In September 1967 The Beatles embarked on making their third film, this time conceived and directed by themselves. Based on a loose unscripted narrative, in the spirit of the experimental mood of the time, and directed by The Beatles themselves, the film became the vehicle to present 6 new songs - Magical Mystery Tour, The Fool On The Hill, Flying, I Am The Walrus, Blue Jay Way and Your Mother Should Know.
Now, 45 years on, the virtually forgotten film has been fully restored and is being presented properly for the first time.
The restoration of Magical Mystery Tour has been overseen by Paul Rutan Jr. of Eque Inc., the same company that handled the much acclaimed restoration of Yellow Submarine. The soundtrack work was done at Abbey Road Studios by Giles Martin and Sam Okell.
All of the packages contain a host of special features, packed with unseen footage. There are newly-filmed interviews with Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and other members of the film's cast and crew, as well as a director's audio commentary recorded by Paul.
Considered by many to be the most successful musical group of all time, the history of The Beatles is a fascinating tale, filled with numerous artistic triumphs and a few missteps. The year 1967 might have seen them deliver their greatest examples of both.
Frustrated by fans who would scream through their sets rather than listen to them perform, The Beatles decided their 1966 U.S. tour would be their last and they would become a studio band. They were also "fed up with being The Beatles" as revealed in Barry Miles' Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now, and all that that entailed. In response, McCartney came up with the idea of them pretending to be another band, which would allow them the artistic freedom to expand on the experimentation they began on Revolver." The result was Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, which has gone on to become of one the best-selling albums of all time as well as a critical sensation that continues to appear at the top of numerous list of "best rock albums."
In The Beatles Anthology documentary, John Lennon says that since the "stage shows were to be out, we wanted something to replace them. Television was the obvious answer." In September 1967, with McCartney taking the lead, they created what is now known as a longform video in 'Magical Mystery Tour.' The film first aired on December 26, 1967 on BBC1 and the reaction from the press and public was so bad, American TV networks passed on it. After watching it, I can't say I blame them.
Though it's less than an hour long, and it introduced six new Beatles songs, the segments between the songs are slightly unbearable. The scenes feel made up on the fly with little to no connection to each other, coming across like they just took their first ideas and went with them as best they could. In the commentary track, McCartney confirms my suspicions by stating they made it up as they went along. No surprise there, but at least he acknowledges it's indulgent.
A narrator (Lennon) introduces Richard Starkey (Ringo) and his Aunt Jesse (Jessie Robbins), who are taking a Sunday bus tour to see the sights with a group of folks. The tour heads into country and magic begins to happen. The first stop is a military office where McCartney is a commander and another soldier shouts gibberish at them. A jump cut takes everyone to a field where they eventually all get into a race. Later, they pose for a picture taken by a little person, and when he comes out from underneath the camera's cape, he has a lion's head for no particular reason. The tour also takes viewers to a lab where The Beatles appear as wizards who are watching the proceedings and to a striptease lounge where the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band plays their Elvis Presley-inspired number, "Death Cab for Cutie."
What works for 'Magical Mystery Tour' is the songs, which folks will surely skip to on repeat viewings. There is the title track, "The Fool on the Hill," and "Your Mother Should Know" by McCartney, "I Am the Walrus" by Lennon, "Blue Jay Way" by George Harrison, and the group instrumental "Flying." I would have given it a high score if it has just been music videos, but the rest of the material is quite a detriment.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Magical Mystery Tour' is a 25GB Region Free Blu-ray disc in a blue keepcase. The discs boot up directly to the menu screen without any promotional advertisements. Included is a six-page booklet containing a note from McCartney, photos, and credits.
The video has been given a 1080i/AVC-MPEG-4 encoded transfer displayed at 1.33:1. The film was shot on 16mm and the credits state the 2012 restoration used 16mm original materials, so apparently rather than a negative, the film was pieced together from different elements.
Right from the opening animated titles, the video presents bright colors in strong hues, though it is slightly out of focus. Reds, like those seen on the tour bus seats, are vivid, and whites, as seen in the tour bus uniforms are solid. Darker colors like brown and green are duller, and during "Blue Jay Way," the green foliage has a bluish tint. The black seen in suits are deep. However, when there's too much black on screen, it tends to crush and also diminish the shadow delineation, as seen in the last shot before the closing credits.
There are varying degrees of depth, detail, and grain throughout as a result of the different original materials and likely DNR use, which I suspect since the amount of grain is less than what I would expect from 16mm. Some scenes find objects having soft edges, and the more objects in a scene the more likely depth will be negatively affected. There's some banding during "Fool on the Hill" as the camera shoots directly into the sun and intentional degradation of the image during "I Am The Walrus."
The DTS-HD Master 5.1 Surround is near reference were it not for the non-music scenes. As it is throughout for the new Beatles songs, the title track immerses the viewer in music, sounding better than I've ever heard the songs before. The main vocals are front and center. The instruments come through with great clarity and are balanced well with the vocals and effects, even when the latter is intentionally distorted on "I Am The Walrus" and "Blue Jay Way." The LFE delivers a solid bottom end to the arrangements. This is a track that has moments of great dynamic range.
There's a nice bit of imaging during the race as the cars go roaring by, which also receives bass support. When Mr. Bloodvessel announces his love for the Aunt Jessie, a symphonic version of "All My Lovin" plays underneath and swells grandly in the surrounds. The bass of drums and strings can be heard on the LFE.
Lennon serves as offscreen narrator and his information at the beginning of the tour sounds flat and the echo effect doesn't help matters. In fact, much of the looped material sounds flat. Later when narrating the bus trip, a touch of distortion can be heard in Lennon's dialogue. Neither the vocals nor music during the performance of "Death Cab for Cutie" are very clear.
This is such a frustrating release. I wish I could highly recommend it because there are certainly elements that deserve it, but with over half the film not really worth watching, combined with underwhelming video, casual fans would be better served getting the remastered soundtrack when it becomes available. Hardcore Beatles fans likely know what they're getting and will enjoy the remastered audio and new extras.