Review: 'A Hard Day's Night' Presents Beatlemania in Stunning 4K

by Sam Cohen

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday January 18, 2022

Review: 'A Hard Day's Night' Presents Beatlemania in Stunning 4K

We're just two years shy of the 60th anniversary of Richard Lester's "A Hard Day's Night," in which The Beatles both lampooned and emboldened their stardom in one fell swoop. But the timeframe in which they exploded into pop culture stardom highlights the singular brilliance of Lester's comedic work.

It was just one month after the fab four played on the Ed Sullivan Show that they started to work on "A Hard Day's Night." It was shot in under seven weeks, and finished in 16 weeks for a summer 1964 release, right when The Beatles were new to being chased down the street by hordes of fans. But rather than assuage the egos of four young celebrities, the film offers a breathless look at the palpable energy between these young men trying to navigate newfound stardom.

The Criterion Collection upgrades their 2014 Blu-ray release of "A Hard Day's Night" to 4K Ultra HD with a new edition that makes the 4K restoration of the film look better than ever. If you've seen the film, then you know it's shot cinéma vérité and in black and white, which is why the film is an odd choice for a Dolby Vision HDR presentation. The technology does incredible things to color films, and it's clear proof here that it also aids black and white filmmaking beautifully. The film grain looks terrific and natural, but the real star of the show here are the exterior daytime sequences. Daytime sequences tend to make black and white cinematography look a bit blown out, though the HDR adds remarkable depth to them.

As for special features, Criterion has carried over all of the features previously included on their 2014 release. While it may disappoint some that nothing new has been added, it's worth noting that there's still a wealth of features to enjoy here. In particular, there's a terrific program about Richard Lester that's narrated by actress Rita Tushingham. The program reflects on how Lester left the U.S. and found great success in commercial filmmaking in the UK. There are few filmmakers that can make a gag-a-minute film and undercut it with the emotional and political heft needed to stick with an audience. Lester just happened to be one of those few.

"A Hard Day's Night" follows The Beatles playing slightly exaggerated versions of themselves over two days as they prepare for a big live TV performance. Paul's mischievous grandfather is there for some reason, and hordes of fans keep the boys on their feet wherever they go. Will they make it to the gig? Or will their own comedic hijinks mess everything up?

After watching the film for what seems like the umpteenth time, the exuberance of Lester's pop aesthetic colliding with the inescapable camaraderie of The Beatles was a collaboration like no other. And if you're a fan at all of the film or The Beatles in general, you'll find much enjoyment and pleasure in this new 4K release.

Other special features include:

• Audio commentary featuring cast and crew (dual-format and 4K UHD only)

• "In Their Own Voices" — A program featuring 1964 interviews with The Beatles with behind-the-scenes footage and photos

• "You Can't Do That": The Making of "A Hard Day's Night" — A 1994 documentary by producer Walter Shenson including an outtake performance by The Beatles

• "Things They Said Today" — A 2002 documentary about the film featuring Lester, music producer George Martin, screenwriter Alun Owen, and cinematographer Gilbert Taylor (dual-format and 4K UHD only)

• "Picturewise" — A program about Lester's early work, featuring a 2014 audio interview with the director (dual-format and 4K UHD only)

• "The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film" (1960) — Lester's Oscar-nominated short (dual-format and 4K UHD only)

• "Anatomy of a Style" — A 2014 program on Lester's methods (dual-format and 4K UHD only)

• Interview from 2014 with Beatles biographer Mark Lewisohn (dual-format and 4K UHD only)

• English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing

• PLUS: An essay by critic Howard Hampton and excerpts from a 1970 interview with Lester (dual-format and 4K UHD only)

"A Hard Day's Night" is now available on 4K Blu-ray and Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.