Almost Famous: The Bootleg Cut (Blu-ray)

January 28, 2012 12 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

The story of Cameron Crowe is almost as amazing and interesting as is the movie, “Almost Famous.” Crowe, somewhat of a child prodigy when it came to writing, tells the story of his life in a semi-autobiographical form in one of the better movies to come around in a while. While Almost Famous concentrates on his childhood, we also have to realize that this is the person who went “undercover” in a high school for a year so he could write the novel (and later the screenplay) for the cult classic, Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Crowe, a more reclusive director, has also written and directed many of the more popular movies of our time. Movies from Grunge Rock Singles to Sports Agents who find that they have a conscience. Movies like Say Anything to Singles to Jerry MaGuire. It’s true that Cameron Crowe has a future ahead of him with writing and directing, but how hard will it be to top his latest?

Something about the 70’s has always left a sour taste in a lot of people’s mouths. It was gateway that was somewhere between the 60’s (quite possibly the most popular and ‘interesting’ decade of the last century) and the Reganomics and greed of the 80’s. Though it’s never really got the respect that it deserves, the 70’s has become my personal favorite decade when it comes to music. And wouldn’t you know it…that’s the meat and potatoes of Almost Famous! William Miller (Patrick Fugit) is a budding reporter, his older sister (Zooey Deschanel) is a wild child who’s leaving home and manages to rub off one last big of big sisterly influence on her little brother. Music. She leaves him her LP collection which he sees opening a new world for him. His ultra-conservative mother (Frances McDormand) forbids any kind of rock and roll music. Through some sort of sheer luck, William lands a job as a reporter for a local music magazine. The “been there done that” editor of the magazine, played to perfection by Phillip Seymour Hoffman, warns William of the life he is choosing, but it’s not long that he lands another “gig” at Rolling Stone magazine. This is the essence of the story. William, given immense freedom with his new assignment, is to do a cover story on the band “Stillwater”. Stillwater is a newer band starting to make a name for themselves, and it’s a good story in Rolling Stone that can either make or break their band.

The band doesn’t really know what to make of William. They see him physically as an awkward teenager, but on the other side of the coin, they see him as someone who could write a nasty article in a leading magazine. Dubbed as “the enemy” by Jeff Bebe (Jason Lee), the story takes off as the band heads out across country on their “Almost Famous” tour. Stuck right in the middle of all of this is the one and only Penny Lane (taken from the Beatles’ song, of course) played to an Oscar Nominated role by Kate Hudson. Hudson is one of the shining stars of this film and clearly proves to be a great actress. Her genes (her mother is Goldie Hawn) and natural talent/beauty only add to her flare in her role, and it’s a welcome to see her in a great movie with such a great supporting cast. Plenty of great music, great performances and a great screenplay will make watching Almost Famous a real treat. I’ve heard it reported by Roger Ebert that in twenty years Kate Hudson and Billy Crudup will be really big stars, and at that time we can look back to this movie that might have jump started their careers. Who knows if that’s true or not…but one thing is for certain, we can look at the job they did portraying the past, and if that’s any indication on how their careers will turn out; I’d say they’ll be a bit more than “Almost Famous!”

Video: How does it look?

I can remember when “Almost Famous” arrived on DVD and it’s hard to believe it was nearly a decade ago. We now have the movie on a next generation format and time has been kind to the film. The 1.85:1 AVC HD transfer seems a bit warmer than the initial DVD release, detail is improved and the colors seem a bit more in sync (if that makes sense). The overall palette uses more earthy tones, consistent with the 70’s. “Almost Famous” never really looked bad and the benefit of the HD transfer has fine-tuned this transfer just a tick.

Audio: How does it sound?

Thinking about it logically, “Almost Famous” should (and does) sound good. The previous Dolby Digital and DTS tracks have been replaced by a DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack that really lets loose the music. Some of the concert scenes sound like you’re in the audience and, when you think about it, that’s the point. Dialogue carries a sharper tone with it and surrounds and the LFE seem a bit more involved. I’m all for the “if it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it” mentality, but this uncompressed soundtrack does indeed make a difference.

Supplements: What are the extras?

Admittedly there’s a bit of controversy surrounding this initial Blu-ray release of “Almost Famous” in that retailer Best Buy is the only way you’re able to get it. I’m sure ebay or Craigslist has a few floating around, but they’re throwing out the term “exclusive” and apparently they mean it. The movie saw two incarnations on standard DVD, an initial release and the promised (and eagerly-anticipated) Bootleg “Director’s” Cut of the film. Now the good news is that most all of the supplements made the jump to HD, but the bonus CD with six “Stillwater” songs has been cut as has the theatrical cut of the movie. The latter of the two is really no consequence, but I’m sure fans out there might like to have the CD. With the remainder of the supplements essentially remaining the same, here’s what to expect. We start off with a commentary by Director Cameron Crowe who also won an Oscar for his screenplay. Crowe is very talkative and is obviously very proud of his work here, as he should be. Though a few times he tends to be silent and let the images on screen take precedence…no big deal. It’s a good track and odds are that if you’re buying this disc, then you’ll want to listen to it. You may also find an interview with Lester Bangs (played in the movie by Phillip Seymour Hoffman) who sounds very jaded and opinionated as to what rock groups do what, but we see that he knows what he’s talking about and as the editor of “Creem” magazine, does the music industry a service by actually being honest. There are some B-Sides, which I didn’t really understand, it is mainly rehearsal practice for the actors filmed by Crowe on his DV camera. Just like in the first disc, there are some Rolling Stone articles that Crowe himself worked on featuring Peter Frampton and the Rolling Stones among others. Crowe also shows us his listing of his top ten albums of 1973. I was born in 1973, so it serves as kind of a guide by seeing what kind of music was popular when I was just a newborn. Oddly enough, I am really into classic rock and I’m very familiar with a number of these songs and albums. Not that important, and I can’t say that I agree with his choices, but it’s his movie, so who am I to say differently? Lastly, a “music video” by Nancy Wilson ‘Love Comes and Goes’ is the original song (later performed by Stillwater in the movie) played over some more DV footage of the cast. Also, I might mention that a number of these supplements come with an audio introduction by Cameron Crowe. These are accessible from the main menu by highlighting the little microphone, the introduction then proceeds directly into the feature. Clever.

A fifteen minute concert of “Stillwater” in Cleveland. We only got to see a bit of this in the movie, but this is the whole concert. Very nice. A few “deleted scenes” are included (I put them in quotes because they’re not the normal scenes we’re used to). First is “Small Time Blues” which is just that…a song of the same name. I didn’t really get it as there is no commentary to accompany it, but it’s nice to have it just the same. The Stairway deleted scene is interesting in the sense that it’s a scene, but it attempts to be interactive. Crowe’s introduction suggests that you watch the scene and play the Led Zeppelin song “Stairway to Heaven” at the same time they do, however the scene doesn’t actually have the song in it, just the actors pretending they are listening to it. So if you’re like me, then your DVD player doubles as a CD player and it renders this “feature” useless. Still, it does show how William convinced his mother to let him go on his “four day adventure”. A theatrical trailer which is now shown in HD (the only real “addition” to the disc) as well as the entire screenplay.

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