Home Video Hovel: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, by Mat Bradley-Tschirgi
Jukebox musicals are a tricky thing. On one end, you have a fantastic catalog of pop or rock hits to work with. On the other hand, you have to shoehorn them into a plot of some sort that ideally makes some sort of sense. Another challenge of jukebox musicals is that you usually are working with covers of the original, and covers often don’t hold a candle to the originals. All of these problems are magnified in Michael Schultz’s (Car Wash, The Last Dragon) Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, a flop from 1978 that is burdened with adapting one of the Beatles’ best albums to the silver screen. This Blu-ray release from Shout Factory has a nice sprinkling of extras for this movie musical that’s even weirder than you think.
Henry Edwards’ screenplay introduces things with the origin story for the original Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club band. They were veterans of World War I and World War II and were legends in their town of Heartland. The Sarge himself passes on his three magical happiness-inducing instruments to his grandson, Billy Shears (Peter Frampton), and his friends (The Bee Gees), who form a new version of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club band. After local fame and success, Shears falls in love with Strawberry Fields (Sandy Farina). Soon, the group is whisked away to Los Angeles to join B.D.’s (Donald Pleasance) record label. Zaniness ensues and soon they have to rescue their magical instruments from Dr. Maxwell Hammer (Steve Martin), Father Sun (Alice Cooper), and Mr. Mustard (Frankie Howerd). Can our musical dynamos save Heartland in time?
Zany doesn’t even begin to describe this flick. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band makes The Who’s Tommy look like a Merchant Ivory Production. This is a rock opera through and through with a few brief spoken word segments. Any plot there is to speak of is just an excuse to hop from one song to the next. The Beatles’ Producer George Martin arranged the music for the movie and doesn’t get too oddball with the tunes’ sound; Alice Cooper’s cover of “Because” and George Burns’ cover of “Fixing a Hole” are notable exceptions, the former of which works better than the latter. For once, the cliche is true: you have to see it to believe it. Actor and musician cameos abound, especially in the final scene which recreates the famous cover of the titular album.
Shout Factory does an OK job with the video transfer, although some of this might be due to the source material. Grain is visible everywhere, especially in the many special effects shots, and the colors come off as somewhat muted. The sound mix is great on both the DTS-HD 2.0 and 5.1 mixes. The 5.1 mix is nice and roomy, expanding the scope of non-stop music with a tasteful, warm interpretation.
The extras include a new audio commentary from Pop culture historian Russell Dyball. Dyball has done his homework, dishing factoids from the musicians featured in the film as well as slipping in references to lyrics from the theme song to Mystery Science Theater 3000 and “Mama Said Knock You Out” by LL Cool J. There’s also a lengthy theatrical trailer and two slideshow videos of publicity photos and trading cards for the film. Having the pictures as still images you could manually scroll through would have been preferable to the videos, but they are still a neat watch, especially the trading cards. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is a must for mavens of bad musicals.