In this eight-hour Disney+ documentary series, Peter Jackson provides fresh footage of the Fab Four, introduces secondary characters and makes the visuals as crisp and shiny as a Granny Smith apple. He even delivers the unthinkable: new Beatles songs.

Since Let it Be was released in 1970, the world’s viewing habits have changed. The explosion of reality TV has made viewers more ready to accept lengthy fly-on-the-wall conversations. And streaming services make it easy to break up long shows into bespoke, bite-sized chunks.

As with reality-TV shows such as Big Brother, sometimes the conversations in Get Back are bland and disjointed (emphasis on joint). But the upside is that this deeply immersive experience allows viewers to see The Beatles doing ordinary things – George Harrison discussing a science-fiction TV program he watched or Ringo Starr farting and blaming producer George Martin. It feels like we, too, are in the recording studios, getting to know these gods as humans.

But we also get to see genius in motion. It’s fascinating to observe the evolution of many classic Beatles songs, such as “Octopus’s Garden” and “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”. The original lyrics to “Get Back” were a protest against anti-immigration sentiments in Britain and were far superior to the final lyrics. Conversely, the original words to Harrison’s “Something” (“attracts me like a pomegranate”) benefitted from further tweaks.

We also learn that despite the obvious tension, The Beatles still had fun in their pre-divorce phase. It becomes clear how important play was to John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s songwriting; they often worked out how their songs would finish up through zany ad libs. A standout song, “Commonwealth”, is funny and engaging ­– enough to distract Yoko Ono from knitting, screaming and shuffling random pieces of paper.

Jackson also brings out other characters in Get Back, such as Mal Evans, The Beatles’ roadie, lyric scribe and so much more. Evans emerges as a loyal, gentle soul who radiates joy at being around the Fabs and tactfully delays the London bobbies from stopping the iconic rooftop concert. It’s a sad contrast to how he died in 1976: shot by police in an LA motel.

Diplomatic sound engineer Glyn Johns wears outlandishly cool, brightly coloured clothes to rival those of the lads themselves. Let it Be director Michael Lindsay-Hogg is likeable, but he suffers from what all the main non-Beatles (including George Martin, surprisingly) suffer from: a dreamy adulation that prevents them from being able to control the band. Even John says to Paul about this in the series: “We don’t allow it.”

The only slightly disappointing oversight in Get Back is that Adelaide’s former Channel 9 camera operator John Howard, who filmed segments near the rooftop concert, isn’t named in the credits. Nevertheless, for the second time in his career, executive producer Paul McCartney’s collab with a Jackson (this time Peter, not Michael) is a winner.

The Beatles: Get Back is streaming on Disney+.

Michael X. Savvas is an avid fan of The Beatles and co-author (with daughter Olivia) of the book One Dream Ago, which traces connections between the band and South Australia.

 

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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.