Peter Jackson and the Beatles on ‘Get Back’

Written by by Emily Sohn, CNN Written by

“This movie was actually much longer,” Peter Jackson says, and with good reason.

Sixteen years after completing “King Kong,” he’s back with “Get Back,” a seven-hour epic about the making of The Beatles’ seminal film, “A Hard Day’s Night.” As a film fan, it’s a joy to savor Jackson’s ambitious vision. But, as a movie geek, its eclectic themes and dazzling visuals can’t quite save the film from being a complex ordeal.

If you haven’t seen “A Hard Day’s Night,” Jackson’s chronicle of the Beatles’ world tour of 1964, you’re missing out. It’s basically “Let It Be” on legs, and goes deeper than your average movie-and-pop fan can handle.

He was in great company filming the whole jaunt.

“Get Back” producer George Martin, center, with the camera team of Jackson, left, Chris Menges, left, David Evans, right, and Jackson’s wife, Fran Walsh, right. Credit: Peter Jackson, Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP

Seven-hour history

“Get Back” is a part-history, part-documentary, which “A Hard Day’s Night” didn’t offer. Although its final moments do leap over the finish line, after hours of “assessment” (the phrase used to describe a film’s scripts), Jackson does a wonderful job of allowing film historian Jon Savage, alongside his longtime cohort Peter Wenham, to tell the Beatles’ behind-the-scenes story in a narrative style.

And although the film’s much-discussed ending is likely to disappoint, it does wrap the film and its many observations into a concise final hours, which is likely how it should have been the whole time.

Its 13 credits mention countless credits, each with Jackson’s unmistakable name underneath. “Get Back” benefits from the distinct texture of an accomplished director and his collaborators, including cinematographer Chris Menges (“Seven Days in May”), production designer Pau van Biljon (“Lord of the Rings”), art director Mick Garris (“The Lord of the Rings”) and costume designer Iain Swords.

“Get Back” is on track to be one of Jackson’s most iconic works, and probably of all time. The film will likely draw comparisons to Sergio Leone’s “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” which saw its three directors compete for Oscars, and get their due. But that’s one-way traffic — only the viewer will benefit from that comparison.

For fans of “King Kong,” “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit,” it should be considered the best of the trilogy — though the first two films are better (or at least, that’s what most experts say).

It’s deep

From the opening image of the quartet huddled around the television as the BBC broadcasts the United States’ victory over the Soviet Union in the Berlin Wall, “Get Back” makes a clear point that things have changed since then. With Britain, America and Russia involved in a civil war in Europe, it’s easy to forget that back then, two deadly, even nuclear, conflicts were in play.

But even more, as Jackson explores how The Beatles managed to transcend culture — where to stop doing things that we do when we’re moved — the social and cultural sensitivities of the day are in the forefront.

‘Get Back’

Jackson and crew on location in Ireland. Credit: Peter Jackson, Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP

As one of the greatest pop groups in history, The Beatles’ music stands at a place of prestige — at least in our culture. To get behind the music, and connect the filmmaking and music worlds, Jackson’s team at Weta Workshop created a musical device, a “surf stick,” a new wave record machine that could record guitars onto an assortment of records.

Surfing on an array of audiences — not just the adults the Beatles’ original audience targeted, but the masses who adopted them — Jackson succeeds in making this transcendent music and spectacle both accessible and epic.

For The Beatles, the landmark of this film was the announcement that the band would be touring the United States. The mystique, fear and pride that audiences evoked for what might be “the end of their musical careers” kept them interested and inspired for the long haul. The same could be said for Jackson’s painstaking reconstruction of The Beatles’ world tour.

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