As time goes by and many great films celebrate their umpteenth Anniversaries, film restoration is becoming more and more of an issue. Sometimes these projects focus mostly on preserving the images as we got to know them, sometimes changes are made and films re-cut to accommodate the filmmakers original intents, and on very rare occasions, films are taken as a whole and completely restored for a new release.
MGM’s "Yellow Submarine" is such a rare example in which practically everything has been given a new shine. The images have been fully restored, the audio tracks have been entirely re-mixed to the current state of technology, and even a scene that had been removed from the film for its US release has been re-inserted into the final movie. After a short and selective theatrical re-run of the film last year, the Beatles’ "Yellow Submarine" has now arrived on DVD and with its flashy colors it can hardly be overlooked!
After doing light entertainment movies like "A Hard Days Night" and "Help!" to complement their music, the Beatles had another film project on their slate in 1968. Due to the band’s edgier attitude at that time, they needed a new direction to take their film efforts to, and with German artist Heinz Edelmann on board, "Yellow Submarine" was born. Having seen eons of love, happiness and music, Pepperland is a haven of peace for its inhabitants some 80.000 leagues under the sea. Big signs of LOVE, PEACE and YES can be found across the Pepperland countryside, while Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band spreads the message through their music, praying "All You Need Is Love." But everything the population of Pepperland holds sacred is despised by the Blue Meanies, and one day they launch an attack on Pepperland, turning it into a lifeless and colorless place with their blue freeze-bombs. Only Old Fred manages to escape in the Yellow Submarine to search for help. In London Ringo is depressed because nothing ever seems to happen in his life, when suddenly he finds himself followed by the Yellow Submarine. Old Fred approaches him for help and the two set out to find Ringo’s lads, Paul, John and George. Together Old Fred and the Beatles travel to Pepperland to free it of the tight grip the Blue Meanies now have upon its picturesque landscape.
"Yellow Submarine" is a weird mix of light-hearted entertainment and intelligent sophistication. The images are not your smooth Dinsey-esque pictures of wide-eyed creatures, but instead collage-like pop-art elements flashing across the screen. At times, the film even uses rotoscoping techniques, in which live action film is redrawn by hand, to great effect. At other times, elements are deliberately distorted, mocked, taken out of context and presented in trippy psychedelic colors, to make "Yellow submarine" not only a fascinating story to follow but also a kaleidoscopic discussion of intellectual issues. This very unique style gives "Yellow Submarine" its distinctive and unforgettable look. It is filled with paradox situations and cleverly written dialogue lines, all very well wrapped up in a film that is sheer fun to watch. It is also interesting how well the film works for different ages, managing to cleverly entertain both young and old.
MGM Home Entertainment’s release of this film on this disc is once again testimony for DVD’s superior quality over other home video formats. Never have I seen colors like this before. The disc unleashes a rainbow of colors, and their richness, the definition, their saturation and stability is outright dazzling, leaving everything I have seen in the dust. Without the slightest hint of over-saturation or color bleeding, "Yellow Submarine" washes your screen with some of the most brilliant colors ever seen on a DVD. The film is presented in its original 1.66:1 widescreen aspect ratio that is sharp and contains a good level of detail. The compression on this RSDL disc is flawless without noticeable artifacts, adding to the film’s stunning look.
Apart from the disc’s fantastic color reproduction it is clearly the audio track that will blow you away. In 1968 recording technology had not yet come to the point that we are used to today and many of the Beatles’ recordings have a thin sounding quality to themselves by today’s standards. MGM also took it upon themselves to completely re-mix the film’s soundtrack to a full 5.1 channel Dolby Digital audio track. If you allow anyone to touch upon the Holy Grail of the Beatles’ work, there can be only one studio in the world to deserve the right to do so, and that is London’s Abbey Road Studios where the Beatles recorded most of their albums. If you are a purist and think modern day re-mixes do more damage than good to original recordings you have to check this one out!
Not only does the soundtrack rock the house with its fabulous bass extension, it also adds a clarity and in-your-face quality to the songs that has never been there before. Actually upon direct comparison of the original soundtrack that can be found on this DVD as well, to the Dolby Digital surround track, one can’t help but notice how thin and lifeless the original recordings sounded. It gets to the point that you will start to wonder if it is still the same recording or if the entire songs have been re-recorded. But then you will notice the slight nuances and musical imperfections from the familiar original recordings, and you know it’s the real thing. This remix is simply masterful and unbelievable!
A number of supplements can also be found on this release from MGM, starting with a full length audio commentary by animator John Coates and designer Heinz Edelmann that is extremely interesting. But also the newly created documentary called "Mod Odyssey" is very enlightening and filled with facts and details. The release also contains a gallery of pencil drawings and still photographs, as well as interviews, a booklet with production notes and… this is certainly a highlight for all Beatles fans, the film’s film score isolated on a separate track in its full 5.1 channel glory. Believe me when I say, that these songs have never sounded so fresh!
MGM Home Entertainment has done a marvelous job to bring "Yellow Submarine" back to glory. The effort that was put into the restoration of this film, and the presentation on this DVD are incredible. Not only does this release appeal to Beatles fans all over the world, it also gives all other DVD owners the chance to enjoy the movie for its unique drawing and animation style, as well as its technical aspects. Check it out. This disc is really cool!