Tracking Surround: Help! DVD

Apple/EMI DVD
Movie ••••• Picture ••••½ DVD Mix ••••½ Extras •••½

This isn't Help! the original Beatles album on Parlophone, nor is it Help! the "Original Motion Picture Soundtrack" on Capitol. It's the 1965 film itself, finally back on DVD. So shouldn't this review be appearing under "DVD Reviews"?

To be sure, the fully refurbished 1.75:1 picture is a quantum leap over the supposedly repaired 1.33:1 images on MPI's 1997 edition. That release, in its technical notes, claimed the movie "underwent a complete restoration process." As if! Seen now, its color, resolution, and cleanliness are all woefully substandard.

Surprisingly, the person who oversaw that release, Paul Rutan, was the film-restoration supervisor for the new DVD. But now, when he and his colleagues appear on-camera in the extras to describe the movie's frame-by-frame rehabilitation, you believe them, because the proof is in the picture. All dirt has been seemingly vacuumed away. And the colors are striking, from the multiple greens on Salisbury Plain to the all-important sacrificial reds.

Those extras, on a second disc that totals only an hour, aren't voluminous. But what's here is choice. Besides the fascinating restoration info (and the usual trailers), you get discussion of a deleted scene and, best of all, new cast-and-crew interviews, including the still-amusing director Richard Lester and the still-delicious actress Eleanor Bron. Want more? The deluxe edition has a 60-page book, a reproduction of Lester's annotated script, lobby cards, and a poster.

Meanwhile, like the picture, the overall sound is a revelation as well. What was once tinny on the MPI DVD is now lifelike and resonant. More important, and - attention! - the reason this review appears here: What was once only Dolby Digital stereo is now DTS 5.1. And for us multichannel-music mavens, there's nothing more important than getting the Beatles in surround sound, song by song, one small helping at a time.

In this Help!-ing, we get the first multichannel versions of "I Need You," "The Night Before," and "Another Girl," all sounding expansive and luxuriant in Guy Massey's mixes. And even though we did get "You're Going to Lose That Girl," "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away," and half of "Ticket to Ride" on the Anthology DVD set 4 years ago and "Help!" on the Love DVD-Audio disc just 1 year ago, Massey's versions are more enveloping and discrete than Peter Cobbin's on the former and Giles Martin's on the latter. And the movie's incidental music, too, is in good surround (by Massey and Sam Okell). I can say much more, but ...

Oh, yeah - the film itself? The standard critical line has been that it pales in the light of A Hard Day's Night. But I've never bought into that, either yesterday (in '65, when I first saw the movie at a drive-in) or today - especially today, now that the film resembles Christopher Guest directing an installment of Austin Powers. Like the setting on Ringo's ring, Help! is a gem of its own. And the way it looks and sounds here is way beyond compare.

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