Please Note: The images here are from the standard DVD release, not the Blu-Ray currently under review..
Yeah, that's right. The pretentious writer they always assign Criterion Collection discs and all the subtitled movies that don't have kung-fu is reviewing the Taylor Swift promo documentary. Before you judge, though, go over to your movie collection and count how many different versions of the Transformers movies you bought over the years, and then ask what kind of high horse you're straddling. Hint: it transforms into shame!
I am an unapologetic Taylor Swift fan. I like her music, I like her tales of adolescent heartbreak, and I find her spunky persona unforced and charming. So, I didn't even blink at the chance to review the three-part program celebrating the tour for her brilliant Fearless album. Taylor Swift: Journey to Fearless was a miniseries put together for the Hub Network and it combines pretty standard documentary footage with kick-ass performance material. It's nothing groundbreaking, pretty much the kind of stuff you've seen on VH-1 and similar channels, with an expected emphasis put on the promotional duties surrounding the Fearless record. The documentary charts Swift's development and success, using exclusive interviews with the artist and a few others, photos, and home movies to illustrate the experience. There is an increasingly familiar "living the dream" narrative that we've come to expect from young popstars, but it does seem genuine coming from Taylor Swift.
At appropriate times, the documentary cuts away to the concert. For instance, when Swift's first single "Tim McGraw" comes up in the storyline, it's followed by Swift singing the song to a screaming stadium. Her shows were already huge at this point, and the blonde crooner was playing sold-out arenas. Swift goes big to match the venue. She has a large, multi-level stage, a full band, set pieces and skits, and back-up dancers. Her between-song demeanor is chatty and friendly, and though some of her gestures during the numbers can come off a little too choreographed, she's at least reaching out to the cheap seats. The broad movements probably look different from the upper rows than they do up close on TV. The camera moves in and out, getting right up in the singer's face, but also pulling back to give us the audience view. The footage highlights all vantage points, and the editing is patient, favoring longer shots over music video-style quick cutting. I could have done without the occasional talking interrupting the material--for instance, during "Fifteen," we get the story about the friend who inspired the song laid over the track--but that's a small complaint. I wanted a full concert, but that's not what this is, so I can't blame the apple for not being an orange.
The audio is also presented clearly and without any obvious overdubs. Swift has a powerful, resonant voice, and it's good to hear her breathless or pulling for the notes every once in a while rather than listening to a singer who is auto-tuned to death. Given that a lot of Swift's songs tell stories, her enunciation and phrasing is important. Taylor never lets the showbiz get in the way of the lyrics.
With episode 1 focusing on the early years and the lead-up to Fearless, episode 2 shows tour preparation with a kind of dull detour into segments about her backing band and family, and episode 3 tracks the tour around the world. Oh, yeah, and a Justin Bieber cameo.
The songs included in Taylor Swift: Journey to Fearless are:
You Belong With Me
Teardrops On My Guitar
Today Was A Fairytale
Tell Me Why
Forever And Always
Picture To Burn
Should've Said No
Having now had a chance to review both the standard DVD release and the Blu-Ray edition, I must say that this is a case where the added technology makes a real difference. The image quality here is much sharper, with vibrant colors and a more apparent rendering of texture, particularly in the concert sequences. Some of the interview clips and archive footage is still a little muted, but the perfomance material positively shines, and the intricacies of Taylor's costuming and design are really given their full due.
Episodes can be chosen individually, or you can choose a "play all" option. There is also a song selection menu.
Shout! gives us an upgrade here, too, mixing the audio in 5.1 DTS-HD MA.The lossless mix sounds great, again with the music being given the most heft. Most of the dialogue is appropriately centered, but the concert audio gets a ratchet up in the atmospherics department, giving as somewhat fuller aural depiction of the arena experience.
Closed Captioning is offered.
No bonus features added to the Blu-Ray, alas. One place they let us down!
Recommended. The three-part TV series Taylor Swift: Journey to Fearless is a mix of documentary and concert footage. I'd have preferred a more straightforward concert film than this promo reel, but it's still a charming and informative treat for Taylor Swift fans. The singer's personality shines through, and the live material is excellent.
Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with Joelle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent project is the superhero series It Girl and the Atomics and the futuristic romance A Boy and a Girl with Natalie Nourigat. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.