Paul McCartney: In Red Square appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The absence of 16X9 enhancement came as a letdown, and the spotty visuals exacerbated that disappointment.
Sharpness appeared acceptable at best. Close-ups usually presented decent definition, but anything wider than that tended to be dicey. Actually, some broader shots looked fine, but most were ropy and rough. Jagged edges were close to the norm, as they dominated much of the program. Shimmering was of a problem but it occurred. Did edge enhancement occur? Probably, but the shots flew by so rapidly that I couldn’t tell. At least the program lacked source concerns; outside of some light video artifacting in a few darker shots, this was a clean piece.
Colors looked passable. The concert sequences used a subdued palette without too many bright hues. The lights added some color, and McCartney occasionally donned red shirts to contrast the basic blacks worn by his band. I thought colors neither excelled nor collapsed, as they were fine but no better. Blacks looked a bit inky and flat, and shadows tended to be a bit dense, though the program didn’t offer a lot of low-light shots. In the end, much of Square was serviceable, but the preponderance of blocky images knocked down my grade to a “C-“.
Note that my comments applied to the main program: the concert scenes, the interview sequences, and the shots around Russia. Square also included a mix of archival bits that demonstrated a variety of flaws. I didn’t think it was fair to alter my grade because of their presence, but I did want to mention their existence and why I didn’t factor them into my rating.
Although the audio fared better, it didn’t do so by much. Just like Back in the US, In Red Square boasted both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 soundtracks. Unlike Back in the US, however, I discerned virtually no difference between the two. Both the Dolby and DTS mixes sounded identical to me.
Though subdued, I didn’t have too many complaints about the soundfield. As expected, the forward spectrum dominated, which made sense for a concert presentation. Stereo imaging was decent but unexceptional. Guitars and crowd noise popped up in the requisite spots but the general impression seemed a bit mushy. There wasn’t great delineation for the various instruments and they blended together a little too much. The surrounds stayed with musical reinforcement and some cheering, another appropriate outgrowth of the concert format.
Square lost points due to the spotty quality of the audio. Again, the word “mushy” sprang to mind. The audio seemed perfectly serviceable but without much dynamic intensity. Bass tended to be loose and slightly muddy, while highs appeared somewhat tepid and without bite. Overall, it’s not a terrible track, and it did remain listenable at all times. It simply failed to deliver a particularly high quality experience, as it could - and should - have been livelier and more vivid.
A pretty good helping of extras rounds out In Red Square, and these open with a real treat: excerpts from a June 2004 concert in St. Petersburg. This 53-minute and 40-second piece includes 12 of the show’s songs. We get “Jet”, “Got to Get You Into My Life”, “Flaming Pie”, “Let Me Roll It”, “Drive My Car”, “Penny Lane”, “Get Back”, “Back in the USSR”, “I’ve Got a Feeling”, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)”, “The End” and “Helter Skelter”.
“St. Petersburg” starts with a decent nearly 10-minute introduction that looks at the production and tour. From there it launches into the show, which we comes with Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1 and Dolby Stereo 2.0 mixes. The audio seems a little clearer than what we hear for the main program, as it presents peppier high end. However, bass is somewhat weak and the track lacks terribly substantial bottom. Nonetheless, the greater clarity and bite makes this the stronger auditory experience, and I can’t call the bass bad; it just needs a stronger impact.
Visual quality remains about the same as Square, though “St. Petersburg” boasts somewhat better editing. Yeah, it’s still hyperactive and offers too many crowd shots, but at least it sticks with the events at the show itself and doesn’t bother with extraneous nonsense.
While I wish this piece included the entire concert, at least it mostly avoids retreads of songs already heard in the main program. Of course, we get the inevitable “Back in the USSR” - for the third time on this DVD - but none of the other 11 tunes pop up in Square. That makes “St. Petersburg” more valuable, especially given the presence of real rarities like “I’ve Got a Feeling”, “Flaming Pie” and “Helter Skelter”, all songs that never showed up on prior Macca tours. They also do a quick instrumental take on Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxey Lady”. My main disappointment: “St. Petersburg” lacks “You Won’t See Me”, “In Spite of All the Danger”, “She’s a Woman”, “I’ll Follow the Sun” and “For No One”, real rarities prior to 2004. Nonetheless, this is a very cool addition to the set and it clearly makes the DVD much more valuable for fans.
Two featurettes come next. Behind the Curtain: Memories of Red Square lasts five minutes and 57 seconds. We see Paul as he plods around Russia and tells us about his experiences. McCartney talks about his feelings toward Russia and his impressions of the show. Should you expect anything revealing or provocative here? Nope, as Paul does little more than talk about how wonderful everything was.
In Russia and the Beatles: A Brief Journey, we get a five-minute and 45-second program that gives us an odd overview of the two subjects. Essentially it acts as a timeline that presents the events in the USSR and in the Beatles from 1964 to 1970. It makes little sense.
A text Resource Guide lists some web links. We get addresses for the State Hermitage Museum, Novasti, Embassy of the Russian Federation, the Center for Slavic and East European Studies, the World Music Center and A&E’s McCartney page.
Lastly, Square comes with an eight-page booklet. This presents a few photos and extremely laudatory quotes along with tracklistings for both the Red Square and St. Petersburg shows. Although the latter is correct, I think the same hyperactive money who edited the show wrote the details for the Moscow concert. Oddly, the text adds an “It’s” to “Getting Better” and renames “Let ‘Em In” as “Someone’s Knocking on the Door”. Even weirder, it mistakes “Things We Said Today” for “Every Little Thing”.
Even after 14 concerts – with seven more to go this fall - I still get a little charge when I see Paul McCartney walk onstage. He’s not my favorite artist or the best live performer I’ve seen, but my affection for his material stretches back longer than any of my other faves, and I can’t help but think “That’s Paul McCartney!” when he appears.
Too bad the lackluster In Red Square does little to convey that sense of excitement. Half concert film and half historical examination of the Beatles’ impact on the Soviet Union, it doesn’t greatly succeed in other dimension. The musical bits work best but the frenetic presentation lessens their impact.
Both picture and sound seems mediocre at best, but the package includes some good extras highlighted by excerpts of a 2004 concert; those elements work better than those in the main show. The inclusion of quite a few McCartney rarities makes this a definite must have for diehards, but casual fans will likely feel less satisfied with this erratic and mostly unsatisfying program.