Almost Famous (Steelbook) (4K UHD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Bill Hunt
  • Review Date: Aug 02, 2021
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Almost Famous (Steelbook) (4K UHD Review)

Director

Cameron Crowe

Release Date(s)

2000/2001 (July 13, 2021)

Studio(s)

Columbia Pictures/DreamWorks Pictures/Vinyl Films (Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment)
  • Film/Program Grade: See Below
  • Video Grade: A-
  • Audio Grade: A-
  • Extras Grade: A

Almost Famous (Steelbook 4K Ultra HD)

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Review

The year is 1973. Young William Miller (Patrick Fugit) is a 15-year-old San Diego high schooler, who becomes enamored of rock music after his older sister Anita (Zooey Deschanel) gifts him her vinyl collection upon leaving home. Inspired by William’s passion for writing about the subject, rock journalist Lester Bangs (Philip Seymour Hoffman) gives him a $35 assignment to review a Black Sabbath concert for Creem magazine. But William struggles even to enter the venue—security thinks he’s just a fan. A “band aid” (don’t say “groupie”) named Penny Lane (Kate Hudson) and her friends—who are known widely to all the musicians—tries to get him backstage. But it’s not until Sabbath’s opening act—an up and coming rock band called Stillwater—arrives, and William impresses them with his knowledge of their music, that the young writer gains the access he needs. Once inside, William’s life quickly begins to change. Penny takes him under her wing, and the lead singer for Stillwater (Jason Lee) takes a liking to him. But unsure whether or not to trust him, guitarist Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup) keeps putting off William’s interview attempts. This inadvertently leads to William tagging along with the band on their bus tour across the country, much to the young writer’s delight, and to the chagrin of his mother (Frances McDormand). And when Rolling Stone offers William a large sum of money to pen an article about Stillwater—and the band learns it might become a cover story—the intensity of William’s whirlwind tour experience rapidly dials up to 11.

There are very few absolutely perfect films in the world, but Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous must surely be one of them. Based on Crowe’s own experiences as a music writer for Rolling Stone in the 1970s (in particular his time on the road with The Allman Brothers Band), the film is both a coming of age story and a love letter to certain kind of classic rock music that’s easy for many of us to find a personal connection with. Kate Hudson is luminous here—it’s not at all hard to imagine her inspiring both William and the band members. (Her character is based in part on the real Pennie Lane Trumbull, who remains a friend of Crowe.) Fugit was a newcomer to acting at the time, but he’s perfectly believable as a wide-eyed young music fan who’s having the time of his life. Crudup shines too in one of his best roles to date. Hoffman manages somehow to channel the spirit of Bangs with ease. McDormand performance as William’s nervous mother makes me laugh every time I see it. And the rest of the cast is excellent too, including Lee, Deschanel, Anna Paquin, and Fairuza Balk. Look also for cameos by Rainn Wilson, Jimmy Fallon, Jay Baruchel, rocker Peter Frampton, and comedian Mitch Hedberg. Best of all, the world of rock music in the 1970s has been brought to life with an authenticity rarely seen in a dramatic film, thanks to Crowe’s own knowledge of the scene, as well as the hard work and assistance of Frampton, Nancy Wilson (of Heart, then Crowe’s wife), and Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready.

Almost Famous was shot on 35 mm photochemical film using Panavision cameras and spherical lenses, and it was finished photochemically at the 1.85:1 aspect ratio for theaters. For its debut on Ultra HD, Paramount has scanned the original camera negative in native 4K create a new Digital Intermediate, complete with grading for high dynamic range (both Dolby Vision and HDR10 options are included, but there’s little appreciable difference between them). Fans will be pleased to know that Paramount’s 4K package contains both the 122-minute Theatrical Cut and the far more satisfying 162-minute Untitled “Bootleg” Cut on separate UHD discs. The image presentation for each is impressive indeed, with exceptional detail. Skin tones, clothing, and other surfaces exhibit lovely refined texturing. Grain is light and organic. The HDR grade is impressive too, with deep, dark shadows and highlights that are just shy of being eye-reactive but still appear wonderfully life-like. The color palette is more vibrant yet natural, with much greater nuance. And when the band hits the stage, bold blues, reds, and yellows paint everything with rich light. The presentation is gorgeous and represents the film looking better than it ever has before.

Primary audio on the disc is presented in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, the same mix that was found on the previous Blu-ray edition. It was fantastic when we first heard it in 2011—it was one of several great lossless surround mixes from Paramount back in the day—and it remains so now. The soundstage is medium-wide up front in dialogue scenes, but it expands a bit during the rock performances, with constant light ambience in the surround channels. Dialogue is clear at all times, and the music is offered in exceptional fidelity. Bass is firm throughout. A French 5.1 Dolby Digital mix is also available, as are English, English for the Hearing Impaired, and French subtitles.

Paramount’s new Steelbook package is a 2-disc set, each of which is a 4K UHD. In addition to the films, the discs include…

DISC ONE (4K UHD THEATRICAL CUT)

  • Filmmaker Focus: Cameron Crowe on Almost Famous (HD – 8:06)
  • Casting & Costumes (HD – 12:52)
  • Rock School (HD – 10:48)
  • Extended Scenes (SD – 3-4 scenes – 9:00 in all)
  • Odds & Sods (SD – 8:53)

All of this is new material, created specifically for this 4K release. What’s interesting is that it was produced during COVID isolation, and yet almost everyone in the cast and crew—certainly all of the key participants—was interviewed for it, so their voices appear over never-before-seen production photos, on-set video footage, screen tests, and the like, all of it “hosted” by Crowe himself, who appears on camera sitting on a bench in his backyard. The result is a kind of casual, hand-crafted, and lovely vibe, as everyone reminisces about their fondly-remembered experiences of making the film. Then you’ve got a few extended scenes, and an assembly of great additional B-roll moments that went unused but are still fun to see. All in all, the new material is a treasure.

But of course, the disc also includes a ton of legacy material too, carried over from previous Blu-ray and DVD releases, including:

  • Intro by Cameron Crowe (audio only)
  • The Making of Almost Famous (SD – 24:50)
  • Interview with Lester Bangs (SD – 1:55 – with audio introduction by Crowe)
  • Cameron Crowe’s Top Albums of 1973 (HD image gallery with audio narration by Crowe)
  • Fever Dog Music Video (SD – 4:41)
  • Love Comes and Goes (SD – 3:51 – with audio introduction by Crowe)
  • Rolling Stone Articles (HD text gallery with audio introduction by Crowe)
  • B-Sides (SD – 5:21 – with audio introduction by Crowe)
  • Cleveland Concert (SD – 15:46 – with audio introduction by Crowe)
  • Small Time Blues (SD – 3:02)
  • Stairway (SD – 12:13 – with audio introduction by Crowe)
  • Script (HD text gallery)
  • Theatrical Trailer (HD – 2:33)
  • Hidden Talent: Eerie Outtake (SD – :45 – with audio introduction by Crowe)
  • Hidden Talent: Stolen Kisses (SD – 4:59 – with audio introduction by Crowe)
  • Hidden Talent: Cameron Crowe’s Perfectionism (SD – 9:03 – with audio introduction by Crowe)

My favorite of these extras has always been the Stairway piece, a deleted scene in which William’s journalism teacher and high school counsellor attempt to convince his mother to allow him to go on tour with Stillwater as a reporter for Rolling Stone… which goes over just about as well as you might expect. Note that Hidden Talent features all of the previous Easter eggs simply unhidden.

DISC TWO (4K UHD “UNTITLED” BOOTLEG CUT)

  • Audio Commentary with Cameron Crowe & Friends

This is the same commentary released previously, and it’s terrific, including Crowe, his mother, Scott Martin and Andy Fischer (from Vinyl Films), Mark Atkinson (from DreamWorks), and filmmaker Ivan Corona. Of course, the package also includes a Digital Copy code on a paper insert (for the Theatrical Cut). There are no Blu-ray copies of the films here, but Paramount has released those separately as a new Paramount Presents edition with both versions of the film also remastered in HD from this new 4K presentation.

Almost Famous swells my heart and fills me with joy with each new viewing. Crowe’s masterpiece effortlessly reconnects you with that formative time when you first discovered music, and the opposite sex, and big ideas, and everything that’s most important to you in life, not to mention all of the amazing possibilities and potential that still lay ahead. The scene where Stillwater—clearly a troubled band behind-the-scenes—rediscovers their love of music (and each other) by singing Elton John’s Tiny Dancer on the tour bus is one of the great cinematic moments of all time. Hats off to Crowe and Paramount Home Entertainment for going the extra mile on this title, for delivering fine quality, for not leaving anything out, and for creating new material that’s made an already great experience even better. Almost Famous in 4K is absolutely not to be missed.

Film Ratings (Theatrical Cut/Untitled “Bootleg” Cut): A/A+

- Bill Hunt

(You can follow Bill on social media at these links: Twitter and Facebook)

 

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