In Review

The Beatles: Get Back – does Peter Jackson’s documentary live up to the hype?

Eight-hour docuseries features unseen footage from more than half a century ago

Millions of Beatles fans worldwide have reason to twist and shout in celebration as Peter Jackson’s fly-on-the-wall documentary about the band is finally released. 

The Lord of the Rings director spent two years editing 55 hours of previously unseen footage and 140 hours of mostly unheard audio to create The Beatles: Get Back, the first episode of which is out on Disney+.

The three-part docuseries follows 22 manic days in the lives of the Fab Four in January 1969, when they wrote and rehearsed songs for their album Let It Be – originally titled Get Back. The footage is made up of outtakes from the Beatles’ “glum” 1970 documentary of the same name that had been kept in a vault for the past five decades, said GQ.

In an interview with the magazine, Jackson revealed that the first cut of the new film was 18 hours long, before being trimmed back to around eight. But does the final version live up to his promise to show the group “as you’ve never seen them before”? Critics have begun delivering their verdicts.

The good

The eagerly anticipated film “transcends both the hype and the fan anxiety” that Get Back “might turn out to be a kind of Paul-and-Ringo-approved whitewash”, said Owen Gleiberman in Variety.

Jackson shows The Beatles as “a close-knit group of showman-gods who never stopped clowning around or loving each other” – a far cry from the “gloomy, end-of-an-era, swan-song-of-a-group” showcased and mythologised in Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s Let It Be, Gleiberman added.

Get Back reveals how much the band “genuinely cared for each other”, agreed music critic Neil McCormick in The Telegraph. The series is essentially “one for all the Beatles' children, all of us fans who never really got over our favourite band splitting up”.

The bad

The new release is certainly full of “indelible scenes”, so “why not five stars?” asked The Times’ chief film critic Kevin Maher in a four-star review. At 468 minutes, it is “perhaps obviously” too long. Over the three parts, the central debate raging in the band – “Paul wants to stage a live show, the others aren’t bothered” – is “replayed endlessly”. 

Though given that the original edit was 18 hours, perhaps we should just be grateful for “small mercies”, Maher added.

Jackson is “not a director noted for the brevity of his approach”, said Alexis Petridis in The Guardian, who pointed out that the New Zealander’s version of King Kong ran at twice the length of the original. And “so it proves here”.

Although there are “doubtless” Beatlemaniacs who think the eight-hour running time is “impossibly stingy”, Petridis continued, “its sheer length can feel like a schlep” for anyone else. 

Get Back certainly “takes a long and winding road”, agreed Empire’s Ian Freer. But it does leave “tons of jewels along the way”, he added.

“You can feel Jackson’s love and care in every perfectly restored frame.”

The second and third instalments of The Beatles: Get Back, are being released tomorrow and on Saturday respectively on streaming platform Disney+.

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