Almost Famous

Almost Famous (2000)
Dreamworks Home Entertainment
Cast: Billy Crudup, Frances McDormand, Kate Hudson, Jason Lee, Philip Seymour-Hoffman
Extras: Introduction, commentary TRack, Featurettes, Music Video, Clips, Articles, Script, Trailer

"Almost Famous" did not make a huge splash at the box office when it first arrived 2000, but Cameron Crowe's film has proven neatly that it was simply too cool for theaters and instead needed the proper environment, meaning people's living rooms, in order to gain its well deserved notoriety. Now, Dreamworks Home Entertainment and Paramount Home Entertainment are bringing us a Blu-Ray version of this wonderful film in its extended Bootleg cut version.

When we first meet William Miller (first played by Michael Angarano), we learn that he is being raised by a strong, intelligent mother (Frances McDormand) who wants nothing more than to keep her son from the harm of the world, and a sister (Zooey Deschanel) with eyes full of Simon and Garfunkel who can't get to the harm of the world soon enough. In the middle of this maelstrom, William comes to find out that he's actually been lied to about his own age, an effort of his mother's to advance his studies, then suffers a further blow to his normalcy when his sister finally splits for San Francisco.

Sad to see her go, William finds solace in the gift she has left behind for him, a gift that will change his life forever: her record collection. Four years later and now fifteen, William (played now by Patrick Fugit), starry-eyed in love with the likes of Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, finds a mentor in the nation's top rock critic, Lester Bangs (Phillip Seymour Hoffman). Aside from offering the advice of being "honest and unmerciful," Bangs also gives William his first assignment. When his age keeps him from getting backstage to interview Black Sabbath, William meets up with the Band-Aids, a group of very young girls, lead by the lovely Penny Lane (Kate Hudson), who fancy themselves more than just groupies. When they fail to get him backstage, William tries his luck a third time on the opening band, Stillwater.

Startled by this kid's specific knowledge of their band and more importantly his admiration of their music, the band brings him in. Once in the company of one of his favorite bands, William is immediately smitten with the rock and roll lifestyle and soon finds himself on the road with Stillwater, only now on assignment from Rolling Stone magazine. It doesn't take long for William to fall in love either, and Penny Lane's the obvious choice for his affection. Unfortunately, she's in love with Stillwater's lead guitarist Russell (Billy Crudup), who seems as if he's incapable of loving anyone as much as he loves himself, despite being very friendly with Penny Lane. A rift is formed between the two, as well as a small brewing feud between the band members. All William can do is try to keep up, try to get his interviews, try to get home, and try to finish his story. Though the youngest of the entire group, the kid with the wide eyes of inexperience proves he can certainly hold his own in any maturity contest among this group. Funny without being cynical, sweet without being sappy, nostalgic without being exclusive, "Almost Famous" is a great moment in life, extended for two hours.

Very much like rock'n roll itself and the tour lifestyle it depicts, "Almost Famous" is a movie you have to actually feel. To me it was an instant hit because I could immediately relate to the movie and its events from my own Rock and Roll band days – in another life, it seems now.

The film is simply marvelous and it is virtually impossible to find anything at flaw with it. The acting is top notch across the board. There's a reason that Cuba Gooding Jr. won an Oscar and Renee Zellwegger got a serious career boost for "Jerry Maguire." The reason is that Cameron Crowe writes impeccable parts for his secondary characters, and "Almost Famous" is no exception.

Frances McDormand and Kate Hudson (who both received Oscar noms.) are simply terrific. McDormand does so much with a small but pivotal role that it's almost a shame it can't stand out on it's own. Kate Hudson, however, brings her character to life like the snap of a glow stick. She IS the girl you can't take your eyes off of, but she's also so much more. Patrick Fugit is also somewhat of a marvel in his first major movie, and what a treat it is to see a teenage character portrayed by a real teenager, zits, baby fat, and awkwardness all.

Billy Crudup is awesome and intense in a layered role, as the guitarist who is self-centered and very much a rock star, yet somehow remains quietly down to Earth. Jason Lee is an easy choice for scene-stealer, as the lead singer of Stillwater who feels the limelight slipping from him to Russell and is none too happy about it. He has great lines and great delivery and is so much fun to watch.

With all these great actors and great roles, there is one that seems to be even more overlooked than the film itself was in theaters. I'm of course talking about Philip Seymour Hoffman, who will never make you feel more proud of being uncool than when he offers advice to William in a late night phone call. Hoffman as Lester Bangs breaks my heart in this movie and he's only on screen for maybe ten minutes.

Much has been made about how closely "Almost Famous" mirrors writer/director Cameron Crowe's own youth. It would be easy to imagine this movie as a two hour long session of someone patting his or her own back, but that's simply not the case. Instead of bragging to the world about how much better his life has been than everyone else's, Cameron has opted to make a film about the experience of experience, a personal journey that is very much accessible to all.

"Almost Famous" is presented on this Blu-Ray Disc in a 1080p high definition transfer that manages to make the movie look even better. With the increased level of detail comes an increased level of intimacy, transporting the viewer right there in the middle of it – the hotel rooms with crumbled sheets, the seedy joints, the backstage area. Color is pitch perfect and the black level is deep and dead on. Being a recent film, you can typically expect a great print to work with and this one is no exception, with nary a scratch or blemish. You'll notice some grain evident in some of the hazier skies of the West Coast, but this is not a defect of the transfer and was present in the original source print. I was glad to see it restored in this transfer and not digitally scrubbed for a sterile look.

Overall, this is just a great looking film with highly detailed art direction captured perfectly by cinematographer John Toll. Many of his other films are notable for their breathtaking exterior shots, but in "Almost Famous" he proves he can make simple things look amazing as well. Just notice how William's pen seems to literally glow when we first see him in class. It's just beautiful.

Since "Almost Famous" is largely about Rock and Roll you'd expect a soundtrack that hits you in the gut, and with this Blu-Ray you are treated to such a soundtrack in its DTS 5.1 HD Master Audio format. The Stillwater concerts sound awesome, putting you right in the middle of the arena, engulfed in sound from every direction. The track makes great use of the discrete surround channels and is surprisingly active for such a fairly character driven film.

This Bootleg Edition comes with a solid number of extras, starting with an Introduction by Cameron Crow and his full-length Commentary Track. If you like the film, you simply have to listen to this track and hear all the things Crowe has to say about the film, its origins and ideals. Do not miss this opportunity.

In addition, the disc is rocking with featurettes that give you a great look behind the scenes. Whether it is the obligatory "Making Of" featurette or "B-Sides" with behind-the-scenes footage, you will always be treated to exciting cool facets of the production, including, for example, Nancy Wilson's demo vocals on "Love Comes and Goes."

But there's a lot more, such as an interview with the real Lester Bangs, the "Fever Dog" Music Video and seven of Cameron Crowe's actual articles for "Rolling Stone" magazine. You will find more and more tidbits and little gems on this disc, making it the bonus features a perfect companion for this movie.

"Almost Famous" is one of the best Rock and Roll movies and it makes you wonder where Cameron Crowe's been for the past 10 years or so. This Blu-Ray Disc is giving the movie all the look and sound it requires to be thoroughly enjoyed, so make some room on your shelf and grab a copy today! Unfortunately it is available only at Best Buy at this time, though, no doubt, he disc will be available through other retailers in the not-too-distant future as well.