By Mark Smotroff
Finally. The Beatles are preserving their legacy for future generations. It began with the release of a restored Yellow Submarine this year.... and Paul McCartney's stellar solo album box sets last year.
Magical Mystery Tour (MMT) on Blu-ray Disc (and DVD) is a special event as the film had been ignored for so long -- most fans had given up hope that they would ever see a good print of the 1967 hour-long made-for-TV movie.
What a treat to see a restored print off the original 16mm film elements!
What a treat to HEAR the soundtrack cleaned up!
Contrary to many opinions, as a film -- a work of art, and a period statement by The Beatles -- I feel MMT has aged surprisingly well...
• IF you like Monty Python's Flying Circus (and films by their members like Terry Gilliam) you will grok MMT's influence.
• IF you are not into that sort of thing, MMT's charm will be lost on you.
MMT is a comic acid trip, a glowing technicolor daydream into the psyche of the Swingin' '60s. This is an extension of Sgt. Pepper as The Beatles don personas from ballroom dancers to the spiritual parents of The Banana Splits.
It gets real weird and goofy, as a fun showcase for mad oddballs (wizards, Mr. Bloodvessel, Jolly Jimmy, evil Vicars, height-challenged wrestlers, etc.) sing alongs, dream sequences, largely improvised dialogue and even bits of animation. The sped up race scene is classic wacky races; Ringo handles the MMT bus like a Porsche while George buzzes around in his psychedelic Mini Cooper.
MMT is mostly a set up for presenting then-new (now, classic) songs to the world as lip synch, music video prototypes ( "Fool on the Hill," "Blue Jay Way" and the title track). Production numbers like "I Am The Walrus" and "Your Mother Should Know" sparkle.
How does it look? Amazing! This film has never looked better and is a welcome change from the scratchy, faded DVD print that was around for years. Is it a "demo-worthy" reference video? Er... not so much. MMT looks way groovy for what it is, but there is only so much you can expect from old 16mm film.
How does it sound, you ask? Real good.
Just real good?
Yes. Not fantastic.
Here's why: they didn't do a fresh, complete sync of a new surround mix of at least the music portions to the film. My guess is that they simply couldn't, that original isolated dialogue and effects elements are long lost. Still, the 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio and PCM stereo 2.0 tracks sound plenty full, crisp and enjoyable.
If you want to hear more immersive mixes of this era of Beatle music, seek out the Deluxe Edition CD+DVD set of Cirque Du Soleil's "Beatles: Love" show which has a fantastic aggressive surround mix of "...Walrus" on it. The DVD of Beatles Anthology contains "A Day In The Life" in true surround!
The high quality full-color, beautifully laminated MMT box set is a treat for hardcore fans with Blu-ray and DVD versions of the film, a lovingly made commemorative book and a fabulous repro of the original double EP 45 RPM soundtrack that was originally issued only in the UK (repressed in mono off the newly remastered mono mix tapes). You even get a ticket for a MMT trip!
All that is missing is a nice rainbow-colored vinyl 180-gram LP version of the US issue (in mono, of course). Perhaps we'll get lucky when the new mono Beatle LP remasters come out in 2013. And hopefully before I die The Beatles will see it fit to put out a comprehensive Blu-ray collection of all of their promotional films in complete form, in 5.1 surround and high definition audio and video (not the snippets shown on the Anthology box set). Until then, MMT on Blu-ray is now the best way to see - and hear - this period of The Beatles' work.