In early April I posted a moan-and-groan piece (“Blame Lester for A Hard Day’s Less“) about the decision by Criterion and director Richard Lester to crop the forthcoming Hard Day’s Night Bluray (streeting on 6.24) at 1.75:1 instead of the more common 1.66:1, which has been the default aspect ratio for decades. (The one time it wasn’t used was when Criterion issued a Hard Day’s Night laser disc at 1.37:1.) Then on May 2nd I passed along a view from Chris Willman that the digitally remastered Night looked grainier than expected during the TCM Classic Film Festival screening at the Chinese. Well, I’ve now watched the Criterion Bluray and it’s beautiful. Much more of a knockout than expected. It makes the film feel so fresh and robust and the soundtrack sound so twangy and thrompy that it’s almost like watching it new again. Scratch that — is is like watching it new again.
Do I still wish that Criterion had cropped it at 1.66? Yes, I do. Every now and then a shot seems to lack breathing room and doesn’t look “right,” but the truth is that I got used to the 1.75:1 cropping fairly quickly. And I never once saw what Willman was talking about. Maybe the Chinese projection had an issue or two but there are no grainstorms here — trust me. This is the best-looking version of A Hard Day’s Night I’ve ever seen or heard anywhere. If only Criterion’s Peter Becker had politely ignored Lester’s request to crop it at 1.75:1. If Criterion had simply followed HE’s “more height is always right” dictum I would give this disc a 100% AAA grade. As is, it gets a 90%. (It seems, incidentally, that Criterion used four moving captures from the 1.37:1 version in their title page — see above.)