‘Almost Famous: Steelbook Edition’ rocks (4K Ultra HD movie review)
WASHINGTON — “Almost Famous: Steelbook Edition” — director and screenwriter Cameron Crowe’s opus to the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle — debuts at last in an ultra-high definition format. This new Paramount Picture Home Entertainment release (not rated, 1.78:1 aspect ratio, 161 minutes) adds extras for the hardcore fans. The cost? A modest $30.99.
“Almost Famous: Steelbook Edition” takes us back to the (musical) future
Built from Mr. Crowe’s Academy Award-winning screenplay, this semi-autobiographical Y2K film, was set in the 1970s. It offers a coming-of-age tale about the tenacious William Miller (Patrick Fugit), a 15-year-old aspiring rock journalist. William gets the chance to go on the road with the band Stillwater for “Rolling Stone” magazine, fulfilling his dream life in the process.
Over the course of his wild adventures, our young and naïve hero grows up quickly. In the process, he learns about the hard and excessive life of musicians while befriending members of the band. These include lead guitarist Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup), singer Jefe Bebe (Jason Lee) and the famed band-aids, i.e., groupies. They follow the lead of Penny Lane (Kate Hudson).
A quality production evokes an already distant past
The lead performances by Mr. Fugit and Miss Hudson are especially poignant and amply supported by Francis McDormand as William’s strict mother Elaine, Philip Seymour Hoffman as his mentor and editor of “Creem” magazine Lester Banks and Anna Paquin as band-aid Polexia Aphrodesia.
Equally important is the film’s soundtrack. It features tunes from legendary bands and artists such as Led Zeppelin, The Who, Deep Purple, The Stooges, Black Sabbath, The Allman Brothers Band, Cat Stevens, and Elton John.
Suffice it to report, this love letter to one of the greatest decades of rock music comes loaded with heart. It’s sure to capture the imagination of those that remember a time long, long ago when music meant everything to its listeners.
In its current “Almost Famous” package, Paramount offers viewers both cuts of the film: the theatrical version and the extended cut. Frequently dubbed the Bootleg Cut, the latter version offers an additional 40 minutes of musical depth.
4K in action:
Both cuts of the film acquire the 2160p upgrade treatment, including high dynamic range enhancements. Remastered both versions from a new 4K transfer supervised by Mr. Crowe easily delivers the best-looking presentations of “Almost Famous” ever released to home theater fans.
Fans will, of course, show off to newbies that extended cut. They’ll all appreciate this version’s most magical moments. These include a hazy red sunrise as the band enters Topeka; the New York City skyline; and the beat-up worn leather on the tour bus seats. Other highlights include the intricate designs and earthy tones of those paisley-powered, long-sleeved shirts. Also not to be forgotten: the crisp reality of Penny’s pure, immaculate facial skin tones and golden curly locks.
This presentation pays homage to John Toll’s vintage cinematographic style. Better yet, it remains respectful of the original source. This includes just a hint of vintage film grain and a glint of occasional golden haze behind the action. Both effects conjure up a sense among viewers that they are watching the very memories of the film’s participants.
With help from Mr. Crowe, Paramount offers a bountiful digital backstage pass of bonus content on this two-disc set of “Almost Famous.” The creative team culled both new and old material from the 2011 Blu-ray release.
First, look to the Bootleg 4K disc. You’ll find a previously released optional commentary track that proves as entertaining as it is informative. Vinyl Films’ Scott Martin and Andy Fisher, family friend Ivan Carona, DreamWorks’ executive Mark Atkinson and the director’s mom Alice join Mr. Crowe here.
That’s right, mom is available. And she’s not afraid to talk about the Crowe family. This richly adds to the director’s discussions of growing up in the era depicted in the film. His reminiscences also include snippets of his real-life as a teenage “Rolling Stone” correspondent. Yes, we also learn about the production of the film. But mom and son have plenty of nostalgia to offer.
Now, pop in the theatrical cut on this 4K disc. And voilà! You first discover a brand new, eight-minute Filmmaker Focus featuring Mr. Crowe once again. Here he offers his reflections on this film classic. He also emphasizes the importance of shooting the movie in chronological order. Also included: observations on the critical camera location on the band’s bus, plus plenty of raw footage and still imagery to enjoy as well.
Even more notable extras:
Other new goodies include 12 minutes on costuming and casting with narration from Miss Hudson, Mr. Fugit, Mr. Crudup, Mr. Lee, and Zooey Deschanel (William’s sister Anita). Also included: original costume tests and casting footage.
Now, add in another 11 minutes of raw footage of the actors practicing to become a band with help from Peter Frampton and Nancy Wilson. Both offer extra commentary along with the band of actors.
The vintage extras in this package include a 24-minute featurette on the production and the full Stillwater concert. On tap as well: the famous (or infamous) “Stairway to Heaven” deleted scene and a collection of interactives.
Viewers can click on a section title and further click on various hotspots to learn about the directors’ top 10 albums in 1973. These include The Who’s “Odds and Sods” and Led Zeppelin’s “Houses of the Holy.” Owners of this set can read the actual film script and even read seven of Mr. Crowe’s articles as originally published in “Rolling Stone.”
Mr. Crowe adds helpful commentary on many of these vintage extras. Where to find it? Just click on the microphone next to the feature’s title.
The disc collection arrives in a photo-illustrated steelbook case. The cover features a sepia-toned, matte image of Penny leaning against a table with the film’s title appearing on its lower half. The back cover displays a shot of her booted legs. And inside, owners of the set can find has a full-color cast photo. It doesn’t get much better than this.
• This story originally appeared in The Washington Times.