There’s nothing like the dawn of a video format to bring out the highs and lows of market forces. And judging by a quartet of Beatles titles just released on digital videodisc, the nascent DVD scene has a serious case of best-of-times, worst-of-times syndrome.
On the upside, Richard Lester’s endlessly re-watchable A Hard Day’s Night and Help! have been mastered for DVD from new transfers unveiled last year on cable’s AMC channel. Widely discounted to about $22 each in stores, these DVDs show off John, Paul, George, and Ringo so vividly you can pick out every vocal—even over all those screaming girls in Night—or get a contact acid-flashback high from Help!‘s Day-Glo color scheme. (The red paint chucked at Ringo goes fuzzy on VHS and laser, but here it’s as rock solid as Ringo’s drumming.) Each DVD also includes most of the extras thrown in on previous laserdisc editions (publicity pictures, trailers with brief scenes not in the movies, etc.), plus a few newsreel tidbits—nothing revelatory, but since the deluxe lasers cost nearly four times as much as the DVDs, a nice bonus.
But while these discs look fab, putting out Magical Mystery Tour on DVD makes as much sense as archiving a 10th-generation bootleg recording on a gold-plated CD. DVD only makes the film’s grainy, washed-out original 16 mm photography that much more excruciating. It’s a misbegotten bad trip, a poor excuse to bilk DVD converts eager to feed their new habit.
Even more brazenly exploitative is the DVD release of Alf Bicknell’s Personal Beatles Diary, a staggeringly lamebrained reminiscence in which the group’s sweet, exceedingly dim driver spends 10 minutes at a clip talking about such glories as Ringo’s sandwich orders (”He’d always shout out, ‘Whatever it is, no onions!”’ says a beaming ”Owf,” as he calls himself). If your Beatlemania demands you suffer through Bicknell’s days steering ”the lim,” stick with the tape (about $14). Anyone who takes Alf’s mystery tour on DVD is just paying a first-class fare for a ticket to deride. A Hard Day’s Night: A; Help!: A-; Magical Mystery Tour: D+; Beatles Diary: F