Help! appears in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Very few concerns emerged during this fine transfer.
Really, only sharpness caused any minor disappointments. A few wider shots came across as a smidgen soft. However, these occurred infrequently and weren’t significant enough to form genuine distractions. The vast majority of the film looked concise and well-defined. I noticed no issues with jagged edges, shimmering or edge enhancement, and source flaws were blissfully absent. Some natural grain appeared, but no artificial defects popped up along the way in this clean image.
Colors looked splendid. The movie boasted a broad, vivid palette that the DVD presented in a lively, dynamic manner. Blacks were deep and firm, while shadows seemed clear and easily discernible. This simply terrific transfer exceeded any expectations I had.
And it sounded good, too! In a surprising move, the disc’s only multichannel track came from a DTS 5.1 mix; no Dolby Digital option appeared. We also got a PCM stereo track but not the movie’s original monaural mix. That created a disappointment, as I’d like to have the audio that accompanied the film’s theatrical exhibition.
That said, I felt very pleased with this natural 5.1 track. The movie didn’t attempt to dazzle with its soundfield. Effects created a good sense of place but didn’t overwhelm. Most of the material stayed in the realm of general ambience, without many scenes that broadened matters in a significant way. The elements usually focused on the front, as the surrounds opened up with street noise, planes, and other mild effects but not much else.
Except for music, of course. The songs and score boasted very good stereo imaging and also made interesting use of the surrounds. I wouldn’t classify the remixes as being gimmicky, since they placed music in the rear in a pretty subtle manner. We did get some percussion and reinforcement of the music from the surrounds, though, and the whole thing blended together well.
Music also presented the best sounding aspects of the track. The songs were warm and dynamic, as they replicated the source tunes well. The score fared even better, as the orchestral elements seemed really lively and full. We’d expect a Beatles movie to offer solid musical reproduction, and Help! gave that to us.
The rest of the track didn’t excel to the same degree, but it seemed fine. Speech tended to be a little reedy and thick, but the lines always seemed intelligible, and they lacked edginess or other issues. Effects were also a little thin, though not to a problematic degree. A few effects packed a minor punch, and they all offered better than average reproduction given their age. While I thought the elements other than the music didn’t impress enough to knock my grade up to “A”-level, I still felt very happy with this solid soundtrack.
How did the picture and audio of this 2007 Help! compare to those of the 1998 original DVD? Unfortunately, I don’t have access to that disc, so I wasn’t able to compare directly. However, I know that I thought it offered more than a few picture and audio problems. It was a mediocre product at best, so I’m sure that the 2007 release completely blows it away in terms of quality.
One notable difference between the two stems from their aspect ratios. The old DVD – and all prior home video releases of the film, as far as I know – used a fullframe presentation, whereas this one gives us a widescreen ratio. I’ve yet to find any evidence that settles the debate about which framing is “real”. Some like the fullscreen edition and think it represents the director’s intentions, while others feel the same way about the widescreen ratio.
I’ll say this: the framing here looked very good to me. At no point did I feel that the image seemed cropped or awkward. Compositions remained tight and well framed. I think 1.75:1 was probably the film’s intended ratio, so this one’s 1.78:1 came close. I felt pleased with the framing and could find no reason to criticize it or wish for a 1.33:1 ratio.
All of the set’s extras appear on DVD Two. First comes a new documentary called The Beatles in Help!. This 29-minute and 33-second piece mixes movie clips, archival elements and interviews. We hear from director Richard Lester, director of photography David Watkin, hair and makeup artist Betty Glasow, Apple Corps’ Neil Aspinall, stunt doubles Peter Cheevers and Chris Diggins, costume designer Julie Harris, music video/film director Steve Barron, and actor Eleanor Bron. George Harrison, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Ringo Starr and Brian Epstein appear via period comments. (Don’t pay attention to the subtitles, as they often misidentify the various Beatles.)
The program looks at the genesis of the story and script, the Beatles involvement and acting, additional casting, dealing with Beatlemania, sets and locations, Lester’s interaction with the Beatles, drug use during the production, cinematography, musical numbers, some shoot specifics, costumes, and general thoughts.
We get a decent overview of the production thought this piece. At times it veers more into Beatles worship territory than actual documentation, but it reveals enough useful details about the flick to justify its existence. Add to that a nice collection of archival bits and this is an enjoyable show.
Next comes a missing scene. Alas, this three-minute and 58-second piece fails to show any actual film footage. Instead, we get reminiscences from Lester, Watkin, Glasow, and actor Wendy Richard. We learn about the lost scene and get some thoughts related to it. It’s too bad the footage apparently no longer exists, but it’s good to learn a little about it.
Two featurettes follow. The Restoration of Help! lasts 11 minutes, 22 seconds and includes comments from film restoration supervisor Paul Rutan, digital color restoration Paul Westerbeck, team manager Ken Blaustein, digital restoration artists Kevin Kuwada and Todd Smith, and film color grader Sharol Olson. These kinds of featurettes inevitably tend to become self-congratulatory, and a little of that happens here. Nonetheless, “Restoration” usually acts as a good tutorial on the techniques used to bring a transfer up to snuff.
Memories of Help! goes for six minutes, 25 seconds and features Lester, Bron, Cheevers, Diggins, Watkin, Harris, Glasow, Aspinall, and actor Victor Spinetti. “Memories” essentially acts as a repository for interview snippets left out of the longer documentary. This makes it disjointed, as it follows no coherent path, but some good stories emerge.
Three theatrical trailers appear. We get two US ads and one from Spain. We can also find six radio spots. These are “hidden” in the menus across both discs. Four pop up on DVD One, and the other two are on DVD Two. It’s easy to find them if you click around the main menus of the discs.
Finally, the set includes a 16-page booklet. This piece presents Beatle photos and two essays. Director Richard Lester provides some brief memories of the film’s creation while Martin Scorsese gives us an appreciation for the Beatles, Lester, and the flick. These add a nice touch.
Unfortunately, this disc doesn’t carry over all the extras from the 1998 DVD. It loses a short interview with Lester as well as his famous Running, Jumping and Standing Still Film. It also drops trailers for other Beatle products, some cast and crew biographies, news reels and a bit of behind the scenes footage. I don’t know why the new disc fails to include these elements, but it’s a disappointment.
Help! hasn't aged quite as well as A Hard Day's Night, but it still offers some solid entertainment for Beatles fans. For all of its faults, it remains a fun film that gives us a not-so-candid look at a great band in their prime. This new DVD provides excellent picture and audio as well as a few interesting extras. I’d like more extensive supplements, but the movie looks and sounds better than ever.