The Beatles, ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ – Film Review
Going into the last quarter of 1967, the Beatles couldn’t get any bigger. Their masterwork, ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,’ pretty much changed the way pop music was made, sounded and consumed. They had transcended the rock ‘n’ roll ghetto, entering the final phase of a career that glided past pop music’s boundaries and into a wide-open realm of exploration and experimentation.
They were on top of the world, and nobody wanted, or could, tell them no. Which is how and why their third movie, ‘Magical Mystery Tour,’ came to be over two weeks in September of 1967. Conceived as a daylong travelogue, in which the Fab Four accompany a busload of family and friends to the sea, the 53-minute film was a kaleidoscopic-colored, and mostly improvised, trip into the overeager egos of the Beatles.
Each member gets his spotlight: John Lennon romping on the hillside during a musical interlude featuring ‘I Am the Walrus’; Paul McCartney (the driving force behind the project) ruminating on ‘The Fool on the Hill; George Harrison tripping out to ‘Blue Jay Way’; and Ringo Starr bickering with his aunt (played by an actress) for the duration of the tour.
But most of the movie is filled out by that tedious bus ride. Just to show you how desperate the filmmakers were for material, somebody plays an accordion and everyone else sings along. There's also bizarre sketches featuring the quartet dressed as magicians and a dreamlike love-story vignette that doesn’t include any of the Beatles.
‘Magical Mystery Tour’ originally aired on British television on Dec. 26, 1967, and bombed, proving that the Beatles were fallible after all. It’s easy to see why: The movie is a mess – incoherent, unfunny and an example of ego and authority running rampant and unchecked. It only comes to life during the musical numbers, especially the great ‘I Am the Walrus’ sequence, a music video before there was such a thing.
The restored DVD and Blu-ray includes a stellar soundtrack remix, ensuring that the movie’s watchable moments sound terrific. Extras include interviews with McCartney, Starr and some of the cast and crew, as well as commentary by McCartney, who readily admits that ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ isn’t one of the Beatles’ best moments. We couldn’t agree more.