A Hard Day’s Night appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.75:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Expect a yerrific transfer.
For the most part, sharpness appeared great. Although a few shots displayed a smidgen of softness, the majority offered nice clarity and delineation. Any softness stemmed from the style of photography, and even then, the movie remained pretty tight. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and I saw no edge haloes.
Print flaws caused no distractions, as the movie showed no specks, marks or other defects. I detected no signs of digital noise reduction, as the film boasted nice, natural grain, and blacks were strong; dark tones demonstrated solid depth. Shadows were also positive, and the film showed a good sense of contrast, as it never appeared either too dark or too bright. The movie looked great.
In addition to the film’s original monaural soundtrack, the film came with a new DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack. Across both, dialogue tended to be a bit metallic but the lines were always intelligible and lacked edginess or notable problems. Effects felt about the same; they didn’t get a lot to do in this chatty affair, but they were reasonably accurate and concise.
Music became the most significant presence and sounded very good in both versions. As noted in the disc’s booklet, some songs showed a lower pitch compared to the original, as the use of some 25 frames per second photography occasionally wound up with this slight change. It’s slightly distracting to fans who know the source well, but it represents the movie as it ran theatrically.
Even with this lowering of pitch, the music sounded fine. The songs gave us nice clarity and accuracy, as they reproduced the original recordings in a satisfying manner.
Of course, the soundscapes differed, though music remained the biggest difference. The 5.1 track used the side and rear channels to involve the listener in the sings, and it did so well; the instrumentation spread around the room in a satisfying way.
Effects also opened up the setting in a moderate manner, as locations like the train broadened horizons a little. However, that was a less engaging aspect of the track when compared with the music; as I noted earlier, the film focused on dialogue and music, so the effects didn’t get a lot to do.
Which track did I prefer? I thought it was a toss-up, honestly. As a general rule, I prefer original mixes, and I’d probably stay with the mono audio for future viewings. However, the 5.1 version did have its appeal, largely due to the breadth of the music. That made the 5.1 track a more than viable option, even if I ultimately would go with the mono mix simply due to my own preferences.
How did the Blu-Ray compare with the Criterion DVD? Audio had a little more pep and warmth. There wasn’t a ton that the lossless material could do to improve the non-musical segments – they weren’t very well-recorded – but I still preferred the Blu-ray’s sound.
Similar thoughts greeted the visuals. The DVD looked pretty terrific given the format’s restrictions, but the Blu-ray was tighter and more natural. I don’t think it crushed the DVD, but it was an obvious improvement.
This release offers the same extras as the DVD along with a few others. We open with an audio commentary from actors John Junkin, David Janson and Jeremy Lloyd, cinematographer Gilbert Taylor, associate producer Denis O’Dell, second AD Barrie Melrose, and assistant editors Pamela Tomling and Roy Benson. The track used a mix of group sessions that got cobbled together into this edited piece. The program covers cast and performances, sets and locations, cinematography and editing, memories of the Beatles and other movie-related subjects.
With so many participants, the commentary occasionally becomes a bit scattered/overwhelming, and the information on display can tend toward the superficial side of the street since we don’t get the movie’s main movers/shakers. Still, the track does provide nice stories and thoughts about the production, so it deserves a listen; it may not be a great piece but it adds to our appreciation of the film.
To hear from the Fabs themselves, we go to the 18-minute, two-second In Their Own Voices. This mixes circa 1964 comments from the Beatles with behind the scenes footage and stills. While it’s too bad we don’t get more modern remarks from Paul or Ringo, this compilation gives us a nice collection of thoughts from the band.
In addition to reissue trailers from 2000 and 2014, we get a 1994 documentary called You Can’t Do That: The Making of A Hard Day’s Night. Hosted by Phil Collins, it runs one hour, two minutes and 10 seconds as it presents notes from film critic Roger Ebert, musicians Peter Noone, Micky Dolenz and Roger McGuinn, screenwriter Alun Owen, New Jersey fan club president Debbie Gendler, producer Walter Shenson, wardrobe designer Julie Harris, director Richard Lester, AMPAS Film Archives director Michael Friend and actors Victor Spinetti and Norman Rossington. The show looks at the film’s genesis and development, the screenplay and adapting the Beatles to the big screen, cast and performances, sets and locations, the movie’s title, music, the movie’s reception and legacy.
The program benefits from the inclusion of some primary participants like Lester, Shenson and Owen. That said, it never quite becomes a great documentary. It covers Night in a satisfactory manner but lacks true depth, as it always feels a little too simplistic and superficial. It’s an enjoyable show but it doesn’t excel.
Also found on the 2002 DVD, Things They Said Today provides a general documentary about the production. It runs 36 minutes and 17 seconds and features notes from former United Artists executive David Picker, music producer Sir George Martin, Beatles publicist Tony Barrow, actors Victor Spinetti, Lionel Blair, John Junkin, Jeremy Lloyd, Anna Quayle, and Terry Hooper, movie producer Walter Shenson, director Richard Lester, screenwriter Alun Owen, associate producer Denis O’Dell, musician and Beatles acquaintance Klaus Voorman, second assistant editor Roy Benson, hairdresser Betty Glasow, photographer Robert Freeman, tailor Gordon Millings, cameraman Paul Wilson, and director of photography Gilbert Taylor.
Phew! That’s a large roster of folks, but don’t expect equal participation from all of them. Some of the people pop up for only a line or two, while others provide more substantial participation. Of this crew, we hear the most from Lester, Shenson, and Picker. Overall, “Said” offers a fine overview of the production. We learn how the project came into existence and go through a myriad of aspects of the shoot. We get notes about the script, the locations, the additional cast, working with the Beatles, the music, the film’s reception, and many other elements. “Said” gives us a consistently entertaining and informative piece.
Under Anatomy of a Style, we hear from story editor/screenwriter Bobbie O’Steen and music editor Susana Peric. Over 17 minutes, seven seconds, they “deconstruct” five of the movie’s music scenes and give us insights into the methods used. Some of this tends toward praise, but a reasonable mix of details emerges.
Known as one of the reasons Richard Lester got the job as director for A Hard Day’s Night, 1959’s The Running, Jumping and Standing Still Film lasts 11 minutes, 10 seconds. “Devised by Peter Sellers”, the short lacks dialogue and simply shows a few oddball characters as they do oddball things in a field.
I guess Running falls into the category of “you had to be there”. I suppose it was delightful and funny 55 years ago, but honestly, I can’t discern many charms. That said, it’s an important piece of Beatles-related history, so I’m glad to see it here.
With Picturewise, we find a discussion of Lester’s early work. The program goes for 27 minutes, 13 seconds and comes with narration from actor Rita Tushingham along with audio remarks from Lester himself. We get thoughts about influences, Lester’s films and how these manifest A Hard Day’s Night as well as info about the director’s post-1964 flicks. The show presents a fair number of interesting thoughts.
Author Mark Lewisohn chats during The Road to A Hard Day’s Night. During this 27-minute, 43-second piece, Lewisohn gives us some background on the background of the Beatles as well as their development pre-1964. Lewisohn knows his stuff and gives us an efficient overview.
Footnote: among many other Beates-based books, Lewisohn put out All These Years: Tune In in 2013. The first in a series of three volumes, Tune In presents an insanely ambitious look at the Beatles and delivers a terrific read. I feared a nearly 1000-page tome that ends in 1962 would become a tough slog, but instead, Tune In becomes fascinating from start to finish. I highly recommend it – and you can find a link to it on Amazon at the top of this page, he said with no shame.
Finally, a 10-page booklet concludes the set. It offers an essay from film critic Howard Hampton as well as photos and disc-related notes. It doesn’t become a great extra, but it adds value to the package.
Since I was negative-three-years-old when A Hard Day’s Night hit movie screens, I can’t fully appreciate the flick’s impact. However, when I watch this delightful and intelligent piece, it gives me as good an approximation of Beatlemania that I’ll ever get. After 50 years, Night remains a lively and witty film that continues to provide an enjoyable experience. The Blu-ray presents excellent picture, positive audio and an informative set of supplements. This becomes a terrific release for a delightful movie.
To rate this film, visit the original review of A HARD DAY'S NIGHT