Almost Famous: Untitled appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this 4K UHD Disc. The Dolby Vision picture presented the film as well as one could ever hope.
Sharpness seemed solid. Virtually no problematic softness materialized, so the movie came across as accurate and well-defined.
Outside of the intentionally ugly opening credits, the flick lacked jagged edges or moiré effects, and edge haloes failed to create issues. With a nice layer of grain, I didn’t suspect any problematic noise reduction, and print flaws never occurred.
Colors leaned a bit sepia/amber but also opened up for natural tones in a lot of the film. This meant some bold, bright hues – usually from clothing – and the hues seemed well-rendered. The disc’s HDR gave the hues added range and punch.
Blacks looked deep and dense, while shadows showed nice clarity and opacity. HDR brought appealing power and impact to whites and contrast. I couldn’t have felt happier with this excellent presentation.
Though it lacked much ambition, the DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of Almost Famous largely satisfied. Not surprisingly, the mix maintained a fairly heavy emphasis on the forward channels, where music dominated the proceedings, as both score and songs demonstrated very good stereo delineation.
Effects stayed largely in the realm of ambience, as those elements gave us a general feeling of atmosphere but not much more for the most part. Most of the time, surround usage stayed limited to that realm.
The track replicated concert hall acoustics neatly, and the mix kicked to life neatly during the scene with the electrical storm on the airplane. Otherwise, Famous remained pretty subdued.
Audio quality appeared positive. Dialogue sounded natural and warm, and I noticed no problems related to intelligibility or edginess.
Effects were accurate and distinct. They showed no signs of distortion, and they came across as appropriately dynamic and vivid.
Most importantly, music sounded rich and replicated the original recordings with good fidelity. The songs and score showed tight bass and clear highs, and they worked well. Ultimately, the audio of Almost Famous lacked enough ambition to earn more than a “B”, but it worked well for this film.
How did the 4K UHD compare to the 2011 Blu-ray? Audio felt the same, as both discs came with DTS-HD MA 5.1 mixes that appeared very similar – and probably identical.
As for the Dolby Vision image, though, the 4K UHD brought a major step up in quality. The 4K offered superior delineation, colors and blacks.
It also lost the minor print flaws and noise reduction of the Blu-ray. The 4K allowed the film to shine in a way the inconsistent Blu-ray didn’t.
Note that Paramount has issued a 2021 Blu-ray version of Almost Famous as well that will offer the same transfer the 4K. Unfortunately, this 4K package didn’t toss in the Blu-ray as well, but if the 2021 BD doesn’t provide a major upgrade over the 2011 disc as well, I’ll feel surprised.
On this two-disc set, we get both the theatrical (2:03:13) and Untitled (2:41:29) versions of Famous. Hooray for the inclusion of the theatrical edition, as we’ve not seen it since the original DVD from 2001.
While I enjoy Untitled’s glimpse of added footage, I don’t think these segments make Famous a better film. Actually, I feel some of it undermines the project and renders the movie a little less effective.
We now see more of 11-year-old William in scenes that try to better illustrate his sense of disconnection with his classmates. However, these seem unnecessary.
We already get that he’s both smarter and younger than the other kids, so the extra shots can be amusing, but they also appear redundant. In addition, Untitled packs quite a few “star-spotting” moments that take the focus off of the main characters and make the movie feel more celebrity obsessed.
Ultimately, Untitled offers a moderately entertaining look at an alternate Famous, but it remains distinctly less satisfying. The flick appears more self-indulgent, and it also seems to run too long.
In its longer version, the project comes across as less tight and distinct. The extra sequences don’t badly harm the film, but I prefer the leaner and more focused theatrical cut.
I respect and admire Crowe’s decision to give us Untitled, though. He reveals his enduring rock fan with his choice to refer to Untitled as a “bootleg” package, for the set attempts to come across like an unauthorized release meant to satisfy die-hard partisans.
Never does Crowe attempt to convince us that Untitled betters or usurps the theatrical Famous. Instead, he just wants to let us see the whole process, and I appreciate his decision to do this, even if I don’t care so much for Untitled.
Note that the picture comments earlier apply equally for both the theatrical and Untitled versions. The added scenes blended smoothly into the longer cut, so both came with similar visuals.
Almost all the package’s extras appear alongside the theatrical cut on Disc One, but Untitled comes with one major component: an audio commentary from director Cameron Crowe along with his mother Alice as they offer a running, screen-specific piece.
The track also features a crowd of others such as Scott Martin and Andy Fisher of Vinyl Films, family friend Ivan Corona, and Mark Atkinson from DreamWorks, but they seem to be there mainly in a production capacity. We hear from them a couple of times, but they don’t offer much material. That’s appropriate, especially since the Crowes give us so many interesting remarks.
Make no mistake: this remains Cameron’s commentary. His mother chimes in with reasonable frequency to offer her take on facts or the film, but Cameron dominates the piece.
Together they make this a wonderful track. Cameron relates many of the facts behind the fiction, and he expands on scenarios seen in the film.
Cameron also discusses period elements and tries to give us a good background for his efforts. Of course, he tosses in a lot of film-specific remarks about the flick.
From the additions to the new cut to working with the actors to a mix of other elements, the director relates a lot of great notes. Between the extensive personal statements and the movie-related background, we hear scads of terrific information about Almost Famous. This becomes an excellent track.
Back on Disc One, we locate a quick Introduction from Cameron Crowe - very quick, so don’t expect much from it.
We then find an Interview with Lester Bangs. This one-minute, 55-second clip shows the critic as he discusses topics like Jethro Tull, Bryan Ferry, and Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Apparently from around the mid-1970s, the piece seems very entertaining but too brief.
With Love Comes and Goes, we get a three-minute, 41-second video compiled by Scott Martin and hear the demo tune sung by Nancy Wilson in her “man voice”. Behind the scenes footage accompanies the track, and it seems more interesting musically than visually, as the snippets from the set appear somewhat bland.
We also find a more “standard” music video for Fever Dog. This one simply compiles movie scenes, mostly from concert segments. It’s forgettable.
More of that sort of footage appears in B-Sides. This five-minute, 21-second piece shows digital video material shot by Crowe and Scott Martin, and it begins with yet another introduction from the director. The images come across as moderately intriguing but nothing more than that.
Next we find a text program. Rolling Stone Articles starts with another quick intro from Crowe, and we then can choose from seven works he wrote.
This area includes pieces about the Allman Brothers Band, Led Zeppelin, Neil Young, Peter Frampton, Fleetwood Mac, Van Morrison, and Joni Mitchell. A very nice extra, the “Articles” are fun to read and help us see Crowe’s history better.
The Making of Almost Famous runs 24 minutes, 50 seconds and includes info from Crowe, composer/songwriter Nancy Wilson, Rolling Stone editor/publisher Jann Wenner, music supervisor Dannny Bramson, photographer Neal Preston, technical consultant Clay Griffith, and actors Philip Seymour Hoffman, Patrick Fugit, Kate Hudson, Anna Paquin, Fairuza Balk, Frances McDormand, Peter Frampton, Jason Lee, Billy Crudup, John Fedevich, and Mark Kozelek.
The show looks at the movie’s story/character areas and autobiographical elements, cast and performances, music and band training, locations and sets, and general thoughts about the film. Crowe covers some of this in the commentary, but it’s good to get additional perspectives and this turns into a useful piece.
Cameron Crowe’s Top Albums of 1973 provides a look through the director’s favorites from the year featured in Famous. We hear the director relate brief thoughts about the Allman Brothers’ Brothers and Sisters, David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane, Jackson Browne’s Late for the Sky, Bruce Springsteen’s Greetings From Asbury Park N.J., the Who’s Odds and Sods, Todd Rundgren’s Something/Anything, Elton John’s Honky Chateau, Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy, Joni Mitchell’s For the Roses, and the Rolling Stones Goat’s Head Soup.
I’d quibble with some of his choices; Bruce’s The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle easily tops Greetings, the omission of the Who’s Quadrophenia seems odd, and Honky Chateau came out in 1972, which makes me wonder why he left out Elton’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, which did arrive in 1973. Nonetheless, it’s not my list, so Crowe can do what he wants, and this piece seems fun.
Cleveland Concert shows the whole performance as filmed for the movie. This piece lasts 15 minutes, 46 seconds and includes three songs: “Love Comes and Goes”, “Hour of Need”, and “You Had to Be There”. Essentially an extended collection of deleted material, it’s entertaining to check out more of the band’s “live” performing.
More unused footage appears in Small Time Blues. This three-minute, two-second clip shows William as he eavesdrops on a hotel room performance of the song. Had it gone into the movie, it would have slowed the pace, but it offers a charming extra for the disc.
One more package of deleted material provides one of the most interesting bits. Stairway lets us see William as he uses Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” to convince his mom that rock music’s worthwhile.
As Crowe explains, however, he didn’t get the rights to the song, so he advises you to synch up the disc with the tune to experience the scene as intended. I didn’t try that, but the segment seems intriguing nonetheless, though it goes on too long.
At 12 minutes, 13 seconds, it contains the whole album take of “Stairway”, and it definitely would have made the movie drag. Still, it’s fun to find it here.
In addition to the film’s theatrical trailer, we locate its script. You can still frame through the entire screenplay in this cool supplement.
Hidden Talent breaks into three spots: “Eerie Outtake” (0:45), “Stolen Kisses” (4:59) and “Cameron Crowe’s Perfectionism” (9:03). All these offer outtakes/raw footage, and I assume they existed as Easter eggs on earlier releases. They’re enjoyable.
Now we shift to material new to the 2021 release, and this opens with a Paramount staple: a featurette called Filmmaker Focus. It runs eight minutes, six seconds and offers Crowe’s reflections on the movie from 20 years later and some production-related topics. After all the other programs, Crowe can’t bring a ton of new perspective to us, but it’s good to get an update.
Casting & Costumes spans 12 minutes, 52 seconds and brings notes from Crowe, Fugit, Crudup, Lee, Hudson, casting director Gail Levin, and actor Zooey Deschanel.
The program offers more notes on story/characters as well as casting and costumes, and we see behind the scenes materials and various tests. This becomes a nice overview, especially due to all the archival bits.
Next we go to Rock School, a 10-minute, 48-second segment with Crowe, Lee, Wilson, Frampton, and Crudup. We view footage of the actors as they learn how to play rock musicians and hear comments about these efforts and the movie’s songs. This becomes another informative reel.
Three Extended Scenes occupy a total of nine minutes. In these, we get more backstage at Black Sabbath, shots that mainly add to William’s interview with Jeff.
The second offers additional material in the lobby of the Phoenix hotel, whereas the last one elongates William’s first visit to the Rolling Stone offices. All seem interesting but would’ve made the movie drag.
Finally, Odds & Sods presents eight minutes, 53 seconds of outtakes. Essentially we get 12 short deleted scenes, some of which actually work pretty well, like William’s attempts to deal with the Band Aids.
Others seem less compelling, like a quick look at “young William” at a school dance, or Stillwater as they bow on stage and celebrate. Some just offer brief trims that add little. Still, it’s fun to see these clips, often superfluous or not.
Almost Famous became one of the sweetest and more ingratiating films of 2000, and it possesses a particular resonance for those of us with a heavy interest in rock music. What could have been little more than a coming of age story dressed up in classic rock clothes, Famous instead offered a light and lovely tale that earned honest emotion without any sickly sentimentality. The 4K UHD brings us excellent visuals and bonus materials as well as solid audio. This turns into the definitive release of a wholly charming film.
To rate this film visit the DVD review of ALMOST FAMOUS