Restorer of Beatles Film 'Yellow Submarine' Talks 'State of the Art' Version Coming to Big Screen For 50th Anniversary

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The Beatles in Pepperland

The animated film Yellow Submarine has been shown a lot of love from both The Beatles and the public in its 50 years since its release in 1968. Starting today (July 9), to celebrate the movie's 50th anniversary, fans in the U.S. will be treated to theater screenings of the best-looking version of the film they've ever seen.

That's according to Paul Rutan Jr. at Triage Motion Picture Services, who led the team that re-scanned the film to the 4k resolution used on the Blu-ray and DVD release in 2012, as well as the theatrical cut to be debuted this week. “It's fully restored and it looks great,” Rutan tells Billboard in a phone interview. “The restoration that I did is state-of-the-art, the best that it can be,” he said.

Although most of the work was used for the release of the Blu-ray and DVD, there have been other improvements that theater viewers will notice, too. “The changes that were made were made basically was replacing scenes that had been shortened, correcting sequences that had been changed for the United States market, and also inserting the 'Hey Bulldog' sequence," Rutan details. "And Apple did a new 5.1 stereo track.” (The “Hey Bulldog” sequence was not seen in the version of the film originally shown in the U.S.)

The 2012 restoration was done painstakingly by hand, one frame at a time. “The reason we did that,” Rutan explains, “is that when we tried to apply automated restoration, it would eliminate the basic palette of the original hand-painted artwork. Little tiny nuances of brush strokes and just minute details, small details that were indicative of the artwork from the era -- which I thought was extremely important to maintain.”

The results on the big screen will be an experience, says Rutan: “To be able to see it on the big screen is going to blow people's mind compared to seeing it on a big TV because the screens are calibrated. The projectors are calibrated. I made it look like film.” And he has seen the results: “I've seen the digital cinema projection, the packages that are supplied to theaters. It looked incredible. It's quite spectacular.”

When the film was originally released a half-century ago, the expectations weren't high for it, according to Beatles historian and author Bruce Spizer. “No one really expected much from the Yellow Submarine feature-length cartoon," he offers. "The Beatles were not enthusiastic about the film, perhaps concerned over how they were depicted in the [U.S. Saturday morning] cartoon series. United Artists refused to count the cartoon as the third Beatles film under its contract with the group, agreeing only to serve as the distributor for the movie. But when it came out, the film exceeded all expectations. It was psychedelic, hip and funny. Visually it was like a Peter Max painting come to life. It was full of countless puns. Its message was the power of music and love.”

“When Yellow Submarine was first released back in 1968, it was understood as a kind of 'head movie,' the sort of film you go to see after dosing yourself in advance with hallucinogens,” Dr. Kenneth Womack, Dean of Social Studies and Humanities at Monmouth University and author of several Beatles books, tells Billboard. His books on the Fab Four include a two-volume biography of the group's producer Sir George Martin of which the second volume, Sound Pictures, will be published in September.

“But at the same time, it presaged today’s animated masterworks, where fun-loving characters and their colorful environs delight children, while the screenplay is laden with just enough sophisticated humor and punning wordplay to capture adult imaginations," he continues. "The upgrades to the film, including the digital treatment of the music and the animation, have rendered Yellow Submarine into a much sharper and more engrossing experience. For viewers who have seen the movie in its various incarnations since its premiere, each new version has breathed fresh life into the film, making for an evolving experience that pays dividends with each subsequent viewing.”

Yellow Submarine serves as the perfect way for fans to introduce The Beatles to their children and grandchildren, or just to share the experience with them,” Spizer says. “The film is as fresh, clever and exciting 50 years on as it was in 1968. It’s all in the mind, you know.”

Spizer will be introducing the film at several screenings July 13 through 15 at the Prytania Theatre in New Orleans.

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