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The Beatles agree to accompany Captain Fred in his Yellow Submarine and go to Pepperland to free it from the music hating Blue Meanies.
For more about Yellow Submarine and the Yellow Submarine Blu-ray release, see Yellow Submarine Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on June 4, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Starring: John Clive, Paul Angelis, Geoffrey Hughes, Dick Emery, Peter Batten, Lance Percival
Director: George Dunning
» See full cast & crew
Yellow Submarine Blu-ray Review
Don’t be a Blu meanie—get this disc!
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, June 4, 2012
If Norman Rockwell was American's "national" illustrator for the bulk of the first half of the twentieth century, the counter culture had its own upstart artist, one whose approach was distinctly at odds with the photorealism of the iconic Saturday Evening Post cover painter. Peter Max's brightly colored, quasi-hallucinogenic offerings seemed to capture the zeitgeist of the sixties in a way that no other of his contemporaries was quite able to. Though Max is often incorrectly attributed as having designed Yellow Submarine, there's little doubt that his spirit, if not his actual artistic contributions, infuses much of the look of the film, vociferously contrarian opinions by the actual filmmakers and animators nothwithstanding. (It may be no mere coincidence that one of the chief villains—albeit a lovable if dunderheaded one—in the film is named Max.) While the song "Yellow Submarine" may have helped spark the genesis of the project, as Production Supervisor John Coates discusses in his commentary included on this Blu-ray, it was actually the then very successful Saturday morning King Features cartoon version of The Beatles that had spurred serious interest in developing a full length animated feature for the Fab Four. But the look of Yellow Submarine, part Peter Max but pretty much all Op and Pop Art, became the film's most lasting legacy, and now the film is debuting on a pretty spectacular looking Blu-ray that features a hand done frame by frame restoration replete with a new 4K scan of the elements. Psychedelia has never looked quite this good before, and aging hippies may well be able to have virtual flashbacks without any chemical or herbal enhancement whatsoever.
When The Beatles made A Hard Day's Night in 1964, they (and director Richard Lester) basically reinvented the "rock star" film. Prior to that anarchic offering, rock and pop stars tended to be featured in either throwaway dramatic or light comedy fare (think of Elvis Presley's starring vehicles) or were shoehorned into musicals (witness the film careers of singers like Cliff Richard and Pat Boone). But The Beatles' approach was one of skewering their own "insta-fame", and the madcap look at their supposed private lives was almost like an update of a screwball Marx Brothers film from a generation (or two) before. Help! was a little more plot driven than A Hard Day's Night was, if only incrementally, but a lot had happened between that second film in 1965 and 1967, the timeframe when Yellow Submarine was in its nascent planning stages.
Two of the most salient things that had happened personally to The Beatles in this period were their experimentation with various mind altering drugs and, for George Harrison at least, a newfound interest in Eastern mysticism. Professionally the group had just released their most ambitious and genre bashing album to date, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, a pop tone poem of sorts that seemed to push the group into a cultural stratosphere that not even they had experienced prior to the album's release. What better way to capture the kaleidoscope of new influences the group was experiencing both personally and professionally than in an animated film, then? While that might seem to be a reasonable answer, it actually turns out that The Beatles were simply looking for a quick and easy way to fulfill their contract with United Artists and Yellow Submarine seemed to present an opportunity that required little of their actual time, since the voice work for the spoken elements in the film would be done by hired hands, not the Fab Four themselves.
The kind of funny thing is, as spacey and undeniably hallucinogenic as Yellow Submarine is, it's in some ways the most classically structured of any of The Beatles' brief oeuvre of films. An undersea paradise known as Pepperland is full of the music of the spheres, or at least the oceans, until a vicious invading horde of Blue Meanies makes the country tuneless. An escapee from Pepperland travels in a magical yellow submarine to Liverpool where he connects with The Beatles and persuades them to return to Pepperland to defeat the Blue Meanies and restore music and happiness to his native region. That of course is the barest of outlines, and in fact the film is itself kind of an outline which relies on the ravishing Beatles score to fill in the blanks. While some of the tunes are rather oddly shoehorned into the putative storyline ("Eleanor Rigby", for example), the amazingly inventive animation that accompanies all of them make any qualms rather minor and short-lived.
If there is an undeniable Peter Max-ian vibe to a lot of Yellow Submarine, it must also be granted that designer Heinz Edelmann brought an astoundingly wide array of techniques to the film, techniques which still dazzle to this day, especially in this lustrous new presentation. Edelmann liked using cut out figures (something that Terry Gilliam would mimic in his iconic animated sequences for Monty Python's Flying Circus), but combined with the cut outs are actual live action film elements (including a "cameo" of sorts featuring the actual Fab Four) and all sorts of graphical elements which include everything from gears and cogs to numbers and words dancing across the screen.
Yellow Submarine is a synesthesiac assault on the senses that ends up blending sight and sound in completely magical ways. If you've never done drugs, Yellow Submarine is probably one of the best recreations of a "trip" imaginable. If you are "experienced" (as the sixties vernacular once coined it), Yellow Submarine will probably be a festival of hallucinogenic memories. Even without the psychedelic reference points, the film is an incredibly inventive, lovable piece of charming entertainment that is also surprisingly smart and funny a lot of the time (one of the co-writers was none other than Harvard and Yale professor Erich Segal, soon to set the bestseller lists aflame with Love Story). While Yellow Submarine may be an indelible relic of the sixties, it has retained a certain timelessness that is still immensely pleasurable today.
Yellow Submarine Blu-ray, Video Quality
Yellow Submarine is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of EMI with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.67:1. This new presentation benefits from both a photochemical restoration as well as a frame by frame digital clean up that was done by hand. According to the press release accompanying this Blu-ray, the film was digitally cleaned frame by frame by hand since it was felt an automated attempt at restoration could not address the nuances of the multidisciplinary animation style. This release is also culled from a 4K scan and the results are simply spectacular. To quote from the closing credits:
Yellow Submarine Blu-ray, Audio Quality
EMI hasn't skimped on providing nice audio options on Yellow Submarine. Three lossless audio mixes are included, a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mix, the original mono soundtrack delivered via an uncompressed LPCM 2.0, and a repurposed stereo mix also delivered via LPCM 2.0. (For the record, German and Italian language tracks are provided in standard Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes.) The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is stupendously effective, with brilliant clarity and excellent fidelity. Lovers of The Beatles' music will no doubt be very excited by the precision this track affords. The low end is especially impressive. The surround channels are used consistently not just for the music elements but for the panoply of wild sound effects that fill up the soundtrack, but their use is incredibly effective in the music elements, especially in moments like the phased and chorused vocals in the verses of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds". The mono track sounds a little "stuffy" by comparison, and even though lossless doesn't have quite the clarity or oomph that the 5.1 or even the repurposed stereo tracks have.
Yellow Submarine Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Yellow Submarine Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
It's been a good twenty years or so since I'd seen Yellow Submarine and it was like revisiting a good friend to see it again after so long, albeit a friend who looks surprisingly young and "refreshed". This is a wonderfully entertaining film, despite being patently odd most of the time, and this new high definition presentation makes the most of the film's video and audio. About the only thing that might have been included here that isn't is the extra snippet of footage from the American release, which had a different sequence in place of this original edition's "Hey Bulldog" segment. Otherwise, this is one of the stellar Blu-ray release of 2012, certain to make my Top Ten list at the end of the year. Highly recommended.
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Yellow Submarine Blu-ray, News and Updates
• The Beatles and the Making of Yellow Submarine - June 5, 2012
A small group from Liverpool went on to become what is still known as music's most popular rock group. In 1968, an animated film was produced with the title coming from one of their #1 hits. It would be different from any animated film before it. Here we present ...
• This Week on Blu-ray: June 5-12 - June 4, 2012
This week sees the Blu-ray release of Breaking Bad: The Complete Fourth Season. While seasons one throught three have offered sterling television entertainment, Season Four manages to raise the bar, offering ever darker and more thrilling insights into the psyche ...
• Yellow Submarine Blu-ray - March 21, 2012
This summer, Apple Corps Ltd. and EMI Music will bring Yellow Submarine to Blu-ray. The animated film looks to the Beatles' "Yellow Submarine" song as inspiration for this fanciful adventure that finds the Fab Four battling the evil Blue Meanies in order to save ...
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