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Site created 12/15/97.


review added: 3/20/01
updated: 3/4/02




Almost Famous

reviews by Greg Suarez of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVsEncoded with DTS & Dolby Digital 5.1 Digital Surround

Almost Famous: Untitled Director's Edition - The Bootletg Cut Almost Famous Untitled: The Bootleg Cut
Director's Edition - 2000/2001 (2001) - DreamWorks

Film Ratings (Untitled/Theatrical): A+/A-

Disc Ratings (Video/Extras): A-/A+

Audio Ratings (DD/DTS): A-/A

Specs and Features

Disc One: The Bootleg Cut
162 mins, NR, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:25:34, in chapter 17), custom gatefold packaging, audio commentary track (with writer/director Cameron Crowe and his mother, Alice Crowe), special features audio intros by Cameron Crowe, B-sides behind-the-scenes footage, interview with Lester Bangs, Cameron Crowe's Top Albums of 1973, 7 reprinted Rolling Stone articles by Cameron Crowe, Love Comes and Goes song demo by Nancy Wilson, animated film-themed menu screens with music, scene access (30 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 & 2.0), subtitles: French and Spanish, Closed Captioned

Disc Two: Theatrical Version
123 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:15:29, in chapter 16), gatefold packaging, special features audio intros by Cameron Crowe, Stillwater Cleveland concert, Small Time Blues by Pete Droge and Elaine Summers scene extension, Stairway to Heaven "interactive" deleted scene, Almost Famous script, cast and crew bios, production notes, theatrical trailer, animated film-themed menu screens with music, scene access (24 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 & 2.0, DTS 5.1), French (DD 5.1), subtitles: French and Spanish, Closed Captioned

Bonus Disc: Stillwater Audio CD
23 mins, 6 tracks, slipcase packaging, track listing: Fever Dog, Love Thing, Chance Upon You, Love Comes and Goes, Hour of Need, You Had to Be There, PCM 2.0 stereo


Almost Famous Almost Famous
2000 (2001) - DreamWorks

Film Rating: A-

Disc Ratings (Video/Extras): A/B+

Audio Ratings (DD/DTS): A-/A

Specs and Features

123 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 53:51, in chapter 11), Amaray keep case packaging, HBO Behind-the-Scenes: The Making of Almost Famous featurette, 7 reprinted Rolling Stone articles by Cameron Crowe, music video for Fever Dog by Stillwater, cast and crew bios, production notes, theatrical trailer, animated film-themed menu screens with sound effects and music, scene access (24 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 & 2.0, DTS 5.1), subtitles: English, Closed Captioned

William Miller: "I have to go home."

Penny Lane: "You are home."

Almost Famous is writer/director Cameron Crowe's semi-autobiographical tribute to the people, places and times he fell in love with as a 15-year-old rock journalist for Rolling Stone magazine. In the 1970s, Crowe had access to some of the most famous rock icons in the history of music. His travels and encounters with such legendary names as Led Zeppelin, The Allman Brothers and Peter Frampton are the foundation of Almost Famous - one of 2000's must-see films. These teenage adventures defined Crowe as a journalist, pop culture filmmaker and as a man, and this film is an all-access pass to his glory days.

Patrick Fugit stars as William Miller, Crowe's on-screen persona. It's 1973, and William is a smart, motivated teenager on the brink of growing up (much to the dismay of his overprotective mother, played brilliantly by Frances McDormand). After contributing to several local underground papers and Creem magazine, William gets a call from Rolling Stone, and he's put on assignment to travel with the rising rock group Stillwater, and to come up with 3,000 words about his adventure (Stillwater is an amalgamation of several bands that Crowe traveled with during the '70s). The band is fronted by singer Jeff Bebe (Jason Lee) and guitarist Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup). As Stillwater struggles with their growing popularity (and as Bebe's and Hammond's egos clash), William becomes intimate friends with the band, and the small clan of "band-aids" (not groupies!) that follow Stillwater from city to city. Penny Lane (Kate Hudson) is one of the most well known "band-aids" on the rock and roll scene, and quickly takes William under her wing. As Penny guides William through this brave new world of Glam and excitement, they become soul mates, bound by a passion for music despite coming from two different worlds. As the story plays out, William's eyes become our own, and the film becomes not one of boiling plot, but rather of intrigue, discovery and passion. This, my friends, is cinema at its finest.

Cameron Crowe's proficiency for capturing the most poignant and magical moments and details in life is in full evidence in Almost Famous, which is important given the very personal subject matter. Crowe's style of filmmaking allows him to peel away the periphery of a situation, leaving only the essence of the moment. Combine this with Crowe's Academy Award-winning script, that is as funny as it is touching, and an almost spot-on perfect ensemble cast, and you have everything you need to make a film like this work. For the sake of running out of adjectives to describe all of the wonderful performances in this film (and not to detract from any of the others), just know that both Kate Hudson and Frances McDormand were nominated for Academy Awards for their work here (and deservingly so).

If there's anything negative that can be said about the theatrical cut of the film, it's that it seems too short. Even at a little more than two hours, the story ties itself up too quickly at the end, and facets of certain characters don't seem to be explored as fully as I would have hoped. Perhaps I was so intrigued by the film that I just didn't want it to end. No matter - this complaint has been remedied by the new Untitled version of the film that runs almost 40 minutes longer than the theatrical cut. The new 3-disc set, named Untitled: The Bootleg Cut after the shooting title of the film, includes both the longer cut and the shorter theatrical cut, as well as a rockin' CD featuring 6 songs by the film's fictional band, Stillwater. Integrated into the longer cut are both scene extensions, and several brand new scenes (including a fall-down hilarious radio interview featuring a DJ played by Tenacious D's Kyle Gass). All of the new segments are very welcomed additions that flesh out the characters even further. The intimate nuances of the film's supporting characters shine even brighter in the longer cut, making for a more complete experience. And this is important given the intensely character-driven personality of the story. After viewing the 162-minute cut, I felt even more connected to the film, and as if I, myself, lived William's experience.

Beginning with the new 3-disc Untitled DVD set, the transfers for both the extended and theatrical cuts appear identical. The anamorphic widescreen video (framed at 1.85:1) is very respectable. The overall image is very clean and smooth, with a "film-like" appeal and a nice level of detail. Compression artifacting is never an issue, even during the most challenging concert footage, and edge enhancement is slight, but not distracting. The transfers seem a bit on the soft side, and colors can appear oversaturated at times, but generally the images are pleasing. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen image on the original DVD looks to be identical to that used for the new release.

The Untitled version of Almost Famous contains only a Dolby Digital 5.1 track, while the theatrical versions (the original movie-only disc, and the second disc of the 3-disc set) contain dual Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 tracks. All three Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks seem to be identical, and the DTS tracks sound like twins. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is wonderful, always giving the appropriate amount of ambiance and directionality for each specific scene. Dialog has a natural presence, and the audio during the Stillwater concert footage has that exciting "live" sound. The DTS 5.1 track excels slightly over the Dolby Digital track by adding a touch more depth and range to the presentation, and lending Nancy Wilson's score a bit more air. While the Untitled version trades off DTS 5.1 sound for additional length and a commentary track, it's a very worthwhile sacrifice - I never missed the slight extra zing of the DTS flavor as I basked in the warmth of the better overall cinematic experience that is Untitled.

The original DVD release of Almost Famous contains several worthwhile supplements that satisfy - yet after viewing them, I still craved more. Thankfully, the new 3-disc set really delivers. But let's start with the original disc first. The HBO Behind-the-Scenes: The Making of Almost Famous featurette runs just shy of 30 minutes, but packs in an incredible amount of information. You get interviews with almost all of the key talent. Crowe even discusses some of the people and events from his past that inspired characters and events in the film. The piece includes footage of Lee and Crudup training with Peter Frampton on how to be rock stars, some photos of Crowe hanging out with the bands he covered in the '70s, footage of Patrick Fugit's audition and lots more. Next up is a quasi-music video for Stillwater's song Fever Dog. This is just a very cool, straightforward rock song, and sounds like it could have been plucked right out of '70s radio. Also included with the supplements are 7 articles written by Crowe for Rolling Stone magazine, each with introductions by Crowe explaining their importance. Cast and crew bios, production notes and the theatrical trailer round out the disc's extras.

So, what of the new set? Well, first off, some of the features on the original release - including the HBO featurette - are gone, but the bevy of new features actually makes for a better, more appropriately thematic experience. As explained by Crowe in the audio introduction to the special features, this new set is supposed to have the feel of the bootleg albums of the '70s, so gone is the glossy, "movie studio" presentation of the original disc, including the featurette. Some of the features on the new set are concert footage, MiniDV from-the-vault shot by Crowe, and general reminiscence, so the gritty, all-access theme of the set shines through.

The first disc of the set contains the longer Untitled cut of the film, and is also home to a commentary track featuring Cameron Crowe and his mother, Alice Crowe. This is one of the more personal commentary tracks I've heard (not surprising given the subject matter), and the Crowes spend a great deal of time reminiscing about their lives as recreated on-screen. I knew that the film was very authentic in its representation of the time and events, but I didn't know how intricately detailed it was until I heard this track. According to the commentary, the Crowe family tends to be packrats, and this familial quirk paid off in spades for the film. Some of the little periphery nuances like stage passes, clothing, locations and so forth, that might not seem so important at first, are authentic to Crowe's history, and help define the film's personality. The Crowe house in the film is exactly recreated, and the family car is identical. It's little details like these that might not mean much at first viewing, but after gaining this knowledge, and then watching the film again, that you-are-there vibe is even stronger. The commentary track isn't necessarily informative from a technical filmmaking standpoint. Rather, it adds to the nostalgia and charm of the film. If you loved Almost Famous, then you must hear this track. Also on the first disc is a candid 5-minute, behind-the-scenes montage called B-sides, which shows cast rehearsals and general backstage tomfoolery. An all-too-short 2-minute interview with Crowe's mentor and friend, Lester Bangs (played in the film by Philip Seymour Hoffman), is featured and contains some brief insights into the rock writer's thoughts on the music scene at the time. Cameron Crowe also provides a discussion of his favorite dozen or so albums of 1973 accompanied by still screen shots of the album art. The seven articles from Rolling Stone reappear on the first disc of this set, along with composer/songwriter (and Cameron Crowe's wife) Nancy Wilson's early demo of the Stillwater song Love Comes and Goes, accompanied by a montage of behind-the-scenes footage.

The second disc of the set is home to the original theatrical version of the film, along with a 16-minute Stillwater concert performed in Cleveland. Footage from this concert was used in the film, but here you get to see the performance in total. Remember the scene in the film where William travels to the Continental Hyatt House with Penny? William briefly spies two singers quietly singing a beautiful little duet accompanied by an acoustic guitar. Well, the song is Small Time Blues, the singers are Pete Droge (who sang If You Don't Love Me I'll Kill Myself in the mid '90s) and Elaine Summers, and the entire scene and song are presented here. It's a touching little piece which, unfortunately, I can't find available anywhere else. If anyone has access to this song (I don't know if it was ever officially released), please drop me a line. Anyway, the complete script for the film is presented here as well, along with cast and crew bios, production notes and the theatrical trailer. Last, but certainly not least, is one of the coolest DVD supplements I've ever seen. It's a 12-minute deleted scene (from both the theatrical and extended cuts) in which William plays Stairway to Heaven for his mother in front of his teachers (one of whom is Alice Crowe) and his sister's boyfriend, Darryl (Jesse Caron), to convince his mother to let him go on the road. It's really an integral scene to the story, whose presence is desperately missing in the film (it basically explains why his mother let him go). Sadly, since Crowe couldn't obtain the rights to the song, there was no choice but to cut it. So here's the cool part: get your own copy of Stairway ready (and if you don't own one, then seek professional help), because after some opening dialog, the scene will pause, and allow you to cue up your own copy to start on an exact mark. Hit the mark, and you can enjoy the scene the way it was meant originally. Forget for a second that this is a very cool device to help you enjoy the experience even more, but the scene itself is amazing! For the song's entire 8:03, you get to enjoy smashing performances by Frances McDormand and Patrick Fugit, which include no words whatsoever. Darryl begins to get goofy, and as his hands flail at imaginary drums, and strum an air guitar, McDormand plays off of this like a pro - this goofiness adds a button of comedic charm to the scene.

Finally, the third disc of the set is an audio CD with 6 songs by Stillwater, including Fever Dog, Love Thing, Chance Upon You, Love Comes and Goes, Hour of Need and You Had to Be There. It's an amazing set of songs for fans of straightforward rock tunes. I burned a copy for my car, and rock to it regularly!

In case you haven't figured it out yet, this film (and the new 3-disc set) has me giddy as a schoolgirl… giddier even. Almost Famous, especially the extended Untitled version, is a film you must see. It's well written, amazingly performed and passionately directed. It's a prime example of how character-driven cinema should be made, and how a film can magically whisk you away to another place and time. The Untitled: The Bootleg Cut set has proven to be one of my most cherished DVD special editions. These supplements lovingly accentuate the film with the perfect attitude, making enjoying the film that much easier. Highly recommended.

Greg Suarez
gregsuarez@thedigitalbits.com


Almost Famous Untitled: The Bootleg Cut


Almost Famous (original)


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