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Blu Ray

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  • Sutcliffe's art & music legacy thrives; Backbeat enhances his underrated fame.

    Backbeat Blu-ray Front Cover

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  • Video
  • Shout Select celebrates Backbeat's 25th anniversary with a glossy 2K scan for their 54th release, maintaining vivid colors and a clean image, despite minor imperfections and a slight deviation from the film's original gritty aesthetic.

  • Audio
  • Shout provides both a robust DTS-HD 5.1 remix and original 2.0 Stereo. Despite minor issues with accent clarity and surround separation, the audio, complemented by jazz/bebop scores and dynamic speaker use, ensures an engaging experience, enhanced with detailed English SDH for song lyrics.

  • Extra
  • Licensed bonus materials from Universal's 2003 DVD and Focus Features' upgraded edition drop some features but include rich interviews, casting sessions, and a mix of commentary, all mostly in English without subtitles.

  • Movie
  • In "Backbeat," the early Beatles' story is vibrantly depicted, focusing on Lennon and Sutcliffe's deep bond and creative struggles amidst their rise, set against the backdrop of 1960s Hamburg and a soundtrack pulsing with raw energy.

    Video: 61

    Shout Select's commemorative release of "Backbeat" for its twenty-fifth anniversary as part of their specialty label series, edition number 54, brings this iconic movie into the high-definition era with notable ambition. Utilizing the MPEG-4 AVC codec on a BD-50 disc, the transfer boasts an impressive mean video bitrate of 35,000 kbps, with the total disc bandwidth peaking at 42.39 Mbps. This ensures that the film is presented in its original 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio with remarkable clarity over its 100-minute runtime. While the majority of the film appears pristine, there are minor instances of dirt and some negligible film-related artifacts remaining from the 2K scan. This meticulous attention to detail in video quality, however, does expose a few shortcomings. The primary colors, vibrant and bold, tend toward over-saturation without experiencing color bleed, potentially contributing to a more polished visual experience than some purists might prefer. The cleanliness of this presentation particularly affects the perception of the film's settings; the Hamburg bars, meant to be grimy and laden with the residues of World War II, shimmer a tad excessively in this transfer.

    This Blu-ray edition is not without its minor video flaws, which aficionado eyes might catch. For example, there's observable low-level noise on a character's sport coat and slight ringing artifacts around the shadows in certain scenes. Despite these nuances, Shout Select's effort to enhance clarity and color vibrancy may have inadvertently diminished some of the original atmospheric grunge intended by Softley, particularly noted in the cleaner-than-expected façades of characters and environments that once portrayed a rawer edge. However, with twelve chapter selections readily accessible for navigation either through the menu or a remote, viewers are offered a user-friendly experience to accompany this visually enhanced presentation of "Backbeat." The technical prowess behind this rendition cannot be understated, though it brings to light the fine line between enhancing for clarity and maintaining historical authenticity in visual tone.

    Audio: 66

    The audio presentation of "Backbeat" on Blu Ray offers both a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround sound mix at a bitrate of 3193 kbps and 24-bit depth, and an original DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Stereo mix at 1624 kbps and 24-bit. This dual offering caters to varying preferences, providing a rich auditory experience either way. However, the utilization of Spectral Recording for the soundtrack presents a unique challenge, especially in the early portions where the Liverpudlian accents can prove to be a bit of a deciphering task. It's worth noting that while some have expressed dissatisfaction with Stephen Dorff's accent, it doesn't detract from the overall audio quality. In fact, the dialogue registers with clarity across channels, though it might necessitate switching on the English SDH for some viewers for full comprehension.

    The 5.1 Surround mix particularly enhances the experience during musical sequences, with the front left and right speakers pulsating with energy as they relay the film's twelve songs. Despite this vibrancy, there's a noticeable lack of distinct separation from the rear channels during these musical moments and effects, potentially diminishing the fully immersive experience one might expect. That said, the rears come into their own during later ballads, contributing to a more enveloping soundscape.

    Composer Don Was delivers a commendable jazz and bebop underscore which effectively complements the narrative, enriched by contributions from notable musicians like trumpeter Terence Blanchard. Additionally, for those keen on details, the English SDH does an admirable job of identifying songs and transcribing lyrics, adding another layer of appreciation for the audio presentation. While the 5.1 mix may lack in certain areas of channel separation, it nonetheless provides a satisfying auditory journey through the film's musical and dramatic beats.

    Extra: 56

    The Blu Ray extras for "Backbeat" serve as a comprehensive deep dive into the filmmaking process and the story's historical context, offering a mix of technical insights, behind-the-scenes peeks, and personal anecdotes. Notable is the amalgamation of content originally sourced from Universal's 2003 DVD release, albeit with some notable omissions like the screen-based Director's Essay and a stills gallery. The audio commentary provides engaging stories from Iain Softley, Ian Hart, and Stephen Dorff, though the separate recording sessions create occasional lapses in continuity. Particularly enriching are the interviews and casting sessions that reveal the filmmakers' vision and the actors’ journey into their roles. However, the non-HD quality of these materials, especially in an era where high definition is standard, might detract slightly from the overall viewing experience. The absence of subtitles may also limit accessibility for some audiences.

    Extras included in this disc:

    • Audio Commentary with Iain Softley, Ian Hart, and Stephen Dorff: A mix of anecdotes and film insights, with occasional silence due to separate recordings.
    • A Conversation with Astrid Kirchherr: An audio interview paired with a photo montage.
    • Deleted Scenes: Two scenes offered in non-anamorphic format.
    • Interview with Director Iain Softley and Actor Ian Hart: Direct thoughts on the project.
    • Iain Softley Interview for The Sundance Channel: Extensive interview covering various aspects of the film.
    • 1993 TV Featurette: Promotional special containing interviews and behind-the-scenes footage.
    • Casting Sessions: Auditions showcasing the casting process.
    • NEW Theatrical Trailer: The US promotion for the film in full-frame.

    Movie: 66

    Backbeat," directed by Iain Softley, delves into the pre-fame days of the Beatles with an intimate glimpse into their time in Hamburg, West Germany. The narrative primarily orbits around the complex relationship and friendship between John Lennon (Ian Hart) and Stuart Sutcliffe (Stephen Dorff), focusing less on the other members such as Paul McCartney (Gary Bakewell), George Harrison (Chris O'Neill), and Pete Best (Scot Williams), with Ringo Starr (Paul Duckworth) making a brief appearance. The portrayal of these early days is enriched by a soundtrack produced by Don Was, featuring a dozen songs echoing the raw, potent energy that would eventually hallmark the Beatles' ascent to stardom. This energy, combined with Ian Hart's reprise of his role as a younger Lennon, delivers a textured exploration of the band's formative moments.

    Central to the storyline is Stuart Sutcliffe's character, adeptly brought to life by Stephen Dorff, who portrays Sutcliffe's internal conflict between his budding career with the Beatles and his profound talent as an abstract artist. His romantic entanglement with Astrid Kirchherr (Sheryl Lee), alongside his quest for artistic identity, serves as the emotional core of the film, shedding light on the influences that shaped not just Sutcliffe but also the band's trajectory. Editor Martin Walsh seamlessly navigates between these pivotal aspects of Sutcliffe's life and the burgeoning success of the Beatles, maintaining a swift yet comprehensive pace that unfortunately glosses over the development of relationships among the secondary characters.

    "Backbeat" stands out not just for its compelling portrayal of a lesser-known chapter in Beatles lore but also for its vibrant musical score and robust performances, especially from Dorff, Hart, and Lee. The film's presentation on Blu-ray captures this dynamic interplay of music, personal ambition, and creative expression with stunning clarity, providing watchers with an immersive experience of the Beatles’ pre-fame era. Notably recognized at Sundance in 1994 as a leading British film, "Backbeat" secures its place not merely as a historical recount but as a poignant cinematic exploration of friendship, love, and the painful choices that define artists.

    Total: 61

    The Blu-ray release of "Backbeat" serves as an authoritative exploration into the lesser-known but profoundly influential chapter of the Beatles' history, focusing on Stu Sutcliffe's pivotal role as the original bass player. The presentation not only sheds light on Sutcliffe's significant yet abbreviated tenure with the band but also delves into his considerable contributions to abstract expressionism, a testament to his multifaceted talent. The package comes from Shout Select, which has done a commendable job in delivering an above-average transfer of the film, though there remains room for improvement. The inclusion of both the original stereo and a dynamically enhanced 5.1 audio option enriches the viewing experience, immersing the audience in the atmospheric depth of the Beatles’ early days and Stu's personal journey.

    Despite the compelling subject matter and solid delivery, the Blu-ray release could have benefited significantly from additional content, such as interviews with director Iain Softley and principal cast members. Their insights into the making of the film and its portrayal of historical events would have added a valuable layer of depth to the package. Stephen Dorff's portrayal of Sutcliffe is a standout aspect of the film, offering a deeply nuanced performance that highlights the actor’s versatility and commands attention. His role, along with the detailed narrative of Sutcliffe’s life—as chronicled through exhibits, anthologies, and graphic novels—cements "Backbeat" as a must-have for not only Beatles fans but also enthusiasts of cinema and art.

    In conclusion, this Blu-ray release of "Backbeat" is highly recommended for those interested in the interweaving of music history with personal drama. While it presents an impressive attempt at preserving and celebrating Stuart Sutcliffe's legacy, it simultaneously leaves viewers yearning for more—a sentiment echoing the broader desire for further exploration into this significant yet underrepresented aspect of Beatles lore. It stands as a solid addition to any collection, bridging the gap between music enthusiasts and cinephiles with its rich narrative and technical execution.