I’m almost embarrassed to admit this as a lifelong Beatle fanatic, but up until doing this review I had never actually had an opportunity to see the movie Wonderwall. This 1968 psychedelic film trip (and inspiration for the Oasis song of the same name, in case you were wondering), was never really shown here in the states while I was growing up (if it was, I wasn’t aware of it at that young age anyhow). All I knew about the movie was that there was a soundtrack album by George Harrison, the first release on Apple Records — in fact it was the first album released by a solo Beatle!
Judging by the album cover — which shows a bowler-hatted man on one side of a brick wall, while on the other side there are semi-erotic Indian-styled drawings of seemingly naked women swimming in a lake — I assumed the movie was going to be about India or feature Indian actors/actresses. When I heard the soundtrack it was mostly Indian inspired music ala Ravi Shankar, with sitars and chanting voices and such. There were also some instrumental rock/pop tracks on it that sounded like outtakes from The Beatles’ White Album sessions, but for the most part it was a very exotic sounding affair that conjured up images of mystical gurus, spiritual journeys and hookah pipes in smoke-filled Hashish parlours.
In the early 00s, Rhino put out — via their newly minted “Handmade” imprint — a limited edition box set featuring a DVD and Book about Wonderwall. It looked cool, but me thinking the film was going to be just an obscure bit of Bollywood mayhem, I passed on buying the set (it was quite pricey!). Blu-ray was just about starting to be launched around that time, so I opted to wait for the Blu-ray version of Wonderwall…
Well, I finally got the Blu-ray — it just took 10 more years for it to be released!
So here I am amazed reading the copious liner notes (probably repurposed from the DVD release) learning that Wonderwall has little if anything to do with India other than as a vehicle for George Harrison’s soundtrack music (which was intended to simply turn more people onto India music!).
Wonderwall is a wondrous film, a travelogue of sorts documenting the swinging and very psychedelic pop side of the late 1960s culture.
Let me get to the review portion here: Wonderwall looks great in its 1080p 16×9 presentation made off a “extensive hi-definition restoration by the Pinewood Studios film restoration team….” (according to notes on the Blu-ray packaging). This a snapshot of mid-60s London, with darks and lights and lots of splashy, rich psychedelic colors and artwork (by Dutch artists The Fool!) betwixt and between.
So, it is what it is — I mean… don’t go into this expecting a widescreen cinemascope type film of on the scale of Star Wars or Lawrence of Arabia or even A Star is Born. That said, Wonderwall has its charms and is certainly a COOL film to look at.
It is also fun to LISTEN to! Wonderwall sounds real good in its simple 5.1 presentation. Perhaps my only area of disappointment is that the mix is not super immersive — to my ear it sounds like they repurposed the original stereo elements and just spread them around the surround speakers a bit, with the rear channels used mostly for ambiance. I can’t help but think if ever there was an opportunity for a film that would warrant a crazy, ping-pong-y, deeply immersive surround mix, this would be it. But that is not the case; the movie instead just keeps your attention pretty much front and center with eyes on the screen.
There IS a bonus Directors Cut which adds music from the original sessions not used in the original film. So that is a good thing.
But what’s the story about? Oh right. I figured you’d ask about that eventually. At its root, Wonderwall tells a simple tale of a lonely little man becoming aware of his passing life and the possibility of joyful love and a sense of purpose outside his dingy work life studying molecules in a laboratory. From the Blu-ray packaging, they describe it thusly: “…. a reclusive professor becomes infatuated with beautiful model Penny Lane, the girlfriend of a Svengali like photographer. The professor embarks on a noble quest to become her champion. To rescue Penny, he enters the magical realm of the Wonderwall and returns to his laboratory a transformed man.”
Neither description does the film justice because really, the story is almost secondary to the shear surreal flavor of the imagery. So, yes there IS a story and it is a nice story, but enjoying this film is more about letting your mind go to the point where you can appreciate the whimsical sights and sounds of the swingin’ 60s in London.
So kick back, turn down the lights and turn up the sound in your home theater room to immerse yourself in the the world of Wonderwall.
Perhaps afterwards you too will become a transformed…
Mark Smotroff is a freelance writer and avid music collector who has worked for many years in marketing communications for the consumer electronics, pro audio and video games industries, serving clients including DTS, Sega, Sony, Sharp, AT&T and many others. www.smotroff.com Mark has written for EQ Magazine, Mix Magazine, Goldmine/DISCoveries Magazine, BigPictureBigSound.com, Sound+Vision Magazine and HomeTechTell.com. He is also a musician / composer whose songs have been used in TV shows such as Smallville and Men In Trees as well as films and documentaries. www.ingdom.com Mark is currently rolling out a new musical he’s written: www.dialthemusical.com.