About fifteen minutes into Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, I realized several things: First, I am not in 17-year-old pop star Justin Bieber's key demographic because I am not an adolescent girl. Second, Never Say Never is neither a particularly thorough documentary nor a true concert film. But that's OK, because Bieber's audience probably wouldn't sit for the film if it leaned heavily toward either. Finally, the Canadian singer is more talented than I expected, and, amid its purple confetti shell, Never Say Never nicely captures the energy of a young man only two years into his professional career.
Combining interviews and home videos with footage shot during the run-up to his 2010 Madison Square Garden performance, Never Say Never finds Bieber adjusting surprisingly well to his international fame. Raised by his mother but close to his father, Bieber showed an early ear for music and excelled at both singing and banging his drums. When manager Scooter Braun saw clips of Bieber singing on YouTube in 2008, he got the singer in the room with R&B superstar Usher. Impressed by Bieber's rendition of one of his tracks, Usher facilitated a meeting between Bieber and L.A. Reid, who signed him to Island Records.
Never Say Never also dispelled any notion I had that Bieber is affiliated with Disney. Unlike fellow teen stars Miley Cyrus and Selena Gomez, Bieber had no help from the Mouse House and has never dramatically acted. The film depicts Bieber's tour family, including his parents and friends, as a tight-knit group thankful for the singer's nearly overnight success. I'm not sure how I expected Bieber to act, but he seems like a nice, articulate kid. Bieber can sing and dance with ease, but it's clear he enjoys goofing off with his buddies just as much.
In the opening paragraph I mentioned that Never Say Never isn't a particularly thorough documentary. Its focus is the sold-out Madison Square Garden performance, and the film only hits the highlights of Bieber's rise to the top. Surprisingly absent are interview-style comments from Bieber, who is primarily filmed in action. I wasn't looking for a trip into his psyche, but any mention of his dreams and inspirations is sorely lacking. Shots of Bieber telling a young street violinist to follow her dreams are about as deep as it gets. And, while footage during the credits depicts Bieber practicing his dance routines, the performance preparation shown on screen is mostly limited to Bieber working with his vocal coach.
Bieber may not be seen making the big decisions about scheduling and set pieces for the tour, but his life isn't all fun and games. Bieber overuses his voice in the days before Madison Square Garden and has to cancel a performance for the first time. Clearly upset for disappointing his fans, Bieber also gets lectured by his superiors. When his vocal coach asks him if he's still in the game, Bieber promises to lay off the horseplay, a big responsibility for a teenage boy.
Never Say Never is not a true concert film, either, but several performances are presented, including a rendition of "Never Say Never" with Jaden Smith at Madison Square Garden. Despite its tendency to stick close to the surface, Never Say Never succeeds by mirroring Bieber's optimism and energy. Bieber is even a good sport about his much-discussed hair. In one slow-motion montage, Bieber exaggeratedly flips his locks for the camera before breaking into laughter. Say what you will about Bieber Fever, but it's hard not to at least catch the Bieber sniffles during Never Say Never.
Paramount's 1.78:1/1080p/MPEG-4 AVC-encoded transfer is as bright and colorful as one of Bieber's concerts. A high bitrate means compression artifacts are not an issue, and the transfer excels at reproducing the film's varied sources. Interview footage can be a bit edgy and is not always deeply textured, but the concert footage is spectacular. Here, the image shows incredible depth and color saturation, with solid blacks and natural skin tones. Banding is a minor issue in some footage, but I noticed no post-production edge enhancement. As expected, home video footage looks vastly inferior, but this is of no fault of the Blu-ray. Overall, Never Say Never receives a slick, colorful transfer that should please fans.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless soundtrack is appropriately rocking. Dialogue is crisp and clear, and, while it doesn't usually leave the center channel, is well balanced. The concert scenes are the main draw for audiophiles, and they deliver. The entire sound field is used to expertly reproduce the Justin Bieber concert experience. This track is absolutely booming with deep bass, wonderful instrumental balance and soulful singing. There's nothing to complain about here. French, Spanish and Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital tracks also are available, as are English, English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
Never Say Never arrives as a 2-disc set. The first disc is the Blu-ray, and the second disc includes a DVD copy of the film and a digital copy. The discs are housed in a dual Blu-ray eco-case. An attractively embossed slipcover replicates the cover artwork.
Bieber fans likely will be disappointed by the lack of substantial extras. Concert Dance Off (2:55) shows some of the back-up dancers having fun on stage, and Favorite Girl (2:00) is an acoustic performance of one of Bieber's biggest hits. R.I.P. Hair Flip (2:55) sees Bieber getting a haircut, and Giving Back (7:50) is a short piece about Bieber's tour family handing out free tickets. A BD-Live portal also is included.
If you're reading this review, chances are you are not the biggest Justin Bieber fan in your household. These odds go up exponentially if you are the parent of any pre-teen girls. Less than three years into his career, Bieber already has achieved international recognition. Never Say Never is a slick, enjoyable look at Bieber on tour as he prepares for a performance at Madison Square Garden. Music fans may find Never Say Never more interesting than expected. Bieber fans will love it. Recommended.
William lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.