Review: Yellow Submarine Blu-ray Deep-Sixes All Previous Editions

By , Contributor

The Beatles have arrived in high definition with the revelatory Blu-ray release of Yellow Submarine.

The 1999 standard DVD reissue of the animated film, impressive as it was at the time, has been thoroughly trumped. For the Blu-ray, the film underwent a complete frame-by-frame restoration that has yielded jaw-dropping results, even if you’ve seen the previous DVD version dozens of times. The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is similarly breathtaking. Regardless of how you feel about the film itself (and considering it was produced with very little actual Beatle input, some fans are justifiably disinterested in it), any fan of the band simply must hear the music in this form.

George Yellow Sub (380x226).jpg

In some ways, despite its reputation as a classic, Yellow Submarine is really kind of a love-it-or-hate-it affair. The animation is a feast for the eyes, with something surreal occurring in just about every scene. Art director Heinz Edelmann’s animation style was original and highly inventive. As a series of interconnected animated music videos, the film works like gangbusters. But make no mistake, the plot is very thin and the storytelling does very little to build suspense or even momentum.

The Blue Meanies hate music and the happiness it inspires, so they seek to stamp it right out of Pepperland. It’s up to the Beatles to defeat the Blue Meanies. And that’s about it, with much of the running time filled up by the band’s voyage through various psychedelic “seas” (of Time, Science, Monsters, et al, each accompanied by a song).

Ringo Yellow Sub (380x226).jpg

Along the way there are plenty of subtly humorous puns and sight gags. The visual variety provides enough to keep adult viewers interested (especially those with a specific interest in animation), while it’s all silly and fluffy enough to hold kids’ attention. The Beatles themselves are presented as rather typical stereotypes of their established public personas. George is a meditating mystic, John is dryly acerbic, Paul is a vaguely effeminate dandy, and Ringo is a bumbling everyman. But at no point is any actual attempt made at developing the characters in any way.

It’s hard to imagine anyone older than early childhood becoming emotionally involved in Yellow Submarine. Even then I would hate to short-sell the sophistication of today’s youngsters, reared on the far more emotionally complex animated films produced by the likes of Pixar or Hayao Miyazaki.

Lennon Yellow Sub (380x226).jpg

In fact, there really isn’t any more depth to Yellow Submarine than the heretofore unreleased on home video Saturday morning cartoon series The Beatles (1965-67). The real Beatles weren’t much more involved with Submarine than that 39 episode series (to which they made no contributions at all). Had they voiced their characters themselves, rather than the unconvincing voice actors that filled in, it would have connected the film to them in a tangible way. But apart from a two minute live action cameo just before the end credits and the four new songs they contributed to the soundtrack, the film could’ve been made years after the band split up.

Paul Yellow Sub (380x226).jpg

Forty-four years after its original release, you probably already know if you’re a big enough fan to want to revisit Yellow Submarine in 1080p high definition. Those who chose to do so will be rewarded with stunningly vivid colors. We’ve all heard claims that various films look so good on Blu-ray, they “pop” right off the screen. But that cliché really does apply here. As stated in the film’s press release, the restoration was conducted by hand instead of automated software (so as not to damage the delicate hand-drawn artwork). The clarity is exceptionally good, with fine detail visible like never before on any previous home video version.

This is the best Yellow Submarine has looked since virgin 35mm prints were projected in cinemas in 1968. It sounds even better than that, with an astonishingly rich bottom end and crisp highs. The audio is not only available in DTS-HD, but also LPCM 2.0 stereo as well as the original mono mix. The latter is especially valuable to any purists who want to recreate the original theatrical experience as accurately as possible.

Strangely, the 1999 DVD’s isolated music track has not been carried over. This loss, coupled with the lack of any new special features, is the only disappointing aspect of the Blu-ray. The informative and well-prepared audio commentary with production supervisor John Coates is present. “Mod Odyssey,” essentially a vintage EPK piece, runs about seven minutes and amounts to a superficial ‘making of’ featurette. About 12 minutes of interview clips with various cast and crew members are interesting but annoyingly lack a ‘play all’ option. Original pencil drawings, storyboard sequences, and behind the scenes photos will be of interest mainly to the hardest of hardcore fans (and are ill-presented inside an unnecessary border, rather than utilizing the full screen). A cool little booklet, sheet of mini-stickers, and four animation cell reproductions (one for each Beatle) make for a nice package of printed materials.

Yellow Sub CD cover (180x162).jpgIn addition to the Blu-ray, the restored Yellow Submarine is also available on DVD. The Yellow Submarine Songtrack album has been reissued as well. The cardboard sleeve packaging is new, roughly matching the 2009 Beatles CD reissues, but the mastering is the same as the compilation’s original 1999 release. The Songtrack moniker was applied due to this version’s jettisoning of George Martin’s orchestrated score in favor of all the songs featured in the movie (not just the six found on the actual 1969 soundtrack album). Each of the 15 songs was remixed in ‘99.

The differences are easily noticeable when compared to the original album versions. This is one of the rare examples of the Beatles’ catalog being remixed and while the results vary in quality (the ambiance seems to have been sucked out of “All You Need is Love,” while “It’s All Too Much” is startlingly punchy and aggressive) they are well worth hearing. If you don’t already own the Songtrack, it makes a very cool companion piece to the movie.

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Chaz Lipp is a Las Vegas-based musician and freelance writer. His new jazz album 'Good Merlin' is now available.

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