Plot: What’s it about?
The story of Cameron Crowe is almost as amazing and interesting as is his latest 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 coure) 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–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?
Cameron Crowe has shot most all (if not all) of his films in a 1.85:1 ratio. Now don’t be alarmed, but the opening titles are slightly windowboxed. I thought that this might have been shot in somewhat of a more narrow ratio (say…1.66:1), but once the titles are overwith, the movie expands to it’s correct anamorphic ratio. I found, for the most part, the image to be clean and noticeably free of any errors. I do think that the includsion of three audio tracks has taken a bit away from the overall clarity of the image, but that could be me. Colors are bright and vivid throughout and all those brown hues that the 70’s are famous (no pun intended) for can be seen with the utmost clarity. Black levels seem to be right on target, though some scenes seem to have a “burnt out” look to it, but I think that it’s the image that is suffering, it’s the way it was supposed to be. Overall, the image is great, but not perfect. Still, it’s yet another tribute to Dreamworks for another fine transfer.
Audio: How does it sound?
The audio…OH, the audio! Almost Famous can be described as having one of the best soundtracks available on DVD. Now its not as “in your face” as movies like “Saving Private Ryan” or “Twister”, but the soundtracks have a very rich depth to them that literally makes the movie come alive. As with most other Dreamworks titles, there is a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, a Dolby Digital 2.0 surround mix and a DTS surround mix. I first listened to the DTS mix (given the choice, I’ll usually pick the DTS mix first), and was impressed with it’s ambiance. The dialogue is clean and clear on all three mixes, but I’ll give the edge once again to the DTS mix. Even with the lower compression (the older DTS titles took up much more space on the disc, hence the lack of extras), the DTS has the edge with some effects that I couldn’t pick up in the Dolby Digital versions. Even the opening credits of a pencil writing the names of cast and crew, I picked up a few ‘ticks’ here and there. Most impressive. I don’t know what else to say, other than the fact that this is one great-sounding disc.
Supplements: What are the extras?
While we’ve been told that an upcoming special edition of this DVD is on the way (sometime in the future), this version seems to have just enough to whet the appetite. As with a lot of Dreamworks titles, the dual DTS and Dolby Digital tracks are a welcome addition, also included is the original trailer, cast bios and production notes (Dreamworks standard issue…which is good). A music video featuring the band’s ficticious “Stillwater” singing their “hit” Fever Dog is a nice touch, though it’s the MTV version and presented in a non-anamorphic form, but hey…Also included is a nice featurette featuring some behind the scenes interviews with Kate Hudson, Billy Crudup and Cameron Crowe himself. Like most of the Dreamworks featurettes, this is no hour long documentary, but it’s a nice extra that makes the disc a little better than their standard release. Lastly, included are some of Rolling Stone Magazines’. A nice touch that shows the work of Cameron Crowe, which we all know the film was about. While not labeled as a special edition, it is so nice to see that Dreamworks is keeping with their high standard of DVD releases, and certainly Almost Famous is no exception.