July 04, 2014

Review: Essential Beatles movie 'A Hard Day's Night' is back on DVD

There should be a law that “A Hard Day's Night,” which was just re-released by the Criterion Collection on DVD, should never be allowed to go out of print. It is a movie that was a landmark film when it was released in 1964 and still is today.
Movie critics, including the late Roger Ebert, praised it to the skies. “It was clear from the outset that 'A Hard Day's Night' was in a different category from the rock musicals that had starred Elvis and his imitators,” he wrote in “Roger Ebert: The Great Movies.” “It was smart, it was irreverent, it didn't take itself seriously, and it was shot and edited by Richard Lester in an electrifying black-and-white semi-documentary style that seemed to follow the boys during a day in their lives.”

The new Criterion DVD does what the company is famous for – present movies in an intelligent setting for film fans. It starts, of course, with the movie, which looks absolutely fantastic, sharper and cleaner and than ever thanks to a transfer from the original negative.

The audio got a big improvement with this new DVD over the previous Miramax version, which only featured a mono soundtrack. The new DVD features both a Dolby stereo and 5.1 surround audio supervised by Giles Martin. His mix makes the music sound dimensional.

The new DVD reorganized the special features from the Miramax set and includes most, though not all. Some of the DVD-ROM interviews on the Miramax set have been incorporated as commentary. Also included is “The Making of 'A Hard Day's Night,'” which included comments by Ebert and Roger McGuinn, plus Phil Collins showing where exactly he was in the movie.

Two of the new features are especially great. “The Road to 'A Hard Day's Night'” is an interview with author Mark Lewisohn about the history of the movie. The new DVD also includes an over-the-film commentary taken from a discussion from the special features of the Miramax DVD. Not that it's bad, but since it was not made specfically for a commentary track, it sounds disjointed since few of the comments match what's happening onscreen. There's also a new feature called “Picturewise” that looks at Lester's movie style.

There are two versions of the release: a single disc regular DVD and the dual-format version that includes Blu-ray and two regular DVDs which include everything on the Blu-ray. Spend the extra and get the dual-format, which also comes with a great little book with an interview with Richard Lester and rare movie pictures, some in color. You won't regret it.

But don't get rid of that Miramax DVD just yet. While it was criticized in some circles and unfairly for the overabundance of special features, a strange complaint, some of those features are missing in the new DVD, among them access to the shooting script. And the video for “I'll Cry Instead” from the original MPI DVD (and the earlier Voyager CD-ROM) isn't here, either.

Criterion has a respected reputation for its film releases. “A Hard Day's Night,” which will be released in England July 21, is no exception and well worth getting.
(Note: Pattie Boyd will appear at a special 50th anniversary screening this Sunday at Catalina Island in Southern California. You can find information here. Also, "A Hard Day's Night" will open a special theatrical engagement July 4. The theaters are listed on the Janus Films website.)