One of this year’s biggest releases on Disney+ is “The Beatles: Get Back”, which takes audiences back in time to the band’s January 1969 recording sessions, which became a pivotal moment in music history. The docu-series showcases The Beatles’ creative process as they attempt to write 14 new songs in preparation for their first live concert in over two years. Faced with a nearly impossible deadline, the strong bonds of friendship shared by John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr are put to the test.
Initially, “Get Back” was going to be released in 2020 as a theatrical film, but due to the length of the project, (coming in at over seven hours), it evolved into a three-part mini-series, with the first episode dropping on Disney+ on Thursday (aka Thanksgiving), with the next episode dropping on Friday and another on Saturday.
Peter Jackson, who directed the classic “Lord Of The Rings” movies, is behind this project. He has exclusive access to over 60 hours of unseen footage that was shot over 21 days in 1969, and from more than 150 hours of unheard audio, most of which has been locked in a vault for over half a century. Jackson also developed original technology, which means he has been able to brilliantly restored the footage and audio. One of the most exciting things was that he was able to pull out audio from when the band members were having private conversations and using their instruments to try to hide what they were talking about.
Also, the band didn’t know that the film crew had hidden microphones all around the set, picking up their conversations. The film crew would put tape over the red lights to indicate it was recording, turn the cameras on and walk away, just so they could capture the Beatles being themselves.
It very much feels like you’re a fly on the wall and listening to some fascinating conversations that Beatles fans are going to love. You really do get that feeling that you’re listening to something you shouldn’t be, but also learning more about them as people. You get to see them being open and honest with one another. Which isn’t always great, but it makes for better television.
The restoration of the film is also incredible. It looks stunning, considering this was filmed over 50 years ago.
Trying to cut down hundreds of hours of footage was never going to be easy and unfortunately, I feel, like most Peter Jackson projects, means that this documentary does feel a little bloated at times.
Ever since Disney+ launched, there has been an overall issue with the streaming service often skewing more to a younger audience, since it’s supposed to be for the whole family. “The Beatles: Get Back” really is going to push those boundaries much more, because the entire documentary is filled with explicit language, mature themes such as drug-taking, and throughout the film, they are constantly smoking. This being a documentary about the late 1960s, it would be impossible not to include this. Even though Disney had requested this, The Beatles insisted it all stay in.
In all honestly, I don’t think kids are going to be interested in this documentary. It’s extremely slow and is just a band sitting around jamming and practising for a good 6+ hours. I think most viewers might get a little bored at times, especially when we keep seeing the band rehearsing the same song over and over again.
The first part of the documentary is filmed in the Twickenham Film Studios, where The Beatles were going to come up with 14 new songs for a new album, film a documentary and do a live TV show. After a long time apart, each doing their own things individually, the band struggled to get back together.
Since the loss of their manager, the band seemed to be directionless, while Paul McCartney was trying to organise them, they had all drifted too far apart. And this episode of “Get Back” really shows their struggles, with George Harrison getting extremely frustrated at his influence being overshadowed or ignored. This would ultimately result in him leaving the band, as they all struggled to deal with the pressure of the task at hand.
The second part of the documentary sees the band reunite, but this time they move to their own Apple Studios in Saville Row, they decide they are just going to make a brand new album, and since they’ve still got a film owed to the studio, they decided to let the cameras keep rolling to make a documentary. This footage would be used for the film “Let It Be”. Generally, the mood in the group was in a much better place once they had a better idea of what they were making and had a purpose.
In the final part of the documentary, we see the shift from the rehearsals to them putting on a free open-air concert on the rooftop of their studio in Saville Row. This was my favourite episode from the series, because now we are getting full versions of their songs, performed for an audience and after hearing some of them so many times throughout the series, it felt like it was all worth it. The thing I loved most about this episode was seeing the police and the locals in the street below reacting to the unannounced Beatles gig. Honestly, if you’re only going to watch one episode, go with this one and fast forward to their performances.
“The Beatles: Get Back” is such a strange mini-series. It doesn’t feel like the usual content you’d find on Disney+, but it was never originally set out to be that. For your average fan of The Beatles, this might be just too long. There are some extremely important moments captured on film. We get to really get to know where the band members were in their heads before they split up, and I think this documentary might change some people’s views of what happened in the end.
Off this footage, it’s not a surprise that the band split shortly after making this album. They are all on different pages in their lives and have inspirations of their own. They are simply not the same people they were when they started the band.
“The Beatles: Get Back” is a fascinating look into this band and offers a unique window into the band’s life.
For die-hard Beatles fans, this is a must-watch. You get to see and hear things that technology has uncovered, which we would have never had known about before this series.
However, casual fans are probably going to find this too long. I personally would have preferred the film version, cutting everything down to around 2 hours, with all the best bits included and the rehearsals cut out. Peter Jackson is an incredible filmmaker, but he does have a reputation for not cutting out things he should do for a reason.
Spreading this out over three days might sound good in theory, but I can’t help but think it’s just too long for most people. I know I was glazing over in the first two episodes, because as much as watching the Beatles interact with one another, with each episode between 2 and 3 hours long, It’s a bit of a slog. It’s got some fantastic moments, and the final performances on the rooftop are superb. It’s also a technical marvel, and die-hard fans are going to love it. But it was just too long for me.
Rating – 3.5 out of 5