Paul Angelis, John Clive, Dick Emery, Geoffrey Hughes, Lance Percival, Peter Batten
(Apple Films; US theatrical: 6 Jun 1968; UK theatrical: 6 Jun 1968; 1968)
The purists are already up in arms. Less than 24 hours since it was announced that Robert Zemeckis was helming a motion capture 3D remake of the Beatles classic bit of animated psychedelia, Yellow Submarine, and you’d swear the State of New York was paroling Mark David Chapman (don’t recognize the name? Go read something else!). Everyone, from film fans to protectors of the Fab Four sonic flame are arguing over the implied heresy of such an idea, complaining that technology and a “fresh” approach can’t contribute anything to what is already a classic.
And for the most part, they are right. The original project, completed without the pop phenomenon’s direct input (voices were impersonators, songs were leftovers along with some past classics), has remained a fixture of the artform, a post-modern Fantasia finding depth and meaning in the Lennon/McCartney songbook classicism. Dealing with the faraway kingdom of Pepperland and Old Fred’s battle against the bad vibe aggression of the memorable Blue Meanies, there was something very twee, and quite terrific, about George Dunning’s Peter Max-inspired effort. Now comes the threat of a Tinseltown treatment, the work of late ‘60s artisans sacrificed for a few gigs of RAM and a more photorealistic look.
Granted, it’s not the worst idea ever conceived. One look at Zemeckis’ attempts in the computer imaging arena would argue for the possibilities within such a project. Over the course of intriguing works like The Polar Express, Beowulf, and the upcoming Jim Carrey vehicle A Christmas Carol, the Back to the Future/Roger Rabbit auteur has come close to mimicking realism within a completely fabricated realm. Sure, the eyes still seem kind of dead and the facial motion reminds one of a trip to Disney’s mechanical Hall of Presidents more than real movement, but as progress makes such advancements better - and more importantly, cheaper - and exercise like Yellow Submarine makes sense.
Honestly, who wouldn’t love to see Pepperland rendered in three high resolution dimensions? Wouldn’t it be great to see the unlimited imagination of the modern artistic freely unleashed within an ‘anything is possible’ paradigm? The original is indeed a phenomenal bit of cartooning contrasts - rotoscoping incorporated into free form visions of a dying Victorian landscape, unusual villains whose horrors seem slightly surreal and almost laughable, the attention to detail, the broad-based over-stylzed sections. Now take what technology does best and AMPLIFY that. Understand now? Zemeckis may sound like the wrong man to remake the group’s already established status, but why not let his techniques take the material to new, heretofore unheard of heights?
Let’s look at the facts - the Beatles themselves did little to foster the original project. They really didn’t want to participate at all. They weren’t sitting with the animators, lording over every creative and character design issue. Instead, they licensed their rights and image, allowed Dunning and his crew to take the material wherever they liked, tossed off a few tunes, and reaped the praise when the results were masterful. With the untimely passing of John in 1980, and George’s death from cancer in 2001, it has been left to Paul, Ringo, Yoko, and Olivia to preserve the dynasty, and there will never be a chance to see the lads from Liverpool together again - except now. With the way in which Zemeckis makes his movies, this could be the Beatles “reunion” fans have long dreamt of.
Besides, where’s the proposed bellyaches over the about to be released Fab Four version of Rock Band. Instead of complaining about taking a 2D cartoon into another advanced dimension, said protracted bile should be preserved for a video game that fakes musicianship for the sake of a false sense of artistic accomplishment. Indeed, what’s more disrespectful to the genius of this seminal ‘60s group - taking their image and reinventing a fictional fable about peace, love, understanding, and ecology around it, or reducing their groundbreaking arrangements and pure songwriting genius into a series of joystick controls and button manipulations?
Still, one can see the point of the purists (the same ones who are probably working their voodoo curse magic on the makers of a certain console title as we speak). Everything about the Beatles legacy is important - from the early days of drugs and debauchery to their post-breakup bickering and lawsuits. They remain wholly unique in the annals of rock and roll, a distillation of what came before as a means of creating the blueprint for all that would come after. They delivered some of the greatest albums of all time, and when they failed (The Magical Mystery Tour TV special), they screwed up fabulously. They thought big (they once discussed making their own version of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings) and more often than not, produced. No other band can claim their influence and social import. To argue otherwise avoids several decades of actual history.
So retrofitting the adventures of a certain saffron submersible and its quick witted crew, to redesign the “Nowhere Man” himself, Jeremy Hilary Boob Ph.D into something more marketable and merchandisable does seem like part inspiration and part sacrilege. The group’s catalog has long needed a remaster, so the upcoming digital upgrades are more welcome than worthless, and there’s no suggestion about remaking A Hard Day’s Night or Help! with some nonsensical no-talent like The Jonas Brothers or Fall Out Boy in the lead. Even with Rock Band relegating their brilliance to memorizable bits of hand/eye coordination, at least the music is being heard again. Indeed, if Yellow Submarine 2012 (currently planned to coincide with London’s Summer Olympic Games) brings back unforgettable tunes like “It’s All Too Much” and “Hey Bulldog”, it might be worth it.
And there’s the already produced “cinematic” opening for the above-referenced video game to consider. Done via traditional as well as CG-aided animation and covering most of the group’s career, it’s considered “epic”, “operatic”, and “stunning” even by those who would defend the mythos of the originals to the death. In fact, if done correctly, an updated Yellow Submarine could become another modern masterpiece in the band’s lingering mystique. Remember the uproar over Anthology and the new ‘song’, “Free as a Bird”? A fantastic career spanning video changes many minds about its authenticity and place. So why couldn’t something like this? What if Zemeckis is not planning a mere remake? What if he intends his Submarine as a way of marking the group’s significance - a greatest hits, if you will, illustrated with eye popping visuals that play as an overview of everything they accomplished? Doesn’t sound to bad now, does it?
In the meantime, be prepared for the backlash. It’s the natural reaction when you shake your tiny fists at the gods. A few years ago it was ‘cool’ to dismiss The Beatles as nothing more than a teen idol boy band - an ‘N Sync, if you will, with better combined creativity. Whenever anyone challenged such a narrow minded perception, the proposed youth coup would complain, citing the sourpuss’s need to change with the changing times. Of course, all consensus being cyclical, we are back to defending our mop topped heroes like the counterculture icons they truly were.
If Rock Band is okay and new “stereo” mixes of their old Mono tracks are tolerable, a new Yellow Submarine doesn’t seem so horrific. Then again, that’s what they said about Julie Taymor’s inconsistent musical utilizing the band’s canon, Across the Universe. When you mess with the Beatles, you mess with history. Here’s hoping Zemeckis understands that before putting the supercomputer to the ultimate super-group.