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The Beatles' Review Of Peter Jackson’s Get Back Helped Keep The Film Out Of Theaters

A lot has changed about the movie industry in the last couple of years. The global pandemic pushed several films that were intended to be blockbuster theatrical releases to streaming services. With Disney’s own streaming service being a major hit from the beginning, it wasn’t surprising to see movies like Hamilton make the move to Disney+ rather than be released in theaters, but no production changed quite as much as Peter Jackson’s The Beatles: Get Back. The documentary tells the story of The Beatles recording of the Let it Be album, with footage that has been largely unseen in 50 years. It went from being a theatrical movie to a six hour long documentary series on Disney+, and it’s all thanks to The Beatles. 

I recently had the opportunity to speak with director Peter Jackson about The Beatles: Get Back, and I asked him how the project transformed from a theatrical production to a streaming series. He told me that the decision to put Get Back on Disney+ didn't actually come from Disney, it came from The Beatles...

If you're doing a Beatles thing, the absolute total control is in the Beatles, The Beatles are actually more powerful than Disney. I don't know if I should say that.

It seems that The Beatles very much had creative control over what happened with Get Back, That being said, to be honest The Beatles: Get Back was probably destined to be a streaming limited series. A traditional theatrical release was going to be tough. 

The Beatles: Get Back Was Just Too Big For Theaters

As Peter Jackson explained, even from the beginning, making Get Back a theatrical length film proved to be a challenge because there was just so much material it was difficult to fit it all in a two hour film. Fans would have only been able to see the tiniest sliver of how Let it Be was really created. Jackson says...

It could be a two and a half hour film in the cinema, each of these days, would be about two minutes long, three minutes long. Because if you take out the 45 Minute rooftop concert, at the end, do the math. Each day is two or three minutes. And that was just nothing when you've got eight hours of audio and four hours of film, and you're gonna do a two minute day. It's just crazy.

Get Back is a chronological look behind the scenes as The Beatles put an album together using footage that was shot as it happened. Since the recording sessions lasted weeks, limiting the total run time to even two and half hours would have resulted in only seeing the smallest piece of each day. It would have been difficult to tell a compelling story like that. 

Peter Jackson And His Editor Made The Movie They Wanted And Just Didn't Tell Anybody

Peter Jackson said that he and his editor Jabez Olssen certainly did what they could to make a theatrical cut, but then, when the pandemic happened, and they had an entire extra year to work, Jackson says they just decided to make the version they thought worked best, regardless of how long it was. Jackson continued...

And then the pandemic happened and we need to delay the theatrical release for a year. So we now had an extra year, Jabez and I to keep on going. They still thought we were doing a two and a half hour thing. We didn't say anything. I mean, the Beatles did too. So Jebez and I down here in New Zealand, we just thought, let's forget the length. Let's just cut the thing as it should be. Let's just do the best thing that we could. And we'll figure out what the length is at the end. And we did that. And it ended up being six hours.

Rather than trying to cram the important bits into a limited runtime, Peter Jackson and his editor instead decided to work in the other direction. They figured they'd tell the story they wanted to tell first, and then, potentially see about cutting it down later. Though certainly that was going to be tough with a 6-hour rough cut. 

The Beatles: Get Back Goes To Disney+ 

So now Peter Jackson has a six hour cut of The Beatles: Get Back when both the Beatles and Disney are expecting a 2.5 hour feature. Jackson says he presented the Beatles with the six hour version, and, while a bit surprised, they all loved it so much that they then told Disney that the six-hour version was what Get Back was now...

And so we went to the Beatles. And we said ‘Oh, we got to cut for you to look at. Oh, yeah. By the way, it's not two and a half hours, already it's six hours.' And it was a bit of a shock. But The Beatles looked at it, everyone looked at it. And the word came back and they said ‘Yeah, Great.’ They said, ‘This is how it should be told.’ I think, Paul or one of them said, ‘This is the definitive record of this period.’ And they said ‘Don't change a thing.’ And then The Beatles went to Disney and just told Disney it was going to be six hours. And when you’re six hours the theatrical thing isn't really an option. And especially you're still in a COVID world too. And so, it just sort of became a Disney plus thing at that point.

Considering the fact that the Walt Disney Company is the biggest entertainment company on the planet, you wouldn’t think anybody could simply dictate how content is handled, but apparently, when you’re the Beatles, you can do that, though there was no indication that Disney had any problem with this. Under the circumstances, with the pandemic making a lot of changes to releases, it probably made sense to Disney to make The Beatles Get Back a Disney+ project.

And for Beatles fans, it just means we get more Beatles, and that’s not a bad thing. The Beatles: Get Back debuts with part one on November 24 and runs through November 26. 

Dirk Libbey

CinemaBlend’s resident theme park junkie and amateur Disney historian. Armchair Imagineer. Epcot Stan. Future Club 33 Member.