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Digital Divide: November 2012

| October 31, 2012

Magical Mystery Tour

At the halfway point of their career, The Beatles found the pedal marked “creative experimentation” and floored it. The three years between 1965 and 1967 saw them release the most stunningly original albums in the rock era with Rubber Soul, Revolver, and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. It was a devastating trifecta that has arguably not been equaled since.

The downside of all the success and critical acclaim was hubris – a sense that nothing they could do would fail, and that no excess was too much.

Perhaps nothing represents the folly of this thinking more than Magical Mystery Tour, the film, not the album. For the sheer number of hits and pure pop singles, MMT the album ranks as one of their best. However, the excess comes into play with what ended up on celluloid.

What started out as an idea to have the Fab Four traveling the country in a “magical” bus surrounded by quirky and hilarious characters quickly devolved into a mélange of budget and script problems. By the end of the two-week filming schedule, all involved were reduced to driving around and pointing the camera at anything that looked halfway interesting. The entire mess was severely edited down to an hour, and tossed up on the BBC the day after Christmas, 1967.

Public response to the film was so bad that the original negative was never stored properly, and although it has been available on VHS and other media since, the prints have been of inferior quality.

Now the remastered MMT sees the light of day on Blu-ray. The result is significantly better, if only for the features included. The sound and video quality is vastly superior to any incarnation that has come before, but at the end of the day the film itself is rather embarrassing. However, when scenes such as one directed by John Lennon and featuring Nat Jackley, as well as Ivor Cutler performing “I’m Going In A Field,” neither of which made the final cut, do improve on things.

There’s also commentary by Paul McCartney, as well as new edits of the performances of “Your Mother Should Know,” “Blue Jay Way,” and “The Fool On The Hill.”

Magical Mystery Tour, the film, remains a minor blip on the Beatles radar, but the Blu-ray polishes it up a bit, and almost makes it worthwhile.


20th Century Fox

There’s a grand tradition of heady, cerebral science fiction. Fritz Lang‘s Metropolis looked at the social caste system of an imagined, but all too possible future. 1956’s Forbidden Planet used Shakespeare‘s The Tempest as a starting point to find that the monsters are in all of us, and Stanley Kubrick‘s 2001: A Space Odyssey is, well, 2001.

Ridley Scott‘s Prometheus aims to join such lofty company.

Originally envisioned as a full-blown prequel to Scott’s classic Alien, the film was eventually tweaked to try and succeed as a stand-alone movie about the nature of human existence itself, with merely a nod to the earlier flick.

The result is not enough of either, and  while it’s a noble effort, it raises more questions than it answers from a storytelling standpoint. Viewers that give it more than a passing thought once the credits roll will be asking; “Shouldn’t there be more?”

The best part of the film is the look. The set design is stunning, with a wise appropriation of H.R. Giger‘s Alien work. The cast is also uniformly strong, with Noomi Rapace (the original Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) as the archeologist with knowledge of the alien world, Michael Fassbender as David the android, and Charlize Theron as the icy bureaucrat overseeing the entire operation.

Unfortunately, there’s very little in the way of action, and even less in the way of monsters. What’s left is a lot of chatter and concerned looks. The two-disc set is packed with special features, such as 14 deleted scenes and commentary on disc one, while disc two contains a host of “making-of” segments.

— Timothy Hiatt

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Category: Columns, Digital Divide, Monthly

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