediocre to unkind, and the movie never even got a proper release in the United States (though the soundtrack album, complete with some extra singles, was a huge hit). Yet today, many film students consider it an influence…no less a talent that Steven Spielberg called it an inspiration.
If you aren’t the die-hard fan I am, you can knock a star off my rating. But for those of you who have all the albums (and especially if you prefer them in mono to stereo), this is something you just can’t up.
The high definition transfer is a treat…it’s full frame, because it was made for television, but the source material seems to have held up well in addition to enjoying some nice restoration work. It shows its age here and there, but overall, the colors are lively and the images are quite clear.
I never get tired of hearing 5.1 remixes of Beatles’ tunes, and this disc delivers nicely. Fully rounded and potent mixes of some classic songs make this listening experience a treat.
Some very enjoyable extras are included here…after all, how many times do you get to listen to a commentary track from Sir Paul McCartney? There is also a making-of featurette, including interviews with Paul, Ringo, and others who were there.
There is a look at “Ringo, the Actor”, the supporting cast, new edits of the song performances for “Blue Jay Way”, “The Fool on the Hill” and “Your Mother Should Know”, the promo video for “Hello, Goodbye”, and three deleted scenes, including a clip of the band Traffic performing “Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush”.
Oh, and on the main menu screen, look for four very easy-to-find Easter eggs.
Sub-par Beatles is better than no Beatles at all. Magical Mystery Tour is not a great film, but it’s a great disc, loaded with terrific extras and serving as a nice slice of fun from the Fab Four.