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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 12/15/99

U2: Rattle and Hum
1988 (1999) - Paramount

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

U2: Rattle and Hum Film Rating: B+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/B-/D

Specs and Features

98 mins, PG-13, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), single-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, theatrical trailer, film-themed menus, song access (20 songs - see song listing below), languages: English (DD 5.1 & 2.0), subtitles: English, Close Captioned

U2: Rattle and Hum is a really interesting piece of filmmaking. Part concert film, part "rockumentary", Rattle and Hum is first and foremost a closer look at one of the most popular rock bands to survive the 80's music scene. The camera follows the band both on and off stage, during their Joshua Tree tour, and manages the neat trick of capturing Bono, The Edge, Larry Mullen, Jr. and Adam Clayton being exactly who they are. There's no pretense here, and for this kind of film, that's refreshing.

The interviews with the band illustrate this perfectly. While most rock/pop stars in this situation would posture for the camera, watching these interviews with U2 is like watching the underachieving kids in the class put on the spot. You know - when the teacher asks a question, and picks the one kid that hasn't got a clue about the answer, and who's trying to be inconspicuous in the back of the classroom? When director Phil Joanou asks the band members on camera what this film is about from their perspective, they sort of smile and laugh mischievously, and give these answers:

Larry: (in exaggerated Irish brogue) "It's sort of a musical journey really, you know…"

Bono: (smiles) "That's good - I was worried."

Adam: "We just wanted to capture this period of the band to… oh, f**k it, I don't know."

The Edge: (laughs) "It's about music. I hope. At least that what you said it was gonna be about."

There's a certain amount of charm to be found in that. Aside from their impressive body of work, U2 is likable because they're just a bunch of guys, who grew up together as friends, started the band while still in high school, and went on to make great music together. And after all these years, they're still friends, and still like making music together.

But the real measure of any band is their music. And this concert features some of U2's best. Rattle and Hum gives us great live performances both on and off stage. There are some wonderful moments here - Bono and B.B. King chatting about their music and playing together, the band singing I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For with a church choir in Harlem, great covers of the Beatles' Helter Skelter and other songs, and the guys on a private tour of Graceland. And there are some stirring performances of some of my favorite of the band's songs, Bad and Running to Stand Still among them. However, perhaps the most significant scene in this film is the band singing their classic Sunday Bloody Sunday. The day of the concert, an IRA bombing had killed 11 people in a small town in their native country, and their performance of the years-old song was suddenly energized with fresh meaning and heart-felt emotion.

Rattle and Hum is a great film for what it is, but on DVD, it's a bit lacking. First of all, the video here isn't anywhere close to being reference quality. Part of the reason is that much of this film was shot on 16mm, using a high grain film stock to get that gritty/working-class, "rocumentary" style that plays well on MTV (or used to anyway, back when the cable network still actually played music videos). Think almost any old John Mellencamp video ("Little ditty about Jack and Diane…") and you'll get the idea. The film is in contrasty B&W until chapter 13, when the band comes on-stage to sing Where the Streets Have No Name and the color remains for a few songs. Rattle and Hum just never did look really great, and the fact that you can occasionally see bits of dirt and dust on the print doesn't help. There's also some light digital artifacting and edge enhancement visible - not too much, but it's there. On the other hand, the film has been transferred in full anamorphic widescreen for DVD, which is a really welcome surprise. All in all, I'd say that the quality here is what it is… but it's certainly never looked better than this on home video before.

The audio is remixed in Dolby Digital 5.1, and it works well to capture the live feel of the music. There's light audience fill from the rear channels, and mostly solid bass. The 5.1 mix has a surprisingly broad soundstage, that is biased to the front hemisphere (as it should be). The surround mix is a bit too directional for my taste given that this is music - much more so than you would normally get in a live performance - with Bono in the front-center, and The Edge and Larry Mullen, Jr. spread out to the left and right. Still, it works for the most part. This isn't the best concert audio you'll hear on DVD, but it gets the job done.

The thing I didn't like about this DVD is the lack of extras. All you really get is the film's theatrical trailer - there's no discography, no band history... in short, none of the things you'd want on a music DVD. More frustrating, however, is that the back of the disc's packaging claims that some 11 songs are included in the concert footage that weren't on the album version of Rattle and Hum. But 3 of the songs listed aren't even on the DVD in complete form - you get just snippets from each: Gloria, Ruby Tuesday and Sympathy For the Devil. I was all charged up to hear Gloria in 5.1, and was sorely disappointed when all I got were a few lines sung by Bono at the end of Exit. And it's not even U2's Gloria - it's a Van Morrison cover. Now that's false/misleading advertising. Bummer.

For all its deficiencies however, Rattle and Hum is still a very welcome addition to my library. I've been a fan of U2 since their early days, and it's nice to finally have them on DVD. Still, I wish we'd get something a little more special. I would love to see a DVD version of the band's Zoo TV tour. Having seen that concert live, I can tell you that it was nothing less than amazing - a full-on multimedia assault on the senses. What a disc that could make! In the meantime, if Rattle and Hum is the best we can get for now... I'll gladly take it.

Song Listing

Helter Skelter
Van Diemen’s Land
I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For
Freedom For My People/Silver and Gold
Angel of Harlem
All Along the Watchtower
In God’s Country
When Love Comes To Town
Where the Streets Have No Name
With or Without You
The Star-Spangled Banner/Bullet the Blue Sky
Running To Stand Still
Sunday Bloody Sunday
Pride (In the Name of Love)
All I Want Is You

Note that the following songs are NOT on the disc in full form (although they are listed on the back of the packaging) - all you get are a few lines of each:

Ruby Tuesday
Sympathy For The Devil

Bill Hunt
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