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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 20%
Average: 32%
Pretty Bad: 4%
Total Crap: 8%

1 review, 19 user ratings

Magical Mystery Tour
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by Collin Souter

"...if you look to your left you will find the view to be not very inspiring"
3 stars

Assuming all musical careers can be boiled down to your average episode of VH1’s “Behind the Music,” The Beatles’ TV movie “Magical Mystery Tour” would come at the point where The Beatles believed in their fame so much that they thought they could get away with anything. Of course, they would be proven wrong. The critics hated “Magical Mystery Tour” in its day. As a television endeavor for a famous artist or group, it can be sandwiched somewhere between The Star Wars Christmas Special and U2’s “A Year In Pop.” Yet, since almost everything else about The Beatles seems to endure the test of time, it’s no surprise that “Magical Mystery Tour” remains a necessary curiosity item amongst the newer MTV/VH-1 generation of Beatles fans.

“Magical Mystery Tour,” based on the album of the same name, came out on the heels of The Beatles’ artistic triumph, “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band” and featured some leftover tracks from the “Sgt. Pepper” sessions. The movie was conceived as a somewhat spontaneous road trip taken on a bus by The Beatles and several other acquaintances. The Beatles had the idea to bring a film crew and record anything interesting that happened on the trip. Well, nothing happened. Thus, “Magical Mystery Tour” can easily be described as a movie where a bunch of weird shit comes on in between some cool Beatles videos.

Just as John Lennon has claimed the lyrics to “I Am The Walrus” to be nothing more than gibberish, so can be said of MMT: The Movie. It’s experimental, cinematic gibberish, pure and simple. True, The Beatles were in the midst of experimental drug use at this time in their career, so one could easily simplify the failure and the content of MMT as being the result of this drug use. It also didn’t help back in 1967 when the movie premiered and ended up being broadcast in black-and-white.

The movie starts out with Ringo Starr—here using his real name, Richard Starkey, who is also listed as the Director of Photography—taking his Aunt Jessica to the bus stop where they will board the Magical Mystery Tour. John, Paul and George are already there, but in this film, The Beatles never acknowledge themselves as The Beatles. They exist merely as passengers on the same bus with a bunch of other eccentrics. The Tour is hosted by Jolly Jimmy Johnson, a hyperactive ham in desperate need of a good slap.

From there, the movie segues, and not very smoothly, to a video of “Fool on the Hill,” which features Paul McCartney wandering around hilltops and gazing out at mountains. For serious Paul fans, this video is a joy to watch, I’m sure. It certainly comes as a breath of fresh air from any activity that might have happened on the bus thus far. When we go back to the bus, we see George sitting next to a sleeping John Lennon. Not a good sign.

Other activities on the tour include a Marathon, in which midget wrestlers, milkmen, clergymen, small children, average joes and The Beatles run a race for no reason and with no apparent destination. The race turns into “The Cannonball Run” when everybody finds an automobile to race around the streets of England. The Magical Mystery Tour bus wins. Just thought you’d like to know. We also get to pay a visit to an army base where the passengers get screamed at by a gibberish-speaking sergeant (not Pepper) in a scene that would feel right at home on an episode of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus,” really the only non-Beatles scene to which I can pay a sincere compliment.

Supposedly, a magic spell occurs on the trip concocted by five musicians in red wizard outfits (except for John who wears black). Who is number five, you ask? I have no idea. I’m sure an expert can clue me in, but right now, let’s just stick with “some guy with glasses.” This magic spell causes one of the passengers, the frail, elderly Buster Bloodvessel to fall in love with Ringo’s Aunt Jessica, to which we endure a romantic interlude. This sequence doesn’t carry quite the same horror as when Aunt Jessica has a dream/nightmare sequence about being in a restaurant and having piles of mud puke being shoveled onto her table by a waiter, played by John (and based on one of his own dreams). Consider it the ultimate low point in the cinematic history of The Beatles.

One question will undoubtedly pop up to anyone watching this today: What does any of this really have to do with The Beatles? Mostly, I would say it has to do with who they were at that time. They had successfully shed their clean-cut Moptop image, added psychedelia to their sound and depth to their lyrics, grew their hair out and experimented with drugs. They wanted to explore other avenues of entertainment and “Magical Mystery Tour” represents their first foray into that avenue with their film company, Apple Films. Yet, some might consider this ahead of its time. Music videos didn’t have much of an existence in 1967 and “Magical Mystery Tour” contains five legitimate music videos (six of you count the opening) sandwiched between what might have been just an ill-conceived reality show.

The movie only really comes to life when everything stops for a Beatles tune. The instrumental “Flying” contains what are supposed to be “inspiring” views of Iceland, but through colored filters. “I Am The Walrus” carries an equal amount of charm and goofiness in its visual interpretation as the song’s nonsensical lyrics. “Blue Jay Way” might be the most dated, as we see George Harrison sitting in a blue room as five similar images swirl around him. The movie culminates in a visually cheesy rendition of “Your Mother Should Know,” which features The Beatles dressed in white tuxes descending a wide staircase stepping and snapping in unison.

When asked about MMT, everybody points out that the idea behind it belongs to Paul. In “The Beatles Anthology,” Paul lightheartedly backs away from claiming responsibility while still defending it. He claims Steven Spielberg came up to him at one time and said that MMT was a movie he and his friends really admired back in their film school days. Critics at the time may have been waiting for a chance to tell The Beatles that they weren’t invincible. Others may have been expecting a laugh-filled romp along the lines of “Hard Days Night” and “Help!” but instead got an avant-garde mish-mash of ideas meant to be looked at as abstract art rather than surface entertainment. Whatever the case, The Beatles gave their critics a good reason to lash out.

Still, all is forgiven amongst Beatle fans. I tried getting some words regarding MMT from certifiable Beatle experts. Nick Digilio, a fellow film critic and former regular attendee of Beatlefest here in Chicago says of the movie (after calling it “certifiable caca”): “I recommend it for folks who want to have fun with the whole ‘Paul is dead’ thing, because there are ‘clues’ sprinkled throughout the movie and album. Basically, the film is the result of lots of drugs, the power to get away with anything, and a dab of pretentiousness. But you know what? I still love it.” In the same vain, I would recommend a new generation of Beatle fans to put MMT: The Movie near the bottom of their to-do list, but never to scratch it off entirely.

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originally posted: 08/18/03 14:27:40
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User Comments

7/18/11 zenny more fun if you're smoking what Paul & Co. were smoking 2 stars
12/13/10 Matt The music is very good. It's just an extended trippy music video really. Great fun! 4 stars
6/21/10 Sarah Classic music, but the film is shit. Bored me to sleep when they weren't singing. 1 stars
4/22/10 scotty b was great after about 5 bong hits when I was 17 4 stars
1/02/09 Stee12 The first music video! Since they didn't exist yet, the Beatles created a new genre. 3 stars
12/03/07 SamanthaP this movie is a freaking acid trip, just don't think to deep into it or you'll be confused! 5 stars
12/14/05 Teanna I totally love the beatles, for mmt you just have to be able to let your mind go with it. 5 stars
10/16/05 JeromeBosch total crap 1 stars
11/12/04 Thunderbird greatly underrated though needs a digital restoration 5 stars
2/23/04 pisswhistle the bonzo dog band and the divine miss carson make this movie a treasure! 5 stars
11/01/03 cassie awesome movie!!!!! 5 stars
8/18/03 Jon Lyrik Brilliant music and some funny moments, but not inspired enough to be good. 3 stars
12/27/01 Union Jack Not great. A must for a beatle fan. Could have done well with a bigger budget. 4 stars
5/24/01 Dan Peters I loved it. The only reason others don't like it is because they have shallow imaginations 5 stars
1/25/01 LSD bad ass for tripping 5 stars
1/05/01 Maxwell Edison I don't have enough space to say how much i LOVE this little film. Hey E-Critic, you suck!! 5 stars
11/19/00 viking one of the earliest rock videos 4 stars
10/12/00 Tom McCord Pure psychedila. A movie revolveing around the 2nd best Beatles album of all time, i luv it 5 stars
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