In 1995 when Bruce Markoe, Vice President of Feature Post Production at MGM/UA, had an urge to find Yellow Submarine on video to share with his 5 year old daughter and realized how difficult it was to find, he learned that it had been pulled from the market in 1987 because it was tied up in a legal dispute. "I thought this was a crime and a shame. Now you have a whole generation of young people who've never seen this movie. I felt it had a great message for kids." With the Beatles Anthology causing a resurgence of interest in the Beatles, he figured they "were sitting on a gold mine."
The president of UA agreed with Markoe's suggestion that Yellow Submarine should be brought back to life, and he picked up the phone, called the head of their Business Affairs department and said 'settle the lawsuit'. About a year later they got the green light to work on the film for re-release.
Markoe makes a point of distinguishing between the terms "restoration" and "renovation". "I coined the phrase renovation," he said, "because I really believe that's what we did with the movie. To me when you take something and you do a restoration you restore it to its original, pristine form. When you take something that is a classic piece of art or architecture and you do a renovation, that means that you're improving it while remaining true to the integrity of the original piece. And that was my goal."
The most important difference they made was improving the sound.
Almost all movies these days are done in six channels of discreet digital sound, called 5.1. One of the first things Markoe did was to call Abbey Road and tell them he wanted to remix all their songs in 5.1 digital. "They were very nice, of course, but they were surprised that I would even think of doing that," Markoe laughs. But he was able to convince Neil Aspinall, head of Apple, that the renovation of the film was a good idea, and approval was given to remix the songs with the provision that The Beatles approved of the result.
What he thought would take a week, ended up taking a month, and they went way over budget. "Based on the complexity of what was done, it was not unreasonable at all because the guys at Abbey Road were being so true to the original integrity of the music. There was an incredible marriage of the exact same technology that The Beatles used, literally even some of the same microphones, the same equipment they used in the 60s, to recreate the sound of the songs, in addition to using brand new 24 bit digital Sony machines in a marriage of both old and new technology."
Enhancing the sound dramatically was important because he didn't want to "have it sound like the record that everybody had heard. We needed to really utilize the 5.1 digital format to its fullest extent." Needless to say, The Beatles were bowled over by the new sound.
THE CLEAN UP JOB
The first 40 minutes of the movie were pulled off an original
negative of the film that was badly damaged with scratches and dirt. Markoe and the crew of about seven at Pacific Ocean Post Studio knew that nothing was missing because it synchronized to the original music track, effects track and dialogue track they had in their vaults. They digitally scanned in the entire first 40 minutes of the movie and digitally cleaned everything up, removing all the dirt and scratches, and restored the color. "We did retime the movie as if it were a new movie, and the first 40 minutes, since they were done digitally, they had even more control over that. But they needed it because the original element was in such horrible condition.
The last 50 minutes of the movie, the original element was luckily not severely faded. We had to pump up the color, but it wasn't all miscolored."
Markoe was adamant about remaining true to the original. They did correct a few animation mistakes, but not many because he believed they were part of the character of the original movie. For example, the beginning of the "Eleanor Rigby" sequence when the smoke stacks rise over the
buildings in a multi-plane camera move, "it's kind of jerky and it's got some shifts and flicker that we could have cleaned up digitally. But I said you know what? that's the character of the movie and that's not what people have come to know and love. So I said let's leave it alone."
The last three reels of the movie were not digitally restored because they were very lucky to find a very clean interpositive element in almost pristine condition, again with nothing missing from it.
"BETWEEN BLACK/WHITE & COLOR"
If you watch the renovated Yellow Submarine on VHS only, and don't see it in the theater or on a DVD home theater system where you can hear it in 5.1 surround sound, Markoe says "it's the difference between black and white and color. To me, seeing this in a movie theater with an audience with this new sound format is a whole different experience. We had a preview once and the audience started singing along. You can't get that in your living room."
When the millions of Beatle fans find out what they did to the songs, and understand that seeing this film in the theater will be "like going to The Beatles concert that you could never go to," Markoe believes they're going to be lining up like they did for Star Wars. Much to his disappointment, however, the renovated Yellow Submarine is currently planned mainly for a home video and DVD release and only a handful of art theaters.
He's still convinced that if the word gets out to Beatles fans about the intense difference in the sound experience that this will be the number one selling DVD title of all time, just for that reason.
These are the nine theaters at this time that have scheduled to run the renovated Yellow Submarine in 5.1 surround sound, according to Steve Glasenk of Signatures Network: The Brattle in Boston; The Union Square in New York; The Music Box in Chicago; The Esquire in Denver; The Uptown in Minneapolis; The Castro in San Francisco; The Ken Cinema in San Diego; The New Art in L.A.; and The Egyptian in Seattle.
MGM/UA Post Production
Markoe cleared up a few mysteries about this "new" version of Yellow Submarine. Considerable discussion among fans on the Internet have tried to determine whether new footage or dialogue was added to the renovated Yellow Submarine. According to Markoe, "This is the original UK version that was shown at the premiere in the UK. Everything is the original animation off the original negative." Not one frame of new animation was added.
The scenes that American fans especially will not recognize are not new, they are not computer generated to match lost footage, they are not pencil tests scanned in to the computer--they are just the elements that were removed when the "Hey Bulldog" sequence was edited along with other features that were necessary to remove in order to maintain continuity for the American audience.
SOUND EFFECTS ADDED
"There are about six or eight new little teeny things that we added," said Markoe. "There were a lot of sound effects that we added to the movie, but staying true to the integrity of the original, we did not add any new 1999 sound effects. We created a Yellow Submarine sound effects library from the original effects of the movie. There were a lot of places where you saw something happening and you didn't hear anything.
That was due to the low budget nature and just the state of sound at the time of 1968 in movies.
Today movies have a much bigger, fuller sound than they did back then." They took original sounds from the actual movie and digitally changed them. "Some of them we sped up, some we slowed down, some we played backwards, some we combined two or three sound effects on top of each other. We created new sound effects from the original sound effects and then we filled in places where I felt we needed more sound. But no new dialogue." So despite the fact that it now sounds like Ringo shouting "Beatles to Battle" even though Paul is obviously the one shouting the line, this is just another difference between the American and UK versions. "It's either a different voice or a different reading. But I figured this was the UK version and I didn't want to start intermixing the stuff because then that's me making a creative decision that I didn't think I should make."
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