It may make marketing sense, but it’s still ripe with irony: The first feature film to be made available on CD-ROM is an oldie. Voyager’s A Hard Day’s Night (1964, $39.95, unrated, B&W) allows you to watch the Beatles’ debut film on a Macintosh using a five-inch disc that looks exactly like the ones that carry music. But while the interactive extras might be worth 40 bucks, the movie itself is a showcase for the limits of the technology. Simply put, this is a hard day’s watch.
The problem is built right into the software, which skips every other film frame. That saves on CD storage space but causes the playful images of the Fab Four to stutter across the screen. Forget about appreciating Gilbert Taylor’s rich cinematography, or reading the credits — the software turns everything into indistinct pixels. If you’ve never seen the movie before, go to a revival theater, rent the video, buy the laserdisc — anything but this.
Still, the accompanying goodies on this disc are irresistible if you already own the movie on disc or tape. Voyager has taken advantage of CD-ROM’s interactive nature by making it possible for you to read the script as the movie plays alongside it. (One caveat: If your Mac doesn’t have at least five megabytes, the film will freeze briefly while it loads the next segment of the movie.) The computer menu allows you to call up any scene in the film — or any of the song numbers — at the touch of a mouse. There’s a cogent 160-page essay by rock historian Bruce Eder to scroll through, extensive biographies of nearly every cast and crew member, a clip from director Richard Lester’s first film, It’s Trad, Dad (1962), and all 11 minutes of his 1960 cult short, The Running, Jumping and Standing Still Film. In short, the CD-ROM format offers the same wealth of subsidiary information as those fancy laserdisc packages — but in a far more convenient and accessible form.
For now, though, conventional laserdisc — not to mention dumpy old VHS videotape — has the edge in picture quality. And that’s crucial to this movie. If you don’t feel you’re right there, romping with the Beatles in the anarchic flush of their youth, then A Hard Day’s Night becomes just another cold, gray encyclopedia entry. The technology that may yet give old movies new life so far makes them seem DOA. Movie on CD-ROM: C-; CD-ROM extras: A