x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

And the cast is all aboard

The Beatles fanatic Robert Zemeckis's remake of the 1968 classic Yellow Submarine is proceeding full speed ahead.

"I made a couple of hundred pounds last time, which for a poet seemed a lot of money," says the English performance poet Roger McGough, the vice president of the UK Poetry Society. He is recalling the brief time he spent writing "witty Liverpool dialogue" for The Beatles' 1968 movie Yellow Submarine. "It was a rushed, exciting experience," he says. "I wrote several scenes, including the sea of monsters [where The Beatles met the vacuum cleaner beast], but I was never credited.

"Of course, it would be wonderful to be involved again." However, the producer/director Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump, The Polar Express) has yet to invite McGough to get involved in the Disney remake, which Zemeckis hopes will be ready in time for the London Olympics in July 2012. But the director has found the actors to voice the Fab Four for his animated retread. It was announced this week that Dean Lennox Kelly (the BBC's Robin Hood) is slated to play John Lennon, Cary Elwes (Robin Hood: Men in Tights) will portray George Harrison and Adam Campbell (Epic Movie) will voice Ringo Starr. The British comedian Peter Serafinowicz, already known for his note-perfect Sir Paul McCartney impression, will play Sir Macca.

After months of negotiation, Zemeckis has also managed to license the original 11 Beatles songs for use in his new film and in the Broadway production that will follow. And what songs they are: All You Need Is Love, Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds, When I'm 64, Baby You're a Rich Man, Eleanor Rigby and Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band are all included in the movie. Zemeckis was also hoping to persuade the two surviving members of the world's most successful band to take cameos in his remake, but to no avail.

Of course, The Beatles weren't too keen to perform in the original Yellow Submarine either. Stung by the criticism levelled at their disastrous Magical Mystery Tour TV film, the band vowed never to do another, but found themselves under contract to United Artists to appear in one more movie. Getting actors to play their alter egos in a cartoon seemed an agreeable compromise, especially as it meant the real Beatles only had to show up for the film's epilogue. But in the end, their appearance was so fleeting that United Artists decreed that Yellow Submarine wasn't technically a Beatles film at all, and made them shoot Let It Be to fulfil their contract

In keeping with today's Hollywood trends, Zemeckis is planning to remake Yellow Submarine in 3D and will use the computer-generated performance-capture technique used in his movies Beowulf and A Christmas Carol to give the film a 21st-century sheen. Zemeckis has hired the California-based Beatles tribute band The Fab Four to perform and will use the footage as the basis for his animation. More than that, the director refuses to divulge. When The National contacted Zemeckis's Hollywood office, his representative said he was not going to talk to anyone about the film. At least for the time being.

While some Beatles fans are a little wary at the thought of a remake, many are comforted by the fact that Zemeckis, 57, is a Beatles fanatic. The director responsible for Back to the Future got into film school on the strength of a music video based on a Beatles song, and his 1978 movie, I Wanna Hold Your Hand, used archival footage and doubles of The Beatles. While the original Yellow Submarine boasts a thick seam of Liverpudlian humour - courtesy of McGough - critics have questioned whether the remake will retain the Scouse witticisms. McGough can't see why not.

"Beatlespeak will survive if honestly written, but not, I think, as pastiche," he says. What about the film's psychedelic overtones? The original movie, aimed at a hip Sixties audience, had the cartoon Beatles repeatedly explaining "it's all in the mind" as they were pursued by a furious blue fist called the Terrible Flying Glove. The original film's plot is itself a retread of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Carroll's classic children's story also inspired many of Lennon's nonsensical lyrics for The Beatles and, incidentally, provided imagery for the broader psychedelic movement. Jefferson Airplane's hit White Rabbit and The Beatles' I Am the Walrus are two obvious examples.

But even without the original's woozy imagery, it is hard to imagine how the remake of Yellow Submarine can fail. McGough knows why. "The music's just great, isn't it?" he says. Yes it is.