IT'S ALL TOO MUCH!
by Derek Miner
An in-depth look at the YELLOW SUBMARINE DVD
Ah, what a joy to finally see "Yellow Submarine" on DVD! I have been a huge
fan of this film since I first saw it as a kid. I can almost recite the whole
film verbatim. It should come as no surprise that what follows seems picky
- I'm a detail freak! Hopefully, these are at least some "did ya notice?"
kinds of things to look for yourselves.
First off, I think the packaging of this "Yellow Submarine" is the weakest
part. I only mention this, because it's the first impression most people
will get of the product. The box design, with just a the submarine on blue
is horribly boring. The video trade magazine ad campaign and Capitol Records'
website are more graphically interesting. I will note, however, that the new
packaging adds one piece of punctuation - "The Beatles" is now posessive,
as in "The Beatles' Yellow Submarine," which takes away from the idea that
it's "The Beatles" IN "Yellow Submarine."
The "Special Features" menu reveals that the DVD includes an audio commentary
with line producer John Coates (with "additional contribution" by Heinz Edelmann),
an isolated music track, a making-of short, "The Beatles Mod Odyssey" (which
doesn't look that great), an oiginal trailer (which looks pretty good, and
features actual Beatles footage), three storyboard sequences (two never used),
some brief contemporary interviews with some of the voice talent and crew,
an art gallery of pencil tests and cels, plus some behind the scenes photos.
Unfortunately for some, there is no sign of the Beatles-in-studio clip that
was created for "Hey Bulldog" (subsequently shown on TV following the video
release) The main menu of the DVD also has a few "easter eggs," or hidden
features. Use the up arrow keys on your remote to find 14 different sound
bytes and/or animations. Check all the windows of the sub, the spots above
all four Beatles, the rear hatch and the periscopes.
The audio commentary from John Coates (even though Heinz Edelmann's name
is listed, I didn't hear him!) includes a lot of interesting production anecdotes.
Unlike some audio commentaries, this one isn't always specific to the picture
on the screen, but it occasionally comments on what you're seeing. Since the
actual making of this film hasn't been documented extensively in the past,
this is a very interesting track. Coates describes things like setting up
extra crews to work overnights, Edelmann's work on the film, producing "Hey
Bulldog" late in the game, and hearing the Sgt. Pepper album for the first
The film has been presented in the 1.66:1 aspect ratio. I compared this
to the VHS edition of "Yellow Submarine" that MGM released back in the '80s.
Before the comparison, I somehow had believed that there were some parts of
the old release that looked better. What was I thinking? The colors of the
original MGM version were faded and sometimes pretty far away from what you
see in this new version. There were a lot more scratches and dirt on the
old transfer as well.
Overall, the image on the disc is superb. Color is bright, vibrant and clean.
The transfer is so nice, you can see some of the detail inherent in the artwork,
a slight shift in color on a background or the paint marks on cels, for instance.
DVD is a very sharp, noise-free format. Even though the original material
for "Yellow Submarine" comes from an age where film grain was very apparent,
it doesn't stand out that much on this version. However, at the very end of
the film, where the actual Beatles make an appearance, there are some shifts
in the color. Blacks turn a bit red in only some spots. It looks like some
of the film elements had faded. This didn't seem to be apparent on the older
Back to the aspect ratio. There's a little trade-off involved here. The
1:66 letterbox definitely shows more image on the left and right of screen
than we could see in the old version, but my VHS tape shows a little bit
more on the top and bottom. A comparison with the full-frame VHS restored
edition may be in order. I wouldn't want to imply that the DVD is incorrectly
framed, however, some shots did feel a bit claustrophobic. Real nitpickers
may notice that the credits on the old edition were reframed and sometimes
made larger to be legible on video. A few names on the right of one screen
were completely eliminated from the old video and now those people can finally
get the credit they deserve!
All music, dialouge and sound effects in this edition of the film have been
remastered for 5.1 channel digital sound. There is a 5.1 channel "music-only"
track on the DVD as well, which features not only the Beatles' songs sans
effects, but George Martin's score, too! From several sources, I've learned
that the original film sound elements were preserved on three "stems," one
for effects and dialogue, one for Beatles songs and one for George Martin
score. This mono element of the Martin score which was "opened up" for stereo
and combined with the stereo re-recordings as featured on the album to create
a complete version.
Overall, the 5.1 mix really comes across best during the Beatles numbers,
even though the score and effects have been panned and positioned as well.
"Only A Northern Song," as many have mentioned, stands out, with a nice bass
response and a full stereo mix where we're used to mono. Lead vocals on all
the tracks, per usual film mixes, are centered up front. Harmonies and double
tracked vocals are split up among the other speakers to give a fuller sound,
as in "Eleanor Rigby" and "Nowhere Man." Even a simple little number like
"When I'm Sixty-Four" takes on a new life here.
The DVD also has a fourth audio track - the orginal mono film soundtrack!
Film purists will find this a great addition (listen carefully - it really
is the original mono, not a fake from the stereo track like reissues of some
other films I've seen), but there is one major glitch, in fact a SET of glitches
that all occur around the same point of the film.
DVD fans already know that many discs are "dual layer," meaning there are
two "platters" readable from the one side of the disc. DVD players must switch
between these layers, often times resulting in a brief pause. The switch in
"Yellow Submarine" falls at about 25 minutes and 43 seconds into the movie
(by the timer on my player). The visual is a black screen - a perfect time
for a switch, but the 5.1 track has a submarine sound effect that is silenced
for a second during the switch. At this exact point (I think it was a reel
change in the original "film" version), the sound on the mono track becomes
a 2-channel stereo mirror of the 5.1 track! This lasts until the beginning
of the next "reel" at 41 minutes, where we go back to the original mono soundtrack.
Ironically enough, the one time I saw an older print of "Yellow Submarine"
in a theater (in 1982), this exact same reel of the film had been swapped
with one from another print, and all the dialogue outside the songs was in
GERMAN. There is one other very odd occurance during this segment, at 28 minutes
and 24 seconds - a brief piece (10 frames) of Fred was somehow moved from
the very end of a shot to the very beginning. The dialogue in this shot doesn't
quite match the visual because of the swap. I have since confirmed that this
"swap" is also inherent in the new remastered prints seen in theaters.
With the inclusion of the original mono track on this DVD, some interesting
comparisons can be made. First of all, as many sources have noted, the original
mono mix of "Yellow Submarine" starts the guitar at the same point as the
vocal, with the stereo starting later. Well, although the new stereo mix puts
things such as the "Life of ease" echo line back in, they still started the
guitar at the later point! Switch between tracks one and two to hear this
difference. Another comparison is between the new stereo mix of "Lucy In
The Sky With Diamonds" and the original mono track. Many people have complained
about the new mix on "Lucy," and sure enough, switch over to the mono one
on track two, and you can hear a much more satisfying (even though the fidelity
is a bit lacking) mix. The new stereo mix feels very airy and dry. Even though
some people might cry foul, this mix NEEDS some reverb, to spread it out,
make it a bit wetter. John's vocal on the mono has a very interesting quality,
either it was double-tracked or phased or something, but the stereo remix
is very flat. The bass hits that intro the chorus are also much too dry, and
directed to the far left speaker. The first chorus sounds positively dead
in the new stereo mix. It also seems the remix includes a very long delay
creating a very subtle "round" effect on the choruses (listen for this on
"Yellow Submarine" as well). Listen to the word "Lucy" in the chorus, it
feels like it persists a bit, even after they stop singing it.
After the "Lucy in the Sky" segment of the movie, I noticed a few odd tidbits
on the new stereo soundtrack. They mostly stood out because I've seen the
old version of the movie so many times, the sounds are ingrained in my head!
Again, because the mono track is on the DVD, you can actually switch over
and compare the new mix to the original and see what I mean. First off, when
the boys discover some pepper, in the mono, Ringo and George sneeze, one right
after the other. Originally, I thought it sounded like one of them sneezing
twice. Evidently the sound mixer thought it sounded too much like it was
just one person, and he SPACED OUT the two sneezes! Immediately after that,
they get blown into the Sea of Holes. In the original mono version, there
is no score under the "flying" shots, but in the new stereo mix, George Martin's
underscore begins under those shots. And then when the boys finally get to
Pepperland and Fred appears in the sky with the Submarine, the new stereo
mix has a line for Fred, "There she blows!" that never appeared in the original
movie at all!
The "rehearsal" of the Beatles singing "Think For Yourself," where they
"un-bonk" the mayor sounds like the original film mono. I decided to go back
and check both the Unsurpassed Masters CD with the studio talk, and then
the DVD audio track again. The music just before the snippet is in stereo,
from the George Martin score (stereo version), but just as the "Think For
Yourself" bit is about to begin, you can hear (if you know you're listening
for this) the audio fold in to processed mono, plus - if you listen real
carefully - you can hear a small sound from the mayor over the "Think For
Yourself" harmony. But the original film mix took a copy of the same audio
and layered the harmony part, so you actually hear it begin AGAIN half way
through. The original session tape wasn't like this. I'm thinking now that
they may have used the original session tape, but only for the tail end after
the repeat - to avoid having to recreate the overlapping effect.
Now, when I first heard that they were "restoring" this movie, and adding
back in the "Hey Bulldog" scene, I was hoping they might find some other "lost"
material to include. Well, the source for the final reels of the restored
film included several such differences. Again, I'm comparing this new version
with the more common U.S. version, which was released on home video around
12 years ago.
There are several differences during the "All You Need Is Love" sequence.
At 1 hour and 13 minutes into the DVD, when "Paul" jumps off the Sgt. Pepper
statue, each version has different shots. In the DVD, "John" leans into frame.
In the old video, "Paul" does some cartwheels and "John" doesn't appear. One
minute later on the old video, "John" is seen in close up saying "Go glove,
lovely glove" then there is a cut to the Chief Blue Meanie screaming, then
a cut to Pepperlanders leading a charge, followed by the Beatles leading a
charge. The restored version features a medium shot of "John" saying "Go glove,
lovely glove" then panning up to show "Ringo" and "George" on top of the
Sgt. Pepper statue. They each have additional dialogue as they come down
from the statue. Then we see the shot of the Beatles leading the charge. The
following montage of the meanies retreating and color returning to Pepperland
is slightly different in each version as well. For instance, the new version
has a couple shots of animals and flowers. These are not in the older version,
which has a couple more shots of meanies reatreating and Pepperlanders charging.
The big difference comes in at the point where "Baby You're A Rich Man"
appears. The two versions of the movie match up to the point where Sgt. Pepper's
band is "decanting." In the common older video version, we can see the band
"freeze" on the bandstand, and then we cut to the Beatles singing a verse
of "Baby You're A Rich Man," which is followed immediately by the "Beatles
to Battle" segment with a "jazzy" underscore. The new, restored version reveals
that the "decanting" shot goes on a little longer, and then the band steps
off the bandstand to talk with the Beatles (with a George Martin underscore
based on "Sgt. Pepper"). This leads into a call to battle and then the "Hey
Bulldog" scene. Both the "Beatles to Battle" (in the common version) and
"Hey Bulldog" (in the new version) scenes lead right up to Ringo discovering
Jeremy captured by the Meanies.
Originally, before the restored footage came to light, I had imagined that
perhaps the Beatles and Sgt. Peppers band "dueted" on "Baby You're A Rich
Man" in a scene that was perhaps cut from the film and lost. The truth is
now revealed that "Baby You're A Rich Man" wasn't originally IN the film at
all. The whole segment from the "decanting" to Jeremy's discovery in the common
version would is a "bridge" added when "Hey Bulldog" and the Sgt. Pepper
band dialogue were cut. Incidentally, the stereo soundtrack of the new version
includes the intro to "Baby You're A Rich Man," but no verse. The original
mono version includes nothing from the song. Jeremy's line "Ad hoc,
ad lock and quid pro quo, I've got to study, let me go" heard on the common
version is not in the new version, either. I assume it was added in the "bridge"
sequence to justify "Ringo" looking in that direction. Lastly, in the new
DVD version, there are five extra seconds after Jeremy rescue scene, with
the Boob practicing his fighting. On the audio commentary, line producer
John Coates reveals that after the film's premiere, Al Brodax hired some
of the crew who had worked on the film proper and set up a small unit just
to make changes to the ending.
Incidentally, as I hinted before, there are new film prints out there struck
from the restored negative and remastered soundtrack. It was widely believed
that there were a limited number of engagements booked to promote the video
release, but there have been more screenings since. I've been in contact with
MGM, and I was assured the prints will still be available for booking, even
though the company is not actively promoting it. If you have a theater in
your area with a DTS (Digital Theater Sound - the prints are not available
in Dolby Digital or Sony Dynamic Digital Sound) sound system, you may want
to appeal to the manager to contact MGM's booking department. I did have
an opportunity to see one of these new prints in a non-digital theater, and
the work of the restoration team looked nothing less than spectacular!
Overall, this new DVD of "Yellow Submarine" is spectacular and well worth
the price of admission. It's also great to have this classic back on the shelf,
with a soundtrack mostly faithful to the original mono, but new and improved.
If you can't get a theater to book the movie in your area, you can
at least get this DVD and a digital sound system in your home to hear the
next best thing!