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MOVIE INFO

Director:
Richard Lester
Cast:
John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Leo McKern
Writing Credits:
Marc Behm (story), Charles Wood (screenplay)

Tagline:
Stop worrying! HELP! is on the way!

Synopsis:
John, Paul, George and Ringo are chased around the world by a cult leader who wants Ringo's mysterious ring. With frequent pauses to render hits such as "Help!" and "Ticket to Ride", the boys tangle with a shrinking potion and a death ray.

Box Office:
Budget
$1.5 million.

MPAA:
Rated G

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 1.78:1/16x9
Audio:
English DTS 5.1
English PCM Stereo
Subtitles:
English
Spanish
French
Portuguese
Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:
English
Spanish
French
Portuguese

Runtime: 92 min.
Price: $29.98
Release Date: 11/6/2007

Bonus:
• “The Beatles in Help!” Documentary
• Missing Scene
• “The Restoration of Help!” Featurette
• “Memories of Help!” Featurette
• Trailers and Radio Spots
• Booklet


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EQUIPMENT
Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


Help!: The Beatles (Special Edition) (1965)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 12, 2007)

And now my life has changed in oh so many ways: I first saw Help! back in late 1980, back when I was only 13 years old but I was a major Beatles fan. Help! ran as a special midnight showing at a local theater.

To me, this was a big deal. We now take for granted the easy availability of movies on all sorts of home video formats, but in 1980, it wasn't quite so simple. Sure, VHS and Beta were out there, but they had not yet reached a price level that was readily affordable for the average consumer, and the amount of software available was pretty limited. The same was true for other formats like laserdisc.

So as a 13-year-old in 1980, I either took in the rare theatrical screening of a Beatles picture or I hoped for an even-rarer TV showing. How desperate a situation was this at the time? Well, in the summer of 1980, my family spent some time in Minnesota for my grandparents' fiftieth wedding anniversary. During the week or so we were there, a local drive-in ran a triple feature of FM, The Buddy Holly Story, and Let It Be.

My father knew how much this meant to me, so he was kind enough to take me to the showing. Of course, Let It Be ran last, and since the first movie didn't start until about 9 PM, that meant the Beatles wouldn't hit the screen until around 1 AM. My luck being rather poor, we experienced a massive hail storm midway through Let It Be and they had to stop the film for a while. I wasn't to be dissuaded that easily, so my Dad and I and one other car stuck it out all the way until it ended.

Of course, everything is different now. (Well, sort of - Let It Be has been out of print in any video format for many years - I might have to head back to Minnesota if I want to check it out again.) Other than Let It Be, I can absorb Beatles videos to my heart's delight. A Hard Day’s Night, Yellow Submarine and others can be viewed whenever I'd like. And let's not forget all of the stuff I never dreamed of when I was a kid: do you know how many people I would have gladly killed for a copy of The Beatles Anthology?

While I'm still quite fond of them, I'm not nearly the Beatles fanatic that I was 20-plus years ago. Still, a certain feeling of joy comes over me whenever I watch something of theirs on home video, since I recognize just how much the 13 year old me would have delighted in the material.

Of course, some vague nostalgic glee won't keep me interested in the material. Back then, I was just so darned happy to see the films that it wouldn't have mattered if they were any good; that ain't the case now. So how does Help! hold up?

Decently, I'd say. It was never the greatest film to begin with, as it couldn't live up to the high standards set with A Hard Day's Night. Help! tried to have its cake and eat it, too, as it attempted to replicate the glibness of the earlier film but also expanded the film to include an actual story and make a spoof of the James Bond films.

As a comedy, Help! works on an intermittent basis. It's never as funny or clever as its predecessor, and the humor frequently seems forced. Still, it offers some good bits, such as a villain who emulates Odd Job from Goldfinger with a coonskin cap, and even the weakest parts aren't terrible. Actually, the film seems to improve as it goes along, as I definitely preferred the second half to the first. It appeared that everyone stopped trying quite so hard to be all things to all people and relaxed to some degree.

As in A Hard Day's Night, the Beatles essentially play stereotypical versions of themselves. John and especially Ringo received the best reception for their work in the first film, so they carry most of the load during Help!. That means Paul and George aren't left with a lot to do.

Actually, that latter point is what's mainly wrong with Help!: there's too much emphasis on story and supporting characters and not enough footage of the Beatles being "themselves". Unlike the first film, they all seem somewhat disconnected from each other here, so while we still get the witty banter, it comes across more as lines read from a page. The supporting characters play much more prominent roles than they had in A Hard Day's Night; at times, it seems like the Beatles are the support, not the other way around.

It's still a fun movie, though. The film throws out so much comedic material during its 90 minutes that some of it had to stick, so Help! offers enough entertainment to remain worth watching. Plus, it's always nice just to watch the Beatles play, even if they're lip-synching.


The DVD Grades: Picture A-/ Audio B+/ Bonus B-

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.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.5599 Stars Number of Votes: 25
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Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main