The Beatles, ‘Help!’ – Film Review
When the Beatles began filming ‘Help!’ in February 1965, they were overworked and superpowered.
Within the past two years they had released four albums, more than a dozen singles and a movie. Basically, they could do no wrong when they, along with director Richard Lester (who helmed their 1964 film debut ‘A Hard Day’s Night’), went to the Bahamas to start work on ‘Help!’ No matter what they came up with, it would be a hit. Guaranteed.
Things could have turned out a whole lot worse, or better, depending on your perspective and given the movie’s production history. The Beatles were smoking a ton of pot in early 1965. And it shows – but not in a bad way, like in 1967’s hour-long vanity project/travesty ‘Magical Mystery Tour.’ ‘Help!’ – now available on Blu-ray – is fun, playful and colorful. The famous “haze of marijuana” that they claim hovered over them during the movie’s shoot is evident, but it gives their 007 parody a welcoming lightness.
The plot is barely there: A sacred ring used in an ancient sacrifice ends up stuck on Ringo’s finger. The bad guys get wind of this and chase the Beatles around the globe to retrieve the sacrificial ring. That’s pretty much it. But, like ‘A Hard Day’s Night,’ ‘Help!’ includes a bunch of new songs performed by the band, which is pretty much the film’s main purpose. In the pre-MTV era, this was crucial. And for the first time on the big screen, the Beatles were in color.
So ‘Help!’ makes it on the strength of its songs. And there are some great ones here: ‘You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,’ ‘Ticket to Ride,’ ‘I Need You,’ the title track and others are each presented as individual set pieces. The action stops as the Beatles break into song while they lounge around their shared apartment, hit the snowy Austrian Alps and are chased around the globe. It’s a good movie and an occasionally funny one. But without the songs, it’s a bit self-indulgent and short on ideas.
But the Blu-ray remaster (taken from the 2007 DVD) looks great. And it sounds even better in the sterling surround-sound mix. The musical moments are the highlights, but the movie’s on-location footage (from London to the Bahamas) frames the Beatles in glorious mid-‘60s portraits. A half-hour documentary about the making of the movie – which reveals some backstage scenes of the group – is the best of the extras. But the greatest material made it onscreen. Almost 50 years later, it’s still a hazy kick.