Almost Famous (2000)

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Released 12-Sep-2001

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Romantic Comedy Main Menu Introduction
Main Menu Audio & Animation
Dolby Digital Trailer-City
Menu Audio
Music Video-Fever Dog-Stillwater
Featurette-Making Of-HBO Behind-The-Scenes
Theatrical Trailer
Trailer-A Knight's Tale; Erin Brockovich; Charlie's Angels
Notes-The Rolling Stones Articles
Production Notes
Filmographies-Cast & Crew
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2000
Running Time 118:10
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (39:28) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Cameron Crowe
Studio
Distributor

Sony Pictures Home Entertain
Starring Billy Crudup
Frances McDormand
Kate Hudson
Jason Lee
Patrick Fugit
Anna Paquin
Fairuza Balk
Noah Taylor
Philip Seymour Hoffman
Case Soft Brackley-Transp
RPI $36.95 Music Nancy Wilson


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
Spanish
Portuguese
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    I have been a big fan of Jerry Maguire since its release, so when I heard that writer/director Cameron Crowe was to make a movie based on his days as a music journalist, I was very keen to see it. The fact that it was also to star the very lovely Kate Hudson was an added bonus. Almost Famous turned out to be my favourite film of 2000 and one that I have not got tired of repeat viewings of since the Region 1 DVD arrived in our house some months back. I was very happy when I heard that it was to be released locally and even happier when I managed to score the reviewing job. Does this job get any better?

    Imagine being only 16 years old and contributing stories to Rolling Stone magazine. Well, this is how writer and director Cameron Crowe got his start in journalism, which led him to interview some of the absolute biggest names in seventies rock. Names like The Allman Brothers, Led Zeppelin, Peter Frampton, and Van Morrison granted interviews to the young Crowe, who at the time was the youngest contributing writer for the magazine. Having an obvious love of music and writing led him to write a best-selling novel called 'Fast Times At Ridgemont High' which was then turned into a cult 80s classic movie for which he also wrote the screenplay (this title is due to be released in Region 4 very soon - finally). Cameron Crowe had apparently always wanted to make a movie that was 'a love letter back to music', a tribute to the times that gave him so much. This is that story.

    Set in the early 70s, newcomer Patrick Fugit plays wide-eyed William Miller, a 15 year old school boy who just loves music. When he is given an opportunity by Creem Magazine editor Lester Bangs (a suitably up-tight Philip Seymour Hoffman) to interview Black Sabbath, he finds himself unable to gain entry to the concert and misses the main act, but hooks up with support band Stillwater. Stillwater is a moderately successful band that is struggling to find its identity. Lead guitarist Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup) and lead singer Jeff Bebe (Jason Lee) are at each other's throats, and manager Dick Roswell (Noah Taylor) has the band trooping around the countryside in a bus named Doris. William is infatuated by the band and when he is invited to join the gang on the road, his dream has come true. It gets even better when he receives a call from Rolling Stone magazine with an offer to write an article on Stillwater (and get paid for it). He then meets gorgeous groupie (sorry Band-Aid) leader Penny Lane (Kate Hudson) who he immediately develops a rather large crush on. Everything is going well for William except he is having some trouble getting his story finished. Despite the warnings of Lester Bangs - "Don't make friends with the Rock Stars" - and his mother (Frances McDormand) - "don't do drugs" - he is caught up in the moment and finds himself in the band's inner circle.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    This is a pretty fine effort from Columbia Tristar marred only by copious quantities of edge enhancement.
   
    The transfer is presented in an aspect of 1.85:1 which is the same as the theatrical ratio. 16x9 enhancement has naturally been afforded this release.

    As mentioned above, my biggest criticism of this transfer is the amount of edge enhancement present. It seems to crop up in every second scene and does become a bit distracting after a while. On the flip side, shadow detail is exemplary and grain is kept to a minimum. There is no low level noise. If it wasn't for the edge enhancement, I'd rate this transfer as being of reference quality.

    Colours are rich and vibrant. No oversaturation or bleeding exists. Skin tones are perfectly natural and blacks are deep and solid. Lots of garish 70s colours are evident and all are superbly represented.

    I noticed no MPEG artefacts. Aliasing or other film-to-video artefacts were non-existent and film artefacts are few and far between (it is definitely reference quality in terms of artefacts, there are so few present).

    Only three subtitle tracks are available for viewing. I sampled the English variant and found them to be most satisfactory.
   
    The transfer is presented as a single sided, dual layered disc with RSDL formatting. The layer change occurs at 39:28 and is well placed.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    We are presented with a solid performance from the modern audio track, which is particularly important in a film that features music so prominently in its story.

    There are only two audio tracks present, these being an English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack and a Spanish equivalent. The live performances by Stillwater have been mastered at a significantly higher volume than the rest of the track, which gives a definite impact to the original songs. The track is mostly forward in the soundstage with a focus on the centre channel. When the music and songs kick in, the full front soundstage opens up magnificently.

    Dialogue shows some evidence of ADR work throughout, although it is not overly distracting. There are no audio sync problems.

    Music. It's all about the music, and there is plenty of it to please. The original score and the songs by Stillwater were written by Cameron Crowe and Nancy Wilson of Heart fame (and also Cameron Crowe's wife). They are fantastic, especially the main track 'Fever Dog', which captures the early 70s sound to perfection. The sourced songs featured read like a veritable who's who of early 70s rock 'n' roll. Cameron Crowe seems to be the only director who can get Led Zeppelin songs on his soundtracks, and they feature here. So do Simon and Garfunkel, The Beach Boys, Deep Purple, The Who, Elton John, Cat Stevens, Joni Mitchell, and Peter Frampton.

    The surrounds aren't called into action too often, but do see some use. Most notable are their use during Stillwater's live performances (25:22-26:50 and even better at 71:11-71:57). They also spring into life most dramatically during the plane/storm scene at 92:13.
   
    Subwoofer use is predominantly in support of the live performances (very nicely too at 71:11-71:57) and during the storm scene at 92:13.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Main Menu Introduction

    Presented in an aspect of 1.78:1, this is 16x9 enhanced. Audio is provided by a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack. This sequence is quite different to the Region 1 version. It shows the footage from the movie where William tries to gain entry to the Black Sabbath concert but ends up meeting Stillwater. The Region 1 DVD also has a main menu introduction, but it shows Lester Bangs giving advice to young William.

Main Menu Audio & Animation

    The main menu fades in from the introduction to show Stillwater playing on an overlay of the audience. Audio is by way of a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack.

Dolby Digital Trailer

    City - yup, nuff said.

Menu Audio

    One of the original Stillwater tracks played in Dolby Digital 2.0 audio.

Music Video - Stillwater - Fever Dog (4:43 min)

    Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, this video is not 16x9 enhanced. Audio is by way of a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack. This is the 'hit' song that the fictional band Stillwater play during the movie, written by Cameron Crowe and Nancy Wilson. The clip is made up of footage from the movie and what looks like various pieces of footage that didn't make the final cut. It is strange that it only has a Spanish subtitle stream present.

HBO Featurette - The Making Of  (24:51 min)

    Running for a total of 24:51 minutes, this is presented in an aspect of 1.33:1 with footage from the film presented at 1.78:1. It is not 16x9 enhanced. Audio is Dolby Digital 2.0. This is the usual sort of making-of feature that provides a few facts but is really designed as an ad for the film. We see the background to Cameron Crowe's Rolling Stone days and some photos of the long-haired youngster in action with the rock stars. We also learn about Cameron Crowe's absolute passion for music and how he had 'nowhere to hide' when his mother visited the set. Watching Frances McDormand play a character that was a representation of his mother and having his mother stand behind him at the same time was a bit difficult.

Theatrical Trailer (1:58 min)

    A very different trailer to the Region 1 version, ours gives away more of the story, contains more footage from the closing scenes, and spoils more of the gags. Presented in 1.78:1 and not 16x9 enhanced.

Other Trailers

    Ads for A Knight's Tale, Erin Brockovich, and Charlie's Angels.

The Rolling Stone Articles

    At last I am able to work out what these say. The Region 1 version of Cameron Crowe's original Rolling Stone articles were in such a small typeface that I could not read them. These are presented in a much better manner. On offer are some of Crowe's interviews with the big names of rock 'n' roll in the 70s. Artists included are Led Zeppelin, Van Morrsion, and The Allman Brothers. Several pages are offered on each artist, and they are all quite interesting.

Production Notes

    Really, this just details in text form what is contained in the HBO Making of Featurette. At least they are presented in a very easy-to-read font.

Cast and Crew Filmographies

    The usual stuff, but does include almost the entire cast and a large number of the crew as well.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 4 version of this DVD misses out on;

    The Region 1 version of this DVD misses out on;

    The execution of the menus is significantly different on the Region 1 DVD, which also includes DTS 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtracks, however, I found that the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack on the Region 4 disc actually sounded superior to the R1 DTS track. The other main difference is in the artwork used on both the slick insert and the picture on the actual disc. The cover for the Region 4 DVD features a very scantily-clad Kate Hudson, whereas the Region 1 slick features the more well-known movie poster showing an extreme close-up of Penny Lane's sunglasses with Almost Famous printed on the lenses.

There is a supposed to be a director's cut edition being released in R1 later this year. This will contain 2 discs, a bonus CD, a 30 minute longer cut of the film, and a commentary track amongst other goodies. This would tip the balance strongly in favour of the R1 if this version is not forthcoming in Region 4. Until then I'd still favour the local product.

Summary

    For those of you that love music and have songs that remind you of special times and places, you'll know what the driving force behind this film is. Apparently Cameron Crowe makes tapes of the songs that he is listening to each month. They are better than a diary he claims, and I agree heartily. Treasured songs have the ability to take you back to a time and place fondly remembered. This may be a whole-hearted nostalgia trip at its greatest, but it is told with such fondness for the subject and with such a lack of ego and self-promotion that you can't help but get swept up in the trip. Fans of 70s music will lap it up, foot tapping along all the way.

    In perhaps the defining moment in the film when the band sings along to Elton John's Tiny Dancer, just try and stop yourself joining in. I bet that, like me, you won't be able to do anything but join in.

    The video transfer is excellent but is marred by excessive edge enhancement.

    The audio (and the music in particular) is fantastic.

    The story is a gem. Check it out.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Darren Walters (It's . . . just the vibe . . . of my bio)
Thursday, September 13, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba 1200, using S-Video output
DisplayLoewe Calida (84cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationHarmon/Kardon AVR7000.
SpeakersFront - B&W 602S2, Centre - B&W CC6S2, Rear - B&W 601S2, Sub - Energy E:xl S10

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Comments (Add)
Region 1 - Directors Cut - Ben H (My biography. Go on have a read...)
R1 $20 delivered - grug (there is no bio.)