ALMOST FAMOUS ($27) is a really great movie that pulls off an amazing feat. Somehow, this wonderful film manages to be warm, poignant, funny and totally cool- sometimes all at the same time. With ALMOST FAMOUS, writer/director Cameron Crowe has created a love letter to the era of his youth, the early seventies- a time when rock music had the last vestiges of innocence, before everything went commercial.
In Crowe's semi-autobiographical tale, we are introduced to William Miller (Patrick Fugit), an aspiring writer, who gets a gig with Rolling Stone Magazine to go on tour with a up and coming rock band called Stillwater, so that he can write a feature article about them. Unbeknownst to Rolling Stone is the fact that their new writer, who they hired over the telephone, is only fifteen years old. Surprisingly, William's overprotective mother Elaine (Frances McDormand) allows him to undertake the assignment, which sends our teen protagonist out on the road to observe the world of sex, drugs and rock-n-roll first hand. ALMOST FAMOUS meticulously recreates the early seventies, and is so loving in its remembrance of the time frame, that it could almost make one appreciative of the trappings of the era. Wherever one stands on the fads and fashions of the seventies, one cannot deny the greatness of the music created during that period. As you might have guessed, the movie’s soundtrack features a whole lot of great rock music from that time.
If it were not for the fact that ALMOST FAMOUS was based upon the real life experiences of the writer, the plot would be almost unbelievable. Every teen dreams of doing something as wild as going on the road with a rock band, but dreams such as these never seems to come true in the real world. Still, ALMOST FAMOUS proves to be a very engaging coming of age story, with a number of downright hilarious moments. Bringing Crowe's engaging screenplay to life is an absolutely wonderful cast of talented performers. Patrick Fugit truly shines as William, the innocent trying to play it cool, while on the road with the band and their groupies. Kate Hudson is a joy to watch as Penny Lane, the wisest of the girls that follow the across the country band. Frances McDormand is hilarious and manages to steal every scene she is in, as her character imparts her philosophy onto the rest of the world- whether they want to hear it or not. The cast of ALMOST FAMOUS also features Billy Crudup, Jason Lee, Zooey Deschanel, Michael Angarano, Noah Taylor, John Fedevich, Mark Kozelek, Fairuza Balk, Anna Paquin and Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Dreamworks Home Entertainment has made ALMOST FAMOUS available on DVD in a wide screen presentation that has been enhanced for playback on 16:9 displays. Framed at 1.78:1, the image on the DVD looks nearly perfect. Everything appears sharp and well defined, with bold beautiful colors that look better than the decade they are supposed to depict. Stronger hues are completely stable and the flesh tones are always appealing. Blacks are accurately rendered and the image boasts excellent shadow detail and depth. The film element used for the transfer is virtually free from blemishes; however a tinge of grain is occasionally noticeable. Digital compression artifacts are well concealed throughout the presentation.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack is quite good, making the most of both the music and sound effects to create a cohesive sonic environment. Directional sound effects pan convincingly through 360-degree sound field, while the music has a more enveloping effect on the viewer. Dialogue reproduction is clean and crisp, with the actor's voices having a nice resonance, especially during "live musical performances." The bass channel is very solid, although it exists primarily to enhance the music. Speaking of the music, it is reproduced with excellent fidelity- never sounding harsh or brittle. ALMOST FAMOUS also features a DTS 5.1 channel soundtrack, which adds improved resolution to the sound. In DTS, the soundtrack has a more spacious quality and the music has a somewhat better defined sound. While DTS has an edge here, the Dolby Digital does not leave the listener wanting. An English Dolby Surround soundtrack is also encoded onto the DVD, as are English subtitles.
Full motion video, animation and sound enhance the interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as some nice extras. ALMOST FAMOUS includes one of the best "making of" featurettes that Ive seen in quite some time. Sure, the featurette contains the requisite interviews with the cast and the filmmaker, but it is really well done and contains a genuine heart. The featurette also offers a look back at Crowe's days at Rolling Stone Magazine, which is central to one’s appreciation of ALMOST FAMOUS. Seven actual Rolling Stone articles written by Cameron Crowe are included amongst the extras and the certainly add additional perspective to the ALMOST FAMOUS viewing experience. Interestingly enough, Stillwater, the fictitious band from ALMOST FAMOUS, have provided a music video for the song Fever Dog. Two theatrical trailers, plus cast and crew biographies/filmographies and production note close out the disc's extras.
ALMOST FAMOUS is one of the best things I've seen all year. The movie is a delight and the DVD is an absolute winner. While a director's cut of ALMOST FAMOUS is in the works for DVD release at some point in the future, don't miss out on the terrific little disc that is available right now!
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