It’s generally accepted that The Beatles were one of, if not the most creative and innovative musical forces of our lifetimes. What they accomplished in a mere eight years is beyond impressive – it’s staggering. But beyond their musical feats, what doesn’t get as much ink is their big-screen efforts. Aside from one major misstep – Magical Mystery Tour – the celluloid output was almost as impressive as the vinyl offerings. A Hard Days Night followed the four on a manic, cinéma vérité-style romp through a fictional day-in-the-life to create what I’ve always considered not just one of my favorite music films, but one of my favorite films, period. Then there’s Help!. While the band frequently admitted they agreed to do the film simply because they wanted to get away to places like the Bahamas and Switzerland, they somehow managed to produce a mid-’60s surreal masterpiece.
With Yellow Submarine, the group tackled the animated world. Sure, the four actually appear only briefly at the end (actors stepped in to voice their characters during the actual animation), it is without a doubt a “Beatles” movie. And, thanks to the brilliant art direction of Heinz Edelmann and animation work of Jack Stokes and Bob Balser, Submarine stands as one of the best examples of how the medium can push the boundaries of style and innovation.
The plot, such as it is, is secondary to the eye-popping visuals and 11 tunes. The Blue Meanies, whose only response is “no,” have attacked the music-loving inhabitants of Pepperland. A call goes out to the Fab Four, and to run down the list of adventures, bizarreness, and bad puns that follow would take more space than this column has to offer. Suffice to say, and I don’t think I’m upsetting the apple cart too much when I tell you, the day ends up being saved.
Yellow Submarine takes its bow on Blu-ray, and the results are as good as you hope. Having been restored not only frame by frame, but by hand, the image quality is amazing. The colors are bright and clean, and the line detail, which often suffers in animated releases, is very sharp. The audio transfer is no slouch either, with either a 5.1 surround sound mix or the original mono output available.
The special features are plentiful as well, with commentary by Edelmann and production supervisor John Coates, interviews with the actors who actually voiced the characters, as well as a making-of documentary, storyboard sequences, and original pencil drawings to name a few.
Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows
With Robert Downey Jr. already front and center of one of the most popular franchises in theaters, Warner Bros. asks him to do it again with Sherlock Holmes. Sure, the films are successful, but as we’ve seen countless times over the years, success doesn’t equal quality.
The problems with the first Holmes movie haven’t been corrected, and are on full display again in the sequel, A Game Of Shadows.
While the Holmes of Arthur Conan Doyle’s original books was a rigid, intensely thoughtful detective, the Holmes of director Guy Ritchie‘s world is a cross between amped-up Downey’s wisecracks and the action chops of Jason Bourne. Toss in some over-the-top disguises, and the result bears little resemblance to the classic Holmes.
In Shadows, we finally get Holmes’ archnemesis Professor Moriarty, played by “Mad Men”‘s Jarrod Harris. Like Batman’s Joker (also introduced in the second film of Christopher Nolan’s series), Moriarty is one of the classic villains of all time. Unfortunately, here he comes of less like a criminal mastermind, and more like an egotistical fop.
Downey’s charm carries the day, and as long as you don’t care too much about the history of the character, the Holmes films work for what they are – more loud, noisy action flicks.
The main Blu-ray feature is “Maximum Movie Mode,” which is picture-in-picture over the film and amounts to Downey making snarky comments.
— Tim Hiatt