You would think that the filmmaker who brought Lord of the Rings to life would be the perfect director to assemble the ultimate Beatles documentary from thousands of hours of the archival original footage. Sadly, this proved not to be the case.
This three-part documentary of the Beatles rehearsing for and then performing in what would be their final public concert makes one thing very clear: Peter Jackson is a Beatles-aholic. He is clearly addicted to the Fab Four and simply cannot get enough of them. And not enough for him is simply too much for this reviewer.
Make no mistake: I’ve been a Beatles fan for a long time, going all the way back to their first American tour, September 1964, when I saw Ringo looking out the window of their Hilton hotel room on Cleveland, Ohio’s public square. But this production has gone overboard. It’s simply too long, much too long. Part 1 runs for 2 hours and 37 minutes. Part 2 for 2 hours and 54 minutes. Part 3, which includes the rooftop concert, lasted 2 hours and 19 minutes. Add it all up and this project consumes 7 hours and 50 minutes. Two-and-a-half hours would have been enough.
Jackson’s conceit for this piece is to use a calendar to track each day’s activities from the very first rehearsal session to the rooftop performance. Why? We get oodles of multi-camera looks at the Beatles as they rehearse, jam, and interact with each other and their team of producers, technicians, and spouses (especially Yoko Ono, who was beside John every day).
We witness the short-term breakup when George leaves the group after being treated poorly by Paul, who seems to regard Harrison as just a rhythm guitar role player at one point. We see day after day after day of mind-numbingly pointless discussions of where they are going to hold their rehearsals and even the concert itself—Albert Hall? London’s Hyde Park? How fascinating it is (not) to discover that even ultimately settling on the rooftop of their Apple studio was not decided until the last minute.
So much effusive praise has been heaped on this production by other critics, it is clear that mine is a lonely voice crying in the wilderness. There are scenes worth saving from parts one and two and scenes worth cutting from part three. Lots of cutting for the first two, less for the third. The final performance itself should be preserved intact. All I can say about those other reviewers, the ravers, is that they are as psychologically bereft of a life, as it seems Mr. Jackson is. Hero worship should not be a behavioral model worth emulating.
There were five cameras on the roof, one on the roof of a building across the street (put in place without bothering to ask permission of the building’s owner), three outside on the street, and a hidden camera inside the Apple building in the reception area, which caught some very candid conversations between Apple staff and the British “bobbies” who came in response to 30 complaints about all the noise.
One more observation: Everything got going with just John, Paul, George, and Ringo. During part one, R&B star Billy Preston, who was a great Beatles fan, stopped by the rehearsal venue and the Beatles asked him to sit in. From that moment on, he becomes an integral part of the team. His keyboard playing is magical. And during parts one and two, he gets a decent amount of inclusion.
But once the concert on the roof begins, he becomes nearly invisible. Camera angles seem to intentionally exclude showing him. One can only wonder if this was due to the original filming or to Jackson’s editing.
The business decision to engage Jackson to comb through all that film was quite sound. He is a consummate craftsman and a brilliant visionary. Having his name attached to this undertaking no doubt guaranteed a huge audience. Combine the Beatles with Peter Jackson and all that needs to be done is to roll the trucks up to the loading dock and start loading the money.
That he allowed himself to give in to his addiction is unfortunate but understandable.
So, if you too are a Beatles-nik, then, by all means, tune in to Disney+ and knock yourself out. If your level of affection does not extend to that level, then you may want to simply skip parts one and two altogether.