There were countless film and television projects delayed by the coronavirus pandemic. Only one, to our knowledge, was also tripled in parts and nearly quadrupled in length.
When Peter Jackson’s eagerly anticipated The Beatles: Get Back was announced in January, 2019, it was planned as a theatrical documentary release, with an expected runtime that typically hovers around two or two-and-a-half hours.
But as the Lord of the Rings director immersed himself in the 55 hours worth of previously vaulted footage that documented the recording of The Beatles’ final album, Let It Be, in 1969, he struggled to come anywhere close to that.
“We were at about eight hours at some point,” he told us in a recent virtual interview (watch above). When its release was pushed a year due to COVID-19, Jackson and his distributor Disney reassessed. “And at some we realized the two-and-a-half hour movie was sort of a dumb idea.”
When Get Back lands on Disney+ starting Nov. 25, it will release in three parts over three consecutive days with a total runtime of 468 minutes, or 7 hours and 48 minutes.
Beatles fans probably won’t mind. The footage, originally captured for Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s 1970 documentary on the album and restored by Jackson, is a gloriously intimate fly-on-the-wall viewing experience and insightful look at the musical genius of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr just months before they broke up.
About that… While Lennon famously said you can hear The Beatles breaking up on 1968’s self titled album, aka The White Album, many have long believed the recording of Let It Be (which included staples like “Get Back,” “Let It Be” and “Across the Universe”) was fraught with tension considering the band broke up a month before its May, 1970 release.
Jackson thinks the film dispels that myth: “What you’ve got with The Beatles is four guys that love each other. We've got 150 hours of material, and I'll tell you that I've listened to all of it multiple times — and the tape machines are rolling all the way through it. Not one Beatle has an angry word with another one. There's not one bit of anger. There's disagreements and sort of a little bit of impatientness and all that sort of stuff. But no one shouts. They really have respect and love for each other.”
The New Zealander filmmaker, 60, had direct access to surviving members McCartney and Starr, as well as Sean Lennon (son of John Lennon) and Olivia and Dhani Harrison (widow and son of George Harrison). He admits he was particularly nervous to send McCartney and Starr an early cut, and expected the type of lengthy notes he’d get from the studio while making a Lord of the Rings or Hobbit movie.
“When I do a movie for Warner Bros. or something, I get seven pages of typewritten notes, even from them,” Jackson said. “So I was naturally expecting notes. I was also expecting notes that were more personal: You know, ‘I don't really want that to be seen.’
“But they came back to me and said, in their individual ways, they said it was basically incredibly stressful to watch. But they said they consider that a definitive record at the time. Paul said it absolutely captured who they were at that moment in time in a very honest way. And the notes came back, ‘Don’t change a thing.’ It’s the first time in my life I got no notes.”
As for the biggest surprise the 40-year Beatles fan had making Get Back, he says that “biggest relief" is more apt.
“The personal fear as a Beatles fan, when you’re looking at these people you’ve seen on film, you’ve seen on TV, and you really admire them — and now I'm seeing the fly-on-the-wall footage, the curtains being pulled aside, this is the only footage that they ever shot of them natural. And they kept it in the vault for 50 years.
“So I'm sitting there thinking, ‘Oh God, am I going to see who these guys really are now? Am I going to be so upset because one or more of these guys are going to turn out to be prima donnas or a**holes?’… And I came away at the end of it more respectful of who they are than I stared. And I removed them from the pedestal I had them on. I now saw them as human beings and therefore very different human beings. But they are good guys. I mean, it sounds so simplistic. But I'm so happy that the four Beatles turned out to be just good guys. Nice guys.”
The Beatles: Get Back premieres Nov. 25 on Disney+.
Watch the trailer:
-Video produced by Jen Kucsak and edited by John Santo