The first really good thing about A Hard Day's Night is there mere fact that it isn't horrendously bad. The Beatles may have been streets ahead of their contemporaries musically, but there was no guarantee that it would translate into film where they would have far less control over how they were presented. And from Summer Holiday to Fun in Acapulco, from Spiceworld to Glitter, pop-star exploitation movies are generally pretty awful. And it would have been so easy for the studio to dull the Beatles' sharp wit so A Hard Day's Night scores highly just for not being that awful.
The Beatles were smart enough to get people who understood and shared their sense of humour. Director Richard Lester was chosen mainly because of his work with the Goons. It's easy to forget that Milligan,Sellers and Secombe were just as important in influencing the Beatles as Presley, Berry or Holly were. Alun Owen's screenplay is also very sympathetic to the Beatles' own style, and even includes a sequence where they reprise some of their best interview moments, like John's “Turn left at Greenland,” quip. For the most part, they just let the Beatles be the Beatles, which is the best thing they could have done.
The plot is a simple day-in-the-life scenario which allows for plenty of adventures and bursts into song without ever appearing too contrived. The running joke of Paul's grandfather (Wilfred Brambell) being a very “clean” old man is probably a reference to his most famous character, Albert Steptoe, who is regularly chided by son Harold for being a “dirty, dirty man.” It could also be to try and distract from the fact he's playing roughly the same character – someone trying to spoil it all for everyone else.
A Hard Day's Night takes what has always been a banal form and raises it to what it really ought to be – a great bit of afternoon entertainment, even for non-Beatles fans, and throws in some quite creative camera work too.
The audio is listed as stereo but when you put it in your player, it will read as 5.1. They have placed all the film dialogue in the centre channel, as per the original mono, but all the songs are in stereo. I can see the sense in that, but the transition from one to the other can be annoying at times.
As far as extras go, too much of a good thing. There is the standard documentary/retrospective on disc one, but disc two gives us interviews with almost every living person involved with the film and it's far more than necessary, especially when we already heard the most important parts in the doco.
Highlight: If I Fell
Feature: * * * * *
Extras: * * ½
Audio: Dolby 5.1 (sort of)