I Wanna Hold Your Hand
On February 9, 1964, the Beatles made their first live appearance on American television on The Ed Sullivan Show, ratcheting up the frenzy of a fan base whose ecstatic devotion to the band heralded an explosive new wave of youth culture. I Wanna Hold Your Hand looks back to that fateful weekend, following six New Jersey teenagers, each with different reasons for wanting to see the Fab Four, on a madcap mission to Manhattan to meet the band and score tickets to the show. With this rollicking first feature, director Robert Zemeckis and cowriter Bob Gale established themselves as a filmmaking team par excellence, adept at mining America’s cultural memory for comedy and adventure with a winning mixture of sweet nostalgia and playful irreverence.
After receiving a new 4K restoration, Robert Zemeckis’ debut feature I Wanna Hold Your Hand arrives on Blu-ray from the Criterion Collection, presented on this dual-layer disc with a 1080p/24hz high-definition encode in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The new restoration comes from a scan of the 35mm original camera negative.
In general the final presentation looks strong, the film appearing as though it was made within the last few years. Restoration-wise the image is clean and free of debris; even the archival footage of the Beatles played during the opening credits looks to have been restored. Film grain is there throughout, a bit heavy at times even, but it’s rendered well and looks clean. In turn the image remains sharp and free of distortion and artifacts. Fine, tight patterns in some of the costumes (like fine cross-hatching) are rendered perfectly, and textures (like that of the carpet that one Beatle fan tears up because the band walked on it) look natural.
Colours look wonderful with excellent saturation, with some gorgeous looking greens and reds. Black levels are a little off, though. They’re deep and inky yet some darker scenes really lose a lot of detail with the shadows getting eaten up. Because of this a few darker shots are a bit harder to see. Everything else about the presentation is rock solid, though, clean and filmic. A nice surprise.
Criterion only includes the remixed 5.1 track, presented in DTS-HD MA. Most dialogue and activity focuses to the fronts, but music, effects, and screaming crowds do work their way throughout the speakers and fill the environment nicely. The track is dynamic with superb range and fidelity, the most musical moments showing this aspect off best. Dialogue is clear, there is no sign of distortion, and the track is free of damage and background noise.
The film gets a somewhat generic collection of features, starting with an audio commentary featuring Zemeckis and co-writer Bob Gale, recorded for Universal’s DVD in 2004. The commentary is a decent filmmaker track, the two talking about the film’s development, the actual filming, and its eventual (disappointing) release. It was Zemeckis’ first feature film and he shares stories related to his jitters, and talks about working with a fairly limited budget and getting around them. I was actually a bit surprised to learn the hotel exteriors were filmed on a back lot and framing had to be tight because of limited space (its mentioned that the image was reframed a bit for what would have been the Universal DVD to correct moments where the stage could be seen, and that looks to have been carried over to this new restoration as well). There are also some great stories, particularly about assistant director Newt Arnold (who had just come off of filming Sorcerer and The Godfather, Part II and wanted something easy), his personality, and how he came to play the scary barber in the film. There are a few lengthy dead spots but it’s an entertaining track.
Criterion has then filmed a new group conversation between Zemeckis, Gale, and producer Steven Spielberg, running a lengthy 41-minutes. This interview ends up covering a lot of material from the commentary, going over development and filming, though this interview expands on this material since Spielberg is now there to fill in some gaps, and its amusing how there are still surprises between them, like Zemeckis learning execs at Universal were unsure of allowing a newcomer to direct and Spielberg had to guarantee he would fill in if Zemeckis wasn’t going to cut it, or Spielberg learning that Zemeckis never actually joined the DGA at the time like he was supposed to. But the conversation ends up being a fun reflection on the early days of their careers and a different studio system in comparison what exists today; they all seem to feel that they would never get away now with what they did then, or even got their chances to begin with, though don’t acknowledge how they probably played a part in the direction Hollywood has gone. They also talk about their working relationships since and other work from around the same time as I Wanna Hold Your Hand, including 1941 to a small extent. This proved to be quite a bit of fun and it’s easily the best feature on here.
Having said that I also enjoyed the new interview with actors Nancy Allen and Marc McClure, running a more modest 22-minutes. Allen ends up taking up most of the time, explaining how she was looking for a different character after what she played in Carrie (unsurprisingly she got offers to play awful people) and both recall the amount of fun they had, how it was working with the other actors, and what it was like working for Zemeckis, who was a little nervous about the process and technical details. He would even ask Allen how things were done on Carrie, Allen laughing it was almost like he thought she was some sort of expert. Despite this he was always on point with how he wanted to tell the story and play out a scene, making things clear for them in this regard. It’s also somewhat funny to see McClure now learn, 40-years later, that he missed out on a premiere party for the film, with the cast staying in a suite at The Plaza (he was filming Superman at the time). He seems a bit disappointed.
In a nice touch Criterion includes two of Zemeckis’ early student short films, from 1972 and 1973 respectively: the 7-minute The Lift and the 14-minute A Field of Honor. The first, filmed in black-and-white, centers around a man and his apartment building’s touchy elevator, which seems to be playing games with him. The second, focuses around a young man (maybe suffering from PTSD) released from a hospital and dealing with the chaotic real world (though I was guessing most of the issues, like a gun fight that breaks out on a bus, are all in his head). This latter one is a bit odd tone-wise: it’s quite dark ultimately, but it delivers it with a bit of wink, a lot of that thanks to it using the score from The Great Escape. Both look to have had little restoration done but they are presented in 1080p/24hz high-definition and the digital presentations looks good.
The disc then closes with the film’s theatrical trailer and then six radio spots (including a rather odd one making it seem like Ed Sullivan was coming back from the dead, reminding me of the Vincent Price gag in that one episode of The Simpsons). The included insert features a short essay by Scott Tobias, who quickly goes over The Beatles and the importance of their performance on television before getting into the film and the early days of Zemeckis, Gale, and Spielberg.
It’s an interesting film for Criterion to release and I would have maybe expected some academic material on this period in Hollywood, leading into the blockbusters that Zemeckis and Spielberg themselves would be involved with. The extras ultimately leave a bit of a hole but what is there is worth viewing.
It could have been more, but this edition is a solid one in the end. Despite some problems the presentation looks nice and the supplements were fun to go through.