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A Hard Day's Night: The Criterion Collection Blu-ray + DVD Dual-Format Edition Review

A Hard Day's Night (1964) movie poster A Hard Day's Night

US Theatrical Release: August 11, 1964 / Running Time: 88 Minutes / Rating: G

Director: Richard Lester / Writer: Alun Owen

Cast: John Lennon (John Lennon), Paul McCartney (Paul McCartney), George Harrison (George Harrison), Ringo Starr (Ringo Starr), Wilfrid Brambell (Grandfather John McCartney), Norman Rossington (Norm), John Junkin (Shake), Victor Spinetti (T.V. Director), Anna Quayle (Millie), Deryck Guyler (Police Inspector), Richard Vernon (Man on Train), Eddie Malin (Hotel Waiter), Robin Ray (T.V. Floor Manager), Lionel Blair (T.V. Choreographer), Alison Seebohm (Secretary), David Janson (Young Boy Charley)

Songs: "A Hard Day's Night", "I Should Have Known Better", "I Wanna Be Your Man", "Don't Bother Me", "All My Loving", "If I Fell", "Can't Buy Me Love", "And I Love Her", "I'm Happy Just to Dance with You", "Ringo's Theme (This Boy)", "Tell Me Why", "She Loves You"

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Every truly popular music act gets to appear in at least one movie, whether it's a documentary, concert film,
vanity vehicle (Crossroads), veiled biopic (8 Mile), or something else entirely (Labyrinth). As big a band as any in history, The Beatles naturally received multiple opportunities to make their mark on cinema. The first came in 1964's A Hard Day's Night, a comedy casting the Fab Four as themselves, or at least versions of themselves intended to entertain.

Filmed over seven weeks about a month after their historic appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show", Hard Day's Night opens with the four young men evading the young, predominantly female screaming masses who follow them around. With Beatlemania at its height on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, such fanfare isn't mere invention, which is why any other crowd-drawing celebrity is still likened to these four mop-topped Liverpudlian lads.

The Beatles wonder "Who is that little old man?" regarding Paul's "very clean" grandfather (Wilfrid Brambell).

John, Paul, George, and Ringo, then all in their early twenties, make it onto a train, where they are joined by Paul's heartbroken "other" grandfather (Wilfrid Brambell), a "little old man" everyone notices is "very clean." The boys are a playful lot, chasing girls and cheating at cards. Grandpa is even more of a troublemaker, forging signatures and prompting Ringo to take up artsy photography mere hours before the band is scheduled to perform for television.

Hard Day's Night is something of a mockumentary, providing a comic, self-deprecating look at the lives of these pop sensations. Each of the boys gets their own material: John plays in a bathtub, George trashes teen clothing and television, Ringo endures cracks about his nose. There is fun with fake wigs and beards. And, of course, there are songs, scattered throughout the film.

While John plays in the bathtub, George shaves a mirror. Ringo goes missing to experiment with photography.

One hardly needs to say anything about the music. So widely known and loved are The Beatles that it's almost impossible to judge them objectively or say anything meaningful about their creations. Because of that enduring legacy, this movie assumes greater weight than it has to. It's really a light, fluffy piece of entertainment. Diverting moments, there are a few.
Still, the whole thing wraps up in less than 90 minutes and that's with multiple songs being played multiple times.

Hand-picked by the boys, director Richard Lester, a young American expatriate who had dabbled in British television for a decade, chooses a style befitting the young, exciting stars. Though this is in black and white, somewhat surprisingly, it is full of inventive camerawork: aerial photography, close-ups, pans, zooms, and other camera tricks. The presentation breathes some life into the song performances, though not enough to sustain interest of those few who would dare claim to actively dislike The Beatles' music.

The unmistakable blueprint for "The Monkees", A Hard Day's Night remains frothy fun that inevitably is considered a fundamental part of perhaps the most significant cultural institution of the entire 20th century. Nominated for two Oscars (original screenplay and the since-retired best adapted score), the film celebrates the 50th anniversary of its original theatrical release this summer with admission into The Criterion Collection, who assign it spine #711 in a single-disc DVD and the one-Blu-ray, two-DVD Dual-Format Edition reviewed here.

A Hard Day's Night: The Criterion Collection Blu-ray + DVD Dual Format Edition cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

1.75:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
BD: 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), LPCM 2.0 Mono (English), LPCM 2.0 Stereo (English)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), Dolby Mono 2.0 (English), Dolby Stereo 2.0 (English) Subtitles: English
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: June 24, 2014 / Suggested Retail Price: $39.95
Three single-sided, dual-layered discs (1 BD-50 and 2 DVD-9s)
Digipak in Cardboard Box
Also available as Single-Disc DVD ($19.99 SRP) and on Amazon Instant Video Previously released as 2-Disc Miramax Collector's Series DVD (September 24, 2002)

VIDEO and AUDIO

A Hard Day's Night has clearly been subjected to the finest restoration technology around. As such, its 1.75:1 Blu-ray presentation is nothing short of flawless. Razor sharp and spotless, the picture maintains a suitable amount of light grain and looks ridiculously good for its age.

The English soundtrack is offered in three different formats. The default mono track is presented in uncompressed LPCM 2.0, as is a stereo remix. I listened to a 5.1 DTS-HD master audio remix and found it quite satisfactory. In this, the songs are more full-bodied than the dialogue bits, but all the elements do a nice job of hiding their age, staying crisp and perfectly audible.

Filmmakers Bobbie O'Steen and Suzana Peric praise the film's editing and visuals in "In Their Own Voices." Phil Collins hosts the 1994 documentary, "You Can't Do That: The Making of A Hard Day's Night."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The many extras begin with a big group audio commentary recorded in 2002. It features a host of cast and crew members, including actors David Janson, John Junkin, and Jeremy Lloyd, cinematographer Gilbert Taylor, and assistant editors Pamela Tomling and Roy Benson.
Though lacking the big names you'd dream of, it predictably ends up a spirited track full of warm screen-specific reflections and detailed information about production. Fans of the film should quite relish this track if they haven't already heard it on Miramax's DVD.

On the video side, where all is encoded in HD but most is limited by source material, we begin with "In Their Own Voices: The Beatles on A Hard Day's Night" (18:02), which compiles the band's thoughts on making their first film shared in 1964 during their US press tour. Their audio remarks are set to behind-the-scenes footage and stills.

"Anatomy of a Style" (17:07) sees screenwriter/story editor Bobbie O'Steen and music editor Suzana Peric analyzing five of the film's song performance scenes in terms of composition and editing. Though they occasionally appear on camera, their comments are mostly just set over clips from the performances.

"You Can't Do That: The Making of A Hard Day's Night" (1:02:10) is a television documentary hosted by Phil Collins. Produced in 1994 for the film's thirtieth anniversary, this retrospective celebrates the film with comments from director Richard Lester, producer Walter Shenson, screenwriter Alun Owen, the non-Beatles cast and admirers from Roger Ebert to fan club alumni. In addition to revealing much behind-the-scenes info (including most of the facts on IMDb's trivia page), it even unearths an unused song performance ("You Can't Do That") in which a teenaged Collins appears among the adoring fans.

The 2002 retrospective "Things They Said Today" brings out the big names, like hairdresser Betty Glasow. Peter Sellers monkeys around in a field in Richard Lester's Oscar-nominated 1960 short "The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film." Biographer Mark Lewisohn gives us information on The Beatles leading up to "A Hard Day's Night."

Created for Miramax's 2002 DVD, "Things They Said Today" (36:17) interviews Lester, music producer George Martin, and other supporting cast and crew about the film. They talk about the nitty-gritty of making the film. It's a bit underwhelming among all this content here, but undoubtedly some will be glad to see it resurface here.

A Richard Lester section holds The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film (11:10). Co-written, co-directed, produced by, and starring Peter Sellers, this quickly and cheaply produced black & white 1960 short (made for 70 over two Sundays) wound up with an Oscar nomination and was a favorite of The Beatles, who sought out Lester for their film as a result. It follows men occupying themselves in a field with reading, painting, listening to music, and such.

The same section is where you also find "Picturewise" (27:13), a new video tribute to the comedy of director Richard Lester, focusing on A Hard Day's Night but also addressing everything from his early shorts to 1973's The Three Musketeers. Written and produced by critic/filmmaker David Cairns and narrated by Rita Tushingham, it features some audio remarks from Lester himself.

Another 2014 creation, "The Beatles: The Road to A Hard Day's Night" (27:43) sees Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn discussing the band's origins and evolution through their film debut. Though slightly dry, this detailed biography of the band stands out from the more film-centric extras.

Roger Ebert talks up the film in a documentary and this 2000 theatrical trailer. The Blu-ray menu plays three levels of clips and two songs.

Finally, we get two modern trailers for the film: one from Miramax's 2000 rerelease (2:00) and one for Janus Films' 2014 limited engagement (1:39).

In what appears to be a Criterion first, not all of the bonus features gathered here make it onto the single-disc DVD-only edition (a second DVD is needed to house all the extras assembled here).
Relegated to Disc 2 and thus absent from the DVD-only release are "You Can't Do That", "Things They Said Today", "Picturewise", The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film and "The Road to A Hard Day's Night." At a time when Criterion is getting out of Dual-Format editions and back to separate DVD and Blu-ray releases, this presumably will stand as an anomaly in their catalog, which typically gives all the same content to both Blu-ray and DVD.

The menu plays clips from performances in three squares, alternating between "I Should Have Known Better" and "Can't Buy Me Love." As always, Criterion authors the Blu-ray to support bookmarks and resume playback.

Of course, there's one more thing to address: the packaging, specifically the biggest booklet I've encountered in a Criterion release. Joining the three discs loose inside a boxed Digipak, the softcover companion runs 80 pages. Two articles, extensively illustrated, constitute the bulk of the booklet. "The Whole World Is Watching", an essay by Film Comment writer Howard Hampton, celebrates the film with close analysis and background information on key personnel. The much longer second piece is an interview of director Lester conducted in 1970 and published in 1977, speaking at length and in detail about his creative processes and experiences on the film in addition to touching on his other movies. There's a lot of reading to be had here.

Spoiler alert: The Beatles make their scheduled television performance in full in "A Hard Day's Night."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

A Hard Day's Night is more fun, frolicsome and fascinating than important or great, but its standing as the first Beatles film gives it additional significance it can somewhat live up to. Certainly, no one should object to it making its US Blu-ray debut in The Criterion Collection, treated to a breathtaking restoration and an abundance of substantial bonus features. This Dual-Format Edition is a no-brainer recommendation for Blu-ray-buying Beatles fans. Anyone else with interest would be wise to give it a look too.

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Reviewed June 28, 2014.



Text copyright 2014 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1964 United Artists and 2014 Janus Films, The Criterion Collection.
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.