In 1965, Beatlemania was still in full bloom across the globe and every project the Fab Four touched meant immediate popularity and success. Hot on the heels of A Hard Day’s Night, Richard Lester once again took the helm and directed the Beatles in a playful bit of Pop Art comedy. Help!’s loose narrative is mostly intended to provide the Beatles a chance to goof off between seven classic songs they perform, from the titular song to gems such as “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away” and “Ticket To Ride.”

Audiences were less demanding of their Pop stars’ film appearances in the Sixties and Help! is no difference. It is a vehicle to showcase the musical performances and songs, though Lester spoofs the more outrageous spy flicks of the day. The loose and mostly nonsensical plot revolves around Ringo’s possession of a ring held sacred by a ridiculous Eastern cult leader and his followers. Ringo can’t seem to remove the ring from his finger and the cult wants to sacrifice him to their deity, if he can’t remove it within one day. Relentlessly pursued by a bumbling gang of cultists and two scientists across exotic locations like the Alps and the Bahamas, the Beatles escape trouble again and again with their unpredictable antics.

The leader of the cult is a swami called Clang (Leo McKern), a cartoonishly evil figure. He is used as the character driving the story, as he pursues Ringo for the sacrifice. Clang sends one of his cult members to directly spy on the Beatles, the vivacious Ahme (Eleanor Bron). She quickly becomes friendly with the Fab Four and starts secretly helping them out as they evade the traps set by the other cult members. The manic pacing probably helps the comedy, as John, Paul, George and Ringo all work quite well as comedic performers in Help!  Ringo is the real star, as his amount of dialogue dwarfs that of  the other Beatles. He always tended to have an amicable personality and Ringo is well suited as the main performer.

The tone of the comedy is British humor of the day, from deadpan deliveries by the Beatles of their lines, to sight gags. Lester’s work on the Beatles’ films became wildly influential and it is not hard seeing strains of it become more developed in later productions, like the brand of comedy found in Monty Python.

Nearly fifty years later, the music in Help! still holds up as some of the finest songs in the Beatles’ deep catalog and certainly Pop history. Musical performances are notable in Help! for the first primitive glimmerings of the music video, as Lester brings in so many different visual tricks and sight gags as the band performs their hit songs. Lester’s creative approach to filming the music here is really the first major step towards the eventual rise of MTV and the music video. Help! is a comedic farce that will provide waves of nostalgia for Baby Boomers, and excitement in younger fans.

Movie ★★★★☆

With a wink @ 28:59

The video transfer has been controversial in videophile circles. This Blu-ray edition re-uses the same film transfer made for the 2007 DVD. While the 2007 restoration had a number of commendable traits, including a meticulous eye for scene-specific color correction and the removal of dirt, it used video processing which was easier to miss at DVD resolution. In 1080P, there is an obvious amount of sharpening and edge enhancement in many scenes. Thankfully, the processing varies and some scenes still retain excellent picture quality.

Help! runs a length of 92 minutes, encoded in AVC on a BD-50. The movie is properly framed in 1.66:1, a common theatrical ratio in British cinema at the time. Few digital compression artifacts intrude into the visual experience, the encoding quality remains strong throughout the soft and hazy film.

The color palette revels in fully saturated primary colors, particularly splashes of bright red paint which Ringo continues to get pelted with during the movie as a recurring gag. Crisp black levels and a steady contrast provide a pleasing picture with limited top-notch resolution. This is certainly not the most detailed transfer, the film scan appears to be several years out of date against current technology. Softness is pervasive in some scenes, the main reason why the video technicians probably added so much sharpening in the first place.

Videophiles will find problems with the unsightly halos which pepper the first act. Most newer Blu-ray transfers these days eschew this level of processing, as the digital tools have become more refined since this transfer was made. Clarity remains high in spite of the problem, as the film elements have been very carefully looked over to remove dirt and debris from the print. The manual removal process has produced a very clean film appearance, if not perfectly faithful to the original film stock.

This HD transfer could have been better in 2013, especially if Apple and the Beatles had gone back to the original film elements and started from scratch. There is little point in arguing that, but this Blu-ray does an acceptable job. Beatle fans will likely gloss over these problems as they watch this movie once again.

Video ★★☆☆☆

The sound for Help! also received an extensive restoration in 2007 and that is found on this new BD edition. The included 5.1 DTS-HD MA mix is how you’ll want to hear this movie, as the music sounds better than ever in surround. Originally running in mono, the sound design has been re-made for modern home theaters. However, dialogue is still somewhat thin and there might be too much dynamic range between it and the volume of the musical passages. The Beatles’ music sounds as pristine as a modern recording, with a precise placement of instruments and strong vocal clarity to round out the music. The musical performances would all garner a perfect score in terms of fidelity and mid-range punch on their own.

Also included is a stereo PCM soundtrack at 24bit/48kHz, though it does not preserve the original mono mix. I found it a less compelling mix than the surround mix, the stereo presentation includes a number of hard audio pans which are more spread out across the front soundstage of the 5.1 surround mix. A 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack at 640 kbps is one more option. Eight subtitle options are provided, including popular ones like English, French and Spanish.

Audio ★★★★☆

A solid assortment of extra features have been provided for the Beatles’ second film, duplicating everything found on the 2007 DVD edition. It might have been nice to hear more from the Beatles themselves, but Richard Lester and other production members make up for their missing presence. The packaging itself is superb, coming in a deluxe cardboard digipak nestled inside a slip case. A glossy 16-page booklet includes vintage photographs and a lengthy appreciation of the film from Martin Scorsese. All of the video-based features were sourced from standard definition transfers, so the video quality for them ranges from okay to merely acceptable. A few inessential extra features are dropped from the original 1998 DVD.

The Beatles in Help! (29:34 in SD) – A fairly extensive documentary about the making of the film, featuring interviews from cast and crew, covering a lot of interesting territory. Richard Lester is free and loose with answers, giving insight into his own experiences and what it was like to work with the Beatles during their glory days. It also features exclusive footage of the Beatles from behind the scenes on set.

The Restoration of Help! (11:29 in SD) – This featurette interviews the team responsible for the film restoration and HD transfer, from Paul Rutan its supervisor to others working on color correction and grading.

A Missing Scene (03:59 in SD) – The actual footage of this scene is missing, we only get to hear about its genesis through comments from Wendy Richard and others.

Memories of Help! (06:25 in SD) – Mostly bits of interviews from the cast and crew which didn’t make the longer making-of documentary.

2 U.S. Theatrical Trailers (03:18 in HD)

Spanish Theatrical Trailer (01:16 in HD)

1965 Radio Spots – Six different spots can only be heard through hidden areas in the disc’s menu system.

Extras ★★★☆☆

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For more information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

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