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An Eastern religious cult declares that the new ring on Ringo's finger is the key element in a human sacrifice, and they will stop at nothing to obtain it. Meanwhile, a mad scientist believes that if he has the ring, he could rule the world.
For more about Help! and the Help! Blu-ray release, see Help! Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on June 22, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: The Beatles, Leo McKern, Eleanor Bron, Victor Spinetti, Roy Kinnear, Patrick Cargill
Director: Richard Lester
» See full cast & crew
Help! Blu-ray Review
The Beatles and the Temple of Doom.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, June 22, 2013
Did all those drugs The Beatles were so famously consuming in the mid-sixties somehow allow them to peer into their own futures? Is it mere coincidence that The Beatles' second feature film outing, 1965's Help!, has the band intertwined with an Eastern mystic? After all, The Beatles, especially George Harrison, would soon be regularly celebrated acolytes of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Of course Help! doesn't posit a kindly, altruistic yogi, and as The Beatles themselves averred in the years following the film's release, they sometimes felt like strangers in a strange land throughout much of the filming, so Help!'s strangely prescient, if not perfectly relevant, plot points are no doubt serendipitous. The Beatles' first feature film, 1964's A Hard Day's Night, had been phenomenally successful even as it pushed the limits of what a supposed "narrative" film should be. The Fab Four's rabid fan base obviously couldn't have cared less if their idols had recited the phone book for an hour and a half—the fact that writer Alun Owen and director Richard Lester seemed to so perfectly encapsulate the anarchic spirit of the quartet in film form only added to the ineluctable allure of this outing. The film seems to be largely improvised—another testament to the near perfect writing and direction—but that supposed verité style was perhaps more planned than seems obvious on the surface. A Hard Day's Night's overwhelming critical and popular success meant that United Artists basically gave the group and returning director Lester carte blanche for Help!, not to mention a significantly grander budget. While some might feel that the band experiences something of a filmic analog to the oft-mentioned "second album" Sophomore Slump curse that seems to haunt many recording artists, Help! offers its own manic pleasures along the way. If the film sometimes seems to be trying a bit too hard to recapture the madness of A Hard Day's Night, it's also frequently a fast and funny romp that features some of The Beatles' most memorable songs.
The fact that Help! tries to have more of a narrative flow that A Hard Day's Night did may be understandable in a way, but it's also one of the reasons The Beatles' second film outing doesn't hold up nearly as well as their debut effort. While Help!'s deliberate whimsy (the four lads enter four different doors in a London rowhouse, only to reveal they're all living together in a giant communal space) is often quite enticing, there's a certain tired quality to some of the humor in this film that tends to sap the energy out of the proceedings. The basic plot finds hapless Ringo wearing a ring (which some "Eastern bird" sent in a fan letter), which is in fact a priceless object of veneration of an Eastern cult. Unfortunately, the finger adornment is also indicative of ritual sacrifice—whoever wears it is slated to be killed in order to appease the cult's fearsome totem one "Kaili" (The Beatles would probably learn to correctly spell the Hindu goddess often wrongly associated with destruction in a couple more years).
The leader of the cult is a swami named Clang (Leo McKern), who leads a ragtag bunch of loyal followers off on a quest to retrieve the ring, come hell or high water (or Ringo's finger, for that matter). Ringo's typically befuddled air initially leads his bandmates to believe he's just making a play for attention when he repeatedly complains about weird things happening to him, but ultimately even they realize their friend has a bunch of lunatics after him. And so the bulk of Help! turns into a manic cat and mouse game, interrupted regularly by some fantastic Beatles songs.
Help! does tend to pick up steam as it goes along, but it also has a much more obvious hit or miss quality than did A Hard Day's Night. It may seem odd to have Ringo—ostensibly the least instantly "exciting" of the Fab Four —be the focal point of the film, but in fact he does admirably well as a comedian. Actually, Ringo's efforts often seem much more natural than some of the forced shenanigans of Paul and (especially) John. A lot of people compared A Hard Day's Night to the frenetic energy of a Marx Brothers outing, but Help! by comparison often seems to be more like a relentlessly pushy Jerry Lewis farce. A lot of it is agreeable if not downright hilarious, but there's also a kind of annoying quality to some of the gags after a while (there are a lot of skillets to the head in this film).
These niggling qualms ultimately are neither here nor there, though, for there are two ebullient buoys keeping Help! 's head above the water: first is the innate charm of the Beatles themselves, something that shines through even the lamest gags. And second, there are the songs, an incredible kaleidoscope of mid-sixties pop perfection. The Beatles hadn't quite started to experiment with studio tricks and more convoluted song structures as they would beginning with Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and Magical Mystery Tour in a couple of years, but within the confines of the standard 32 bar pop tune, there are glories galore in this score. Help! the film may in fact occasionally be in need of a little aid, but The Beatles' songcraft does quite well, thank you very much.
Help! Blu-ray, Video Quality
Help! is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Capitol and Universal Music with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.67:1. Help! underwent a complete restoration in 2007 in preparation for the Special Edition DVD release, but there is precious little information about what, if any, further work has been done to prepare the HD master used for this transfer. My hunch is that this is probably an older master, as evidenced by a few niggling anomalies, the worst of which is quasi-ringing that may in fact at times simply be light roll off in a couple of backlit scenes, problems that might have been better addressed with newer technology or a higher res scan. That said, this Blu-ray offers some absolutely stunningly saturated colors (wait until you see the blue Ringo wears in an early scene in the lads' home). Fine detail is exceptional in extreme close-ups (take a gander at the first screenshot, where the fine hair on George's nose is easily visible). Some of the midrange shots are just a tad squishy looking, and occasionally some of the darker scenes have moderate crush with accompanying murky shadow detail. On the whole, though, things look very good indeed.
Help! Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Younger viewers may be shocked to learn that Help! was originally released with a mono soundtrack, but that obviously was the prevailing technology of the day (and of course audiophiles are still debating the merits of the mono and stereo mixes of The Beatles' recorded efforts). Both a repurposed stereo as well as surround track were done for Help's DVD release, and both of those options are now presented in lossless formats, LPCM 2.0 and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. While the surround mix doesn't offer huge amounts of immersion, I can't imagine anyone not wanting to opt for that choice here, simply because the music sounds so fantastic in the 5.1 outing. The low end is remarkably full bodied here, but that doesn't add any muddiness or overpowering element to the midrange or high end. Fidelity in both music and dialogue is excellent. Dynamic range is also wide and nuanced.
Help! Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Help! Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Help! hasn't aged quite as well as A Hard Day's Night, but it's still hugely enjoyable a lot of the time, especially when The Beatles are playing and singing. The comedy here is hit and miss, but Leo McKern is wonderfully malevolent (while being completely dunderheaded), and the supporting cast has a number of great turns. Ringo turns out to be a rather remarkably affable comedian and anchors the film rather nicely. This Blu-ray offers a significant upgrade from the DVD, though my hunch is this is an older master which has a few issues. The audio is spectacular, and all of the special features from the DVD have been ported over. Highly recommended.
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Help! Blu-ray, News and Updates
• This Week on Blu-ray: June 25-July 2 - June 23, 2013
For the week of June 25th, the Criterion Collection is bringing Shoah to Blu-ray, director Claude Lanzmann's massive, heartbreaking documentary about the Holocaust. Other releases include the Blu-ray debut of the Beatles' Help!, Warner Bros' The Incredible Burt ...
• The Beatles' Help! Heading to Blu-ray - May 15, 2013
Universal Music will release on Blu-ray director Richard Lester's Help! (1965). The Blu-ray release will feature a newly restored version of the film with a 5.1 soundtrack and over an hour of supplemental features. The preliminary release date set by the studio ...
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