(Movie Review Written September, 2000)
Every so often, maybe once a year, it happens. You sit down and see a movie so wonderfully written that the rest of the world, all of your problems and worries, just fall away. You find yourself pulled completely and totally into the world that the filmmakers create. And for two hours, you don't want it to end. Director Cameron Crowe's new movie is one of those wonderful instances.
The film, which has an almost scarily perfect sense of time and place, stars newcomer Patrick Fugit as William, a young writer who finds himself falling in love with the world of rock and roll, and one night, asked to come along with a band on their latest tour. He's looked over by an remarkably cautious college professor mother (Frances McDormand). McDormand is not a constant part of the movie but her performance is still one of the film's most impressive; she may be a comedically overbearing mother on the surface, but her scenes show so much more - a mother who truly loves her child and just wants the very best for him. With a different actress, this character may have ruined the party.
William starts out by sending his material into famed rock critic Lester Bangs (Phillip Seymour Hoffman, solid as always). The two quickly become friends, and the older critic is always there when William needs advice. While going to interview Black Sabbath one night, he runs into the opening band, Stillwater. After a bit of trouble, the band and young reporter hit it off, and William finds himself on the road with the band, with an assignment as his mission - to interview the band for Rolling Stone magazine. Accompanied by a group of groupies...er, I mean the correct term, "band aides", William gets quickly caught up in the party that accompanies life on the road, only to eventually realize what's going on around him.
This is Fugit's first performance and I have to say that it's brilliant. At first glance, he seems like a naive kid who's going to make it through about 5 minutes worth of life on tour. But as the film goes on, the actor reveals more and more to the audience, showing that he's more of an adult and understands the world more than most of the characters he runs into. Also outstanding is Kate Hudson as "band aide" Penny Lane, a sweet, charming performance that deserves award consideration. Also excellent are Jason Lee and Billy Crudup as the band members that recieve the most focus. This is the kind of film where there are so many performances that are worthy of praise, I could go on and on.
The William character is based upon a person quite close to the film...director Crowe himself. The director's last film was "Jerry Maguire" which was a good film and things about it will last. I think that "Almost Famous" though is so good that people will be talking about the whole film for quite a while. Crowe has obviously lived the life of this character, and he welcomes us into this world completely. He's helped by ace cinematographer John Toll, who won awards for his outstanding work on "Braveheart" and "Legends Of The Fall"; his work in Terrence Malick's "The Thin Red Line" was also truly breathtaking. He captures the story wonderfully here, and his work is deserving of Oscar notice.
The entire film is simply deserving of Oscar notice, and I'd be dissapointed if "Almost Famous" isn't nominated for Best Picture; many of the actors should also recieve nominations in their catagories as well. I can go on and on about what I enjoyed from "Almost Famous", but rather than ruin the suprises, let me just say - go see the film now. It's just that good. Praise to Cameron Crowe for delivering a wonderful film that's simply a joy to watch.
VIDEO: "Almost Famous" is another excellent work from Dreamworks. It always helps a presentation to have a film that contains marvelous cinematography, and John Toll ("The Thin Red Line", "Legends Of The Fall") does wonderful work throughout "Almost Famous". Image quality is uniformly excellent, as sharpness and detail are top-notch. Flaws are almost non-existent throughout the film, as there's only a slight bit of shimmer once or twice - nothing at all distracting.
The image is thankfully free of any print flaws; no marks, no scratches, no nothing. No pixelation, no nothing. Just a very clean, crisp image that looks like it did when I saw it in theaters. Colors are especially beautiful, looking natural and vibrant throughout the film, especially during some of the scenes driving on the bus through the fields. Overall though, I was hoping for a fantastic presentation of this great picture and Dreamworks didn't dissapoint.
SOUND: "Almost Famous" is presented, like most new Dreamworks titles, in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 audio. Much of the film is really dialogue-driven, but when the music comes into the picture, either in the background or in the concert sequences, its handled wonderfully. Surrounds are used quite well to re-inforce the music, with occasional crowd sounds during the concert sequences.
Audio quality throughout is excellent. The songs sprinkled throughout the soundtrack sound fantastic, with excellent clarity and detail, with a warm, full sound. While listening to the concert sequences, I wished that more concert presentations that are released on DVD sounded as good as these do, as they offer a great "front-row" feel, with good bass and a very enveloping sound. Dialogue remains clear and crisp, with no issues in terms of clarity. Both presentations offer strong audio, but the DTS version is prefered, as it boasts a more seamless and immersive presentation of the music. The general DTS audio is, although only mildly so, crisper and clearer sounding.
Although "Almost Famous" occasionally folds-up into a dialogue-driven film, when the music enters the soundtrack, it becomes apparent that care was taken in presenting it and that it's important to the feel of the overall film.
MENUS:: As with all Dreamworks titles, they've done a fine job with the menus. My only complaint is that the animated clip of scenes that lead into the main menu is a bit too long. Still, menus are fine and easily navigated.
EXTRAS: There was a great deal of discussion about whether or not the film would recieve special edition treatment. This release was supposed to contain a director's cut of the picture, but unfortunately, director Cameron Crowe was still working on his upcoming Tom Cruise/Penelope Cruz picture "Vanilla Sky". He still is reportedly excited about offering an additional longer version of the film in an upcoming DVD edition, with still unannounced additional features. The release date for that edition is still unknown. The features for this release are listed below.
The Making Of "Almost Famous": A promotional documentary that's also informative - an unusual thing. Crowe and members of the cast chat about the story and most interestingly, Crowe chats about the reality behind the story as he went through similar experiences himself. Crowe was the youngest contributor for "Rolling Stone" magazine, and throughout the documentary, the viewer is shown black and white pictures of Crowe interviewing rock stars. Behind-the-scenes footage is included and the interviews don't simply tell what happens, but give good analysis of the various roles. Even Peter Frampton, who served as consultant on the movie, provides some interview footage. Definitely a "making-of" worth taking a look at.
Rolling Stone Articles: The text of seven Rolling Stone articles by Cameron Crowe, about The Allman Brothers, Led Zepplin, Neil Young, Peter Frampton, Fleetwood Mac, Van Morrison and Joni Mitchell.
Also: Cast and filmmaker bios, theatrical trailer (Dolby Digital 5.1), "Fever Dog" music video.
Positive:Dreamworks delivers fine audio/video quality for "Almost Famous", in my opinion, one of the best films of 2000. Fabulous performances, wonderful writing and directing all combine for one of the better films of the past few years - "Almost Famous" is most certainly recommended.
Negative: Although this isn't the special edition that fans were hoping for, at least Dreamworks has announced that an additional edition is upcoming.