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A Hard Day's Disc : Entertainment: Santa Monica-based producer of laser discs brings out a computerized version of Beatles film.

April 18, 1993|PATRICIA WARD BIEDERMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA MONICA — A 1964 Beatles' movie is now playing, not in local theaters, but on a home computer near you.

Voyager, a Santa Monica-based producer of laser discs and computer software, has brought out a computerized version of "A Hard Day's Night," director Richard Lester's antic account of two days in the life of the Fab Four.

According to programmer Colin Holgate, the Voyager project is the first to combine a legitimate feature film and related materials, including the film's script, on a compact disc to be played on a home computer. The technology is known as CD-ROM.

Last week, Holgate screened the Voyager version of the movie in the company's fortress-like office on the beach just north of Santa Monica Pier.

Seeing "A Hard Day's Night" on the computer is not like seeing it in a theater; the picture is postcard-size and flickers a bit, and the sound is monaural. But creating a cinematic experience was not the goal.

"What we have here is effectively a book about 'A Hard Day's Night,' " Holgate said. While the movie unreels in one section of the computer screen, the viewer can peruse the relevant page of the script. The viewer can also pull up a filmed interview with the director or a written introduction to the movie or profiles of individual members of the cast and crew.

Fans of a particular Beatles' song can screen the section of the movie in which it appears while learning which member of the group wrote it and when it was first recorded.

True Beatlemaniacs can trace the progress throughout the movie of a running joke about Paul McCartney's grandfather being "a clean old man," accessing each scene in which the word clean appears. As the written text explains, Paul's grandfather was played by popular British character actor Wilford Brambell, who had become famous playing a very dirty old man in "Steptoe & Son," the British sitcom that was the inspiration for "Sanford & Son."

Also included is all 11 minutes of Lester's first movie, "The Running, Jumping & Standing Still Film," with Peter Sellers. Like other Lester features, "A Hard Day's Night" includes sequences of the protagonists running, jumping and standing still at some length.

Holgate, 38, said he first learned about the Beatles as a child in England. One of his teachers decided to make music education more palatable to her young charges by recasting pieces from Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker Suite" in the style of the Beatles. The pop cultural approach failed dismally with Holgate. He recognized the Nutcracker pieces but didn't have a clue which Beatles' tunes were being alluded to.

Although hardly a Beatles' superfan, indeed hardly a fan at all, Holgate said the movie held up nicely in the course of the four months it took to translate it from film to computer data. "It's such a good film, and I like the songs so I never tired of it. Other people in the office did."

One of Holgate's major tasks was condensing the amount of information to be stored on the compact disc. For instance, the computerized version of the movie includes every other frame of the film version and runs at 12 frames per second instead of the standard 24.

Micki Halpin, who was producer for the project, said Voyager chose a Beatles movie for its first feature-film project, in part, hoping Beatles collectors would rush out and buy it. That strategy seems to have worked, even though the disc can only be used on a Macintosh computer equipped with a CD-ROM drive and video software. The initial pressing of 5,000 sold out (at a suggested retail price of $39.95). It's moving especially well in Japan, she said, where the Beatles have a large following and where new technology is a passion.

A version for IBM and compatible computers is planned for later this year, she said.

Voyager produces what it calls "expanded books," including a computerized version of Martin Gardner's classic annotated "Alice in Wonderland." One consequence of its book-related activities is that it plans to move in the fall from Santa Monica to New York City, center of the nation's publishing industry.

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