By Mark Smotroff
Hooray! Magical Mystery Tour is out on Blu-ray. However, the 5.1 surround track left some of us who were hoping for something more intense and exciting, flat. So for now we'll have to get our Beatles surround fix from other magical trips. Fortunately, there ARE some good options:
LOVE, the official soundtrack to the Cirque Du Soleil / Beatles show in Las Vegas, is an incredible mash up of fab four music re-purposed and re-invented for surround by none other than Giles Martin, son of Beatle producer George Martin. Every seat in the $100 million theater delivers a dedicated mix to each patron, with the headrest in front bearing a center channel and L-R surrounds from behind. The Wiki says there are 6,341 speakers in the theater! The result is riveting (this writer has seen the show twice so far!). Get the Deluxe CD+DVD edition of LOVE and you'll find that the DVD is in fact a DVD Audio Disc containing the 5.1 surround mix heard in the theater! This is presently the ONLY way to hear uncompressed high resolution Beatles (MLP surround, PCM stereo)!Its an incredible immersive experience, one of the best out there, an instant demo disc. Essential.
YELLOW SUBMARINE was recently reissued on Blu-ray with visuals incredibly restored frame by frame from original animation elements! Fortunately, or unfortunately, they reused the pretty groovy 5.1 surround track from the 1999 DVD, albeit in a new uncompressed DTS HD Master Audio mix. It sounds wonderful. While a brand new mix would have been fab, this one is still great, letting Yellow Submarine's underwater effects surround you as do the strings sections of Eleanor Rigby (for example). The Blu-ray can be found for less than $25.
ACROSS THE UNIVERSE This isn't really a Beatle soundtrack but, it DOES feature music written by The Beatles as reinterpreted by some great talent wfor this stunning film by acclaimed theatrical director Julie Taymor. The beautiful 1080p Hi Def images are complemented by an uncompressed Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack that is demo worthy -- especially as the story reaches the same mid- / late- 60s period as you hear on Magical Mystery Tour and parts of Love. The fabulously tripped out sequence of U2's Bono -- in the guise of a Ken Kesey-esque character -- singing "I Am The Walrus" is spectacular, with swirling enveloping surround sound that (for once!) actually keeps up with the visuals. Main character Jude (played by Jim Sturgess) transforms "Strawberry Fields Forever" into an intense anti-war freakout that a jaw dropper in context (check out the YouTube video clip below) with a surround mix as aggressive as the song. The Abbey Road side one closing opus "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" takes on an entirely new level of meaning as the film takes its other lead character Max (Joe Anderson) into the thick of the Vietnam War -- the scene of the new recruits carrying the Statue of Liberty on their shoulders stomping across the war torn Vietnamese landscape while singing "She's so heavyyyyyyyy" sends a shudder down the spine.
Across the Universe is unique -- and I rarely, if ever use this word -- in that it is the rarest of instances of covers and drastic reinterpretation of Beatle tunes that pretty much all work. It is no accident that they include one of the original Beatle interpreters, Joe Cocker -- who arguably claimed ownership of "With A Little Help From My Friends" after his stunning appearance at Woodstock in 1969 -- in key cameos including a tremendous version of "Come Together" ! The musicians playing this stuff kick ass, performing Beatles music with honor and conviction that neither detracts from or embarrasses the originals. You can find this movie on Blu-ray Disc commonly for under $10 at Best Buy and online at Amazon (there are copies going for an absurdly low price less than $6!). If you love the Beatles, I promise you will enjoy this film. It may even make you cry.