The Beatles’ 1970 ‘Let It Be’ Doco Coming to Disney+ After Restoration by Peter Jackson’s Team

The Beatles’ 1970 ‘Let It Be’

For decades, the attitude toward the documentary “Let It Be” in the Beatles‘ camp seemed to be: Let it rest in peace. But the film is finally going to be seen again. A restored version of the 1970 movie is coming soon to Disney+, the same service that brought fans “The Beatles: Get Back,” the 2021 Peter Jackson docuseries that used outtakes from director Michael Lindsay-Hogg‘s original film.

The documentary will re-premiere on Disney+ May 8, certain to be a red-letter day for Beatles fans who have spent most of their lives wondering if it would ever be let out of the vault again. Not only has the 1970 film been dusted off, but it’s been restored by Peter Jackson’s Park Road Post Production using the same technology employed to make the vintage footage in “The Beatles: Get Back” look and sound as revitalized as it did.

The original film has been notorious for being the one item in the Beatles’ catalog that Apple seemed to want to suppress rather than exploit. “Let It Be” has not been officially in circulation in any form since the early 1980s, although muddy-looking bootleg copies have been widely available. Those boots were lifted off VHS and laserdisc versions that came out in the early days of the home video revolution; the movie never made it to a release in the DVD era, much less Blu-Ray or streaming.

Jackson used hours of outtakes from Lindsay-Hogg’s footage to assemble “The Beatles: Get Back.” During the publicity campaign for that project, he repeatedly vowed that his fresh treatment of the material was meant to complement the original film, not forever supplant it, and that the original doc would eventually be seen again so that they could stand as companion pieces.

“I’m absolutely thrilled that Michael’s movie, ‘Let It Be,’ has been restored and is finally being re-released after being unavailable for decades,” Jackson said in a statement. “I was so lucky to have access to Michael’s outtakes for ‘Get Back,’ and I’ve always thought that ‘Let It Be’ is needed to complete the ‘Get Back’ story. Over three parts, we showed Michael and the Beatles filming a groundbreaking new documentary, and ‘Let It Be’ is that documentary – the movie they released in 1970. I now think of it all as one epic story, finally completed after five decades. The two projects support and enhance each other: ‘Let It Be’ is the climax of ‘Get Back,’ while ‘Get Back’ provides a vital missing context for ‘Let It Be.’ Michael Lindsay-Hogg was unfailingly helpful and gracious while I made ‘Get Back,’ and it’s only right that his original movie has the last word… looking and sounding far better than it did in 1970.”

During the campaign for “Get Back,” Jackson told Variety that he thought “Let It Be” had been unfairly characterized as depressing, partly because it came out immediately in the wake of the Beatles’ breakup, but also because the color scheme of the 16mm film, as released in 1970, had a dreary look that lent itself to a downbeat interpretation. “Get Back” had a more colorful look to it, and that seems likely to be true of what Jackson’s team has done with the original elements of “Let It Be” now, too.

Moreover, though, Jackson’s team has had a fresh crack at the audio of the 1970 movie. A press statement says that “with Lindsay-Hogg’s full support, Apple Corps asked Peter Jackson’s Park Road Post Production to dive into a meticulous restoration of the film from the original 16mm negative, which included lovingly remastering the sound using the same MAL de-mix technology that was applied to the ‘Get Back’ docuseries.”

Lindsay-Hogg sounded his approval of the new efforts in a statement. “’Let It Be’ was ready to go in October/November 1969, but it didn’t come out until April 1970,” he recalled. “One month before its release, the Beatles officially broke up. And so the people went to see ‘Let It Be’ with sadness in their hearts, thinking, ‘I’ll never see the Beatles together again. I will never have that joy again,’ and it very much darkened the perception of the film. But, in fact, how often do you get to see artists of this stature working together to make what they hear in their heads into songs? And then you get to the roof, and you see their excitement, camaraderie and sheer joy in playing together again as a group and know, as we do now, that it was the final time, and we view it with the full understanding of who they were and still are and a little poignancy. I was knocked out by what Peter was able to do with ‘Get Back,’ using all the footage I’d shot 50 years previously.”

Lindsay-Hogg elaborated on the new restoration in an interview with the New York Times published Tuesday. “When Peter first showed me some restored images of the film, one was of a couple of the Beatles from the back, and their hair in the original looked very clumped,” the director noted. “Then he said, “Now let me show you what we’ve been working on.” It was the same shot, but you could see the individual strands of hair. The new version is a 21st century version of a 20th century movie. It is certainly brighter and livelier than what ended up on videotape. It looks now like it was intended to look in 1969 or 1970, although at my request, Peter did give it a more filmic look than ‘Get Back,’ which had a slightly more modern and digital look.”

It wasn’t just some viewers of the 1970 film but some of the Beatles themselves who seemed to take a dim view of its portrayal of some tense interactions during the making of what ended up being the “Let It Be” album. It will be interesting to see whether Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr might now offer a more positive assessment that is closer to Jackson’s latter-day praise.

Other restoration efforts had reportedly begun on the film in the 1990s and again in the 2000s, with an eye toward a possible DVD or theatrical release. Although the abandonments of previous restorations were widely ascribed to the disinterest of the surviving Beatles, Paul McCartney said in a 2016 interview that he was not the hold-up, and that he was encouraging of efforts to make the documentary available again.