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ALMOST FAMOUS
Untitled Bootleg Edition

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Billy Crudup, Frances McDormand, Kate Hudson, Jason Lee, Patrick Fugit, Phillip Seymour Hoffman
Director: Cameron Crowe
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1 Surround, Dolby Surround, French Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Dreamworks
Features: See Review
Length: 162 Minutes
Release Date: December 4, 2001

“How old are you?”
“Eighteen.”
“Me, too. How old are we really?”
“Seventeen.”
“Me, too!”
“Actually, I’m sixteen.”
“Me, too. Isn’t it funny? The truth just sounds different.”
“I’m fifteen.”

Film ****

Cameron Crowe is a writer/director who is a genius at pouring large doses of humanity into each of his films. From Say Anything to Jerry Maguire, Crowe has delivered one superb tale after another that shows very real people going through very real human experiences. For Almost Famous, Crowe has delivered a film that chronicles his own personal experience as an aspiring music journalist who went on to write for Rolling Stone magazine in the mid 70s, hitting the road with the likes of Led Zepplin and The Allman Brothers Band. Crowe’s ode to rock and roll music is by far one of the most insightful rock movies ever made, and was without a doubt one of 2000’s greatest movies. Although the film did get a share Oscar nominations, with Crowe himself taking home a much deserved Oscar for original screenplay, it was missing from the one category it really deserved to be in, Best Picture. Nonetheless, this is a spellbinding and heart-filled movie that for me and many others will be a classic for years to come.

Crowe’s early days are reflected in the film’s lead character, William Miller (Patrick Fugit), who is the laughing stock of his classmates, and the complete opposite of his wild and rebellious sister, who at the start of the film moves out of the house because of the pressure of dealing with their strict but all loving mother, played with remarkable gusto by Frances McDormand. While in high school, William has a chance encounter with rock critic Lester Bangs, played by a totally unrecognizable Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Not long after their first meeting William crosses paths with Stillwater, an on-the-rise rock group who are nothing more than a mere opening act for more high-profile acts. Attracting no less than Rolling Stone with his amateur works, William is given a chance to make some good money by chronicling Stillwater while they tour the states. It sounds simple and easy for William, but it will turn into a more difficult and life altering experience for both him and the band.

The band is led by guitarist Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup), who is the epitome of the “rock god-like” figure to their fans, which the other band members, most notably lead singer Jeff Bebe (Jason Lee) resent him for. Russell is also the most difficult one for William to tame. After being able to pull off sound bytes from all of the other members of the group, Russell keeps telling him that they’ll do the interview at the next venue, and it never reaches that point.

The most distinctive relationship in the film comes from William’s one of a kind friendship with Penny Lane, played by a sparkling Kate Hudson. Penny has the illustration of what one might consider a groupie, but she proclaims herself a band-aid, who is just their for the music and nothing more, though it is revealed soon that her and Russell share an on again, off again romantic engagement. The scenes between William and Penny are some of the best moments of any recent film I can think of. They are two characters from two completely different backgrounds that say whatever is on their mind, and grow extremely close to one another by the film’s end, that the viewer can’t even bear to think of the two apart.

But the tour goes on, and the band moves on, as the movie delves into subjects that I’m sure almost every rock band could relate to, such as the pressure of importing a new manager as convincingly portrayed by Jimmy Fallon of Saturday Night Live fame, the band being pressure by Russell’s celebrity as in a scene where the band quarrels over the appearance of their new t-shirts, and the process of traveling, as captured in a riotously funny moment when the band, trying out a jet plane instead of a tour bus, encounter a heavy storm and make outrageous confessions in case of a crash.

For this exclusive Bootleg Cut edition of Almost Famous, which has been called simply Untitled, Crowe has included up to 40 minutes of never before seen footage, and I must say, this is one of the most satisfying director’s cut that I have ever seen. The added footage is so good, that I would have agreed to have left it in the original film, but my guess is that Dreamworks didn’t want to take chances on a nearly three hour take, for which box office numbers are usually not that high. One such added scene that is a riot is when Stillwater appears on a radio show, where which the host, stoned out on pot, apparently passes out, and the band members find themselves free to ask and say whatever the *!@% they want, if you can tell what I mean by that.

Bottom line: if you own the original DVD, sell it immediately and pick up this copy. It’s a 2 disc set which also includes the theatrical version. The overall quality is of all around excellence, and the added features are a big treat as well.

Video ****

For both the Bootleg and Theatrical editions, the video transfer is pretty much the same, which is that of pure digital excellence from the folks at Dreamworks, who are masters at creating knockout discs from an all-around perspective. This is a purely flawless, clean and crisp presentation, with perfectly vibrant colors and no image flaws whatsoever. Image is sharp and strong throughout, with no sign of compression of softness. Dynamite work!

Audio ****

Again, much like the original disc, the audio track is of the same remarkable quality. Music is contained in nearly every scene of the movie, with classic tracks by that of Rod Stewart and The Who being heard in striking 5.1 digital form. The standout moments, of course, are the scenes where Stillwater performs in concert, which carries the sound and feel of an actual live show, with everything from the music to the roar of the crowd being picked up from various speaker channels. One of Dreamworks’ most remarkable audio transfers to date.

Features ****

Since we already carry a review of the original Almost Famous disc, I won’t get into that. All of the original features are included on disc 2, along with the original version of the movie.

If you’re a fan of this movie, you owe it to yourself to pick up this disc, because it’s got some remarkable extras included on it. The Bootleg Edition, which is Disc 1, includes a running commentary by Cameron Crowe, which is needless to say, extremely insightful as the movie is. Also featured is a BBC interview with the real Lester Bangs, a behind the scenes exclusive titled B-Sides, some original Rolling Stone articles with introductions by Crowe, and Crowe’s own personal list of his top favorite albums of 1973.

Also included is an added bonus, a music CD containing 6 songs by Stillwater, including a few never before released tracks.

A remarkably marvelous package!

Summary:

Almost Famous is one of those rare movies that you will just want to watch repeatedly time and time again. It’s one of the best feel-good films you’ll ever come across, and any lover of music in general will fall in love with this piece instantly. Congrats to Cameron Crowe for giving us his heart and his story.