Almost Famous: Untitled appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. The picture seemed inconsistent.
Sharpness varied. Much of the film showed good delineation and accuracy, but exceptions occurred, so some parts of the movie came across as a bit flat and soft. Light edge haloes occasionally complicated that side of things and left us with a mild lack of accuracy at times. Other than during the opening credits, jagged edges and moiré effects created no concerns, but some digital noise reduction gave the movie a bland feel on occasion. In terms of print flaws, I saw a smattering of specks but nothing bad.
Famous provided a naturalistic palette, and the disc usually replicated these tones well. However, the noise reduction could give the colors something of a flat feel. Nonetheless, the hues generally worked fine. Black levels also seemed deep and dense, while shadow detail was logically opaque without any excessive thickness. Parts of the film looked very good, but the image was too inconsistent for a grade over a “B-“.
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. Music dominated the proceedings, as both score and songs demonstrated very good stereo delineation.
Effects stayed largely in the realm of ambience. 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 Blu-ray compare to the 2001 DVD? Audio was fuller and peppier, while visuals seemed more accurate. While I wasn’t wild about the image, it topped the DVD.
The Blu-ray replicates most of the DVD’s extras, and we start with an audio commentary from director Cameron Crowe along with his mother Alice; 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. I felt fascinated from start to finish; this was an excellent track.
When we move to the set’s “Special Features” area, we locate a quick Introduction from Cameron Crowe. 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-Seventies, the piece seems very entertaining but too brief.
Another useful Crowe introduction leads into Love Comes and Goes. A three-minute, 45-second video compiled by Scott Martin, we 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; 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. These include pieces about the Allman Brothers, 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 starts with another introduction from Crowe before we see the whole performance as filmed for the movie. This piece lasts 15 minutes, 45 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 two-minute and 55-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.
Our last package of deleted material provides one of the most interesting bits. Stairway starts with another intro from Crowe, who explains why the clip didn’t make either the theatrical or Untitled cuts. We 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 and 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.
The Blu-ray drops some text materials and a Stillwater CD from the DVD package, but the biggest omission comes from the absence of the movie’s theatrical cut. That’s a big loss; I prefer the shorter version and feel disappointed I can’t see it on Blu-ray.
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 Blu-ray brings us erratic but generally good visuals along with pretty positive audio and bonus materials. It’s unfortunate that the Blu-ray lacks the theatrical cut of the film, but for fans of the longer version, it’s the way to go.
To rate this film visit the DVD review of ALMOST FAMOUS