'The Beatles: Get Back' review: A band falling apart, beautifully
Peter Jackson's epic, nearly eight hour look back at the Beatles in their final days is made for superfans of the Fab Four.
It's not quite "The Lord of the Rings," but director Peter Jackson has certainly turned "The Beatles: Get Back" into an epic quest, a seven-hour, 38-minute journey into the heart of the Liverpool quartet in its final days.
The film, which is being released in three parts over three days on Disney+, is assembled from footage of the Beatles as they make their final album, "Let It Be," and rehearse for a live performance of the material. (The original 1970 documentary has been out-of-print for decades.) It's the deep dive of all deep dives, a for-superfans-only plunge into the creativity, the tension and the drive that made up the Fab Four.
First things first: "Get Back" looks stunning, as the footage has been cleaned up and spit-shined so that it looks like it was filmed last weekend, not in 1969. It's assembled from 60 hours of film and more than 150 hours of audio, and the only awkward bits — at least in the first of the three parts, which is what was screened for the purposes of this review — comes from the patches where there's audio but no video to match, and Jackson tries awkwardly and unsuccessfully to sync the two.
It's also a triumph that Jackson is able to cover nearly the entirety of the Beatles, from their formation through Beatlemania — all those haircuts, all those screaming girls — and up to January 1969, in the span of about 10 minutes. (The Shea Stadium concert, for example, gets about four seconds.) That allows Jackson to s-t-r-e-t-c-h everywhere else, as "Get Back" immediately falls into a languid rhythm, where no bit of minutiae is too minute.
There's a DVD extras feeling to "Get Back" and its "heck, let's just include it all" philosophy. But Jackson isn't interested in getting on with the show. Here, the details are the show, and it can be fascinating watching the way John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr work together, their eyes meeting, their minds connecting and their instruments communicating, with songs coming out as the result. This is songwriting, this is collaboration, this is — to borrow a phrase from another legendary British musician, one Geri "Ginger Spice" Halliwell — compromisation. Or sometimes it's purely a solo show: Paul pretty much pulls "Get Back" out of thin air one morning while waiting for John, who is late to the session, to show up.
"Get Back" is the Beatles as they were in 1969, and there are tensions in their ranks. Paul is assuming control, he bickers back and forth with John, and Ringo sits back, smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee. Yoko Ono is at John's side, never saying much, not adding anything; George's Hare Krishna pals at least have the good sense to sit off to the side. They're the Beatles, they know they're the Beatles ("you aren't four jerks," they're reminded at one point), and there's pressure to create, even as they're all fragmenting and falling apart in their own ways. And "Get Back" has the time and space to show it breaking into pieces.
Did it need to be almost eight hours? Absolutely not, but Jackson isn't going for brevity here. He's not interested in the Cliff's Notes version, he's giving you the whole Odyssey, footnotes and all. There are bits where the guys are casually talking about what they watched on television the night before, and Jackson is able to toss in clips from those shows. There's other times where they're just sitting around, playing Dylan songs, and viewers get to watch it all unfold, like a fantasy version of rock camp. If you ever wanted to see the Beatles just be the Beatles, this is it.
"Get Back" isn't for everyone, nor is it meant to be. But to Beatles obsessives, and they're a group that numbers in the millions and spans generations, "Get Back" is a holy grail, and it delivers. Let it be.
'The Beatles: Get Back'
Not rated: language, smoking
Running time: 157 minutes (Part 1), 173 minutes (Part 2), 138 minutes (Part 3)