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Click above to purchase "Almost Famous Untitled: The Bootleg Cut Director's Edition" from DVDEmpire.com

 

Almost Famous Untitled
The Bootleg Cut
Director's Edition

review by Zach B.

 

 

MPAA Rating: Not Rated (Bootleg Cut); R (Theatrical Cut - Language, Drug Content, Brief Nudity)

Running Time: 162 minutes (Bootleg Cut); 123 Minutes (Theatrical Cut)

Starring: Patrick Fugit, Billy Crudup, Kate Hudson, Jason Lee, Frances McDormand, Fairuza Balk, Anna Paquin, Noah Taylor and Philip Seymour Hoffman

Written and Directed by: Cameron Crowe

 

Studio: Dreamworks

Retail Price: $34.99

Features:
Disc 1:
Untitled: The Bootleg Cut (with over 35 minutes of new footage), Audio Commentary with Cameron Crowe, Vinyl Films' Scott Martin, Vinyl Films' Andy Fisher, Family Friend Ivan Croner, Dreamworks' Marc Atkinson and Alice Crowe, Intro by Cameron Crowe, Interview with Lester Bangs with optional Cameron Crowe Intro, Cameron Crowe's Top Albums of 1973, "Love Comes and Goes" with optional Cameron Crowe Intro, Rolling Stone Articles with optional Cameron Crowe Intro, B-Sides with Optional Cameron Crowe Intro

Disc 2: Theatrical Cut, Cameron Crowe Intro, Cleveland Concert with optional Cameron Crowe Intro, "Small Time Blues", Stairway Deleted Scene, Script, Cast and Filmmakers Bios, Production Notes, Theatrical Trailer

Specs: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 5.1, English DTS 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, English Subtitles, French Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, Scenes (30 Scenes - Bootleg Cut, 24 Scenes - Theatrical Cut)

Released: December 4th, 2001

 

 

Once in a long while a movie comes along that captures the hearts and minds of critics and film lovers everywhere. A movie with that perfect mix of humor, drama, soul and heart. A movie that makes you feel so good, so alive and inspired inside. An urge to capture every bit of it and making you want to see it again and again. During the month of September in the year 2000, Dreamworks began to roll out "Almost Famous". It was one of those films that I just described, and one film no one could ever forget.

I've always been a fan of Cameron Crowe, and I personally don't think he's ever made a bad film (many say "Singles" is his weakest, but I rather enjoyed it a lot). During the August of 2000, buzz on "Almost Famous" began where I saw the occasional TV ad toward the end of the month but loads of print advertising and billboards from the beginning. The ads began to excite my interest, and when I heard more and more about the film I couldn't wait any longer. Finally, September came and I went opening weekend. My eyes didn't leave the screen once. Finally, when it came to an end, I could see the immense appeal of this movie. I never saw a movie that good in a long time. It really had everything and was a perfect example of what movies are about. Not that they have big stars, formulatic plots, amazing special effects, much hype or giant budgets, but that they have heart and give us not the run of the mill story, but something new and exciting. Something from deep within and much passion. Yet how do you make a great and tremendous movie even better?

Literally right after the film came out, Crowe was already talking about his plans for a director's cut of the movie for a future DVD release. As much as I loved the theatrical cut, the whole idea of an extended version of such a fantastic film really excited me, not to mention Crowe's commitment for delivering his true vision (he seemed quite eager himself). And while Crowe was starting to work on "Vanilla Sky" (his latest film due out in a few weeks as of writing this), he knew *exactly* what he wanted for the DVD release, and all of what he said has made it on it... and loads more. Again, the whole idea of an extended cut of the film sounded great since there was so much to the story and I was really curious what Crowe took out for the theatrical release.

As much as I like watching deleted scenes on DVD for movies, I'm a much bigger fan of extended cuts. I'm an even bigger fan of director's cuts. While deleted scenes are cool to see what was cut out, I prefer them to have them integrated back into the actual movie to see a more complete vision and/or a much more true vision. Directors upon directors get annoyed with studios how they don't have final say on what is presented in theaters, how they have to make cuts to make it all shorter and so on. And while new cuts of old favorites have made it to theaters, there is a greater deal that have debuted on the home video market. Many have taken that advantage of that market, with new audiences and old fans. Yet it presents an opportunity to not worry about so many decisions when making and marketing a film, and a chance to finally show off that vision.

So how is the new cut of "Almost Famous"? Is is a lot meatier and does it flow well? Or is the trimmer, theatrical cut better? Again, the theatrical cut was great and accomplished a lot in its running time... but Crowe's "true" and original vision of his semi-autobiographical masterpiece is just, and I mean just amazing and a much more perfected film. Every scene in it is necessary to the plot and/or the characters. It's not just deleted footage that wasn't great, it is great and is pure gold and all of it fits the film no matter how big or how small. It's a much richer, more full and more complete experience. While I loved the original theatrical version, I love this version even more as now it is truly the definitive version to watch. I felt a lot more part of the film. To me, it feels like a new experience and new film in a sense, even if there's only only about forty minutes of never-before-seen footage. It seems that nearly every scene has some kind of extension to it, not to mention the new scenes. Even if you watched the movie once, you will surely be able to point out some of the new stuff (and if you've seen it a few times already like myself, you'll notice all that's new).

But what makes the "new stuff" so good? It truly expands and extends the story. It's more entertaining, it's more thoughtful, it's more insightful and it improves upon the original. Yet it really feels like a director's cut and that's what's important. Some extended cuts of films get bogged down too much, are too long and can be too much. And while good, people do prefer the theatrical versions instead. That's not the case with Crowe's cut of "Almost Famous." So again, what's so good here? What's so good is how there's a lot more backstory and a lot more origin to key points in the film, things you sorta felt missing the first time, but were established good enough that the empty void didn't seem like much. In this version we feel more tension between the ongoings in William's family (between his Mom and sister, really) and the family's past, we learn more about the band and experience more of the characters' true feelings and what they want. This isn't some new cut that's only two minutes longer that's a majority of new CGI effects and one extra scene that was never great, this is a more true and more meaningful cut. It's a deeper experience if I say so myself and watching it again, it kinda feels like a whole new film altogether that left me with an even better and enhanced feeling then the time I saw the theatrical version in the theaters that Saturday afternoon. And speaking of that version, it's on this set too... not a bad deal in case you prefer it or want to make comparisons between that and Crowe's cut.

As most of you probably know, this film is actually based on a true story, it's based on Crowe's own experiences as a teenage rock journalist for the magazine "Rolling Stone". After his mom approved, Crowe toured with a few classic rock bands such as Led Zeppelin. I read in an interview that he used his old notebooks for some references, and some lines in the film are actually word for word of what some people said during his adventures. I personally think it's pretty amazing of Crowe to land such a gig at such a young age. I can relate to him...somewhat.

In "Almost Famous", William Miller (newcomer Patrick Fugit who is amazing) takes the place of Crowe, an incredibly bright, sort of lonely and intelligent fifteen year old who lives in a strict household with his mom (an excellent Frances McDormand). His mom stresses the importance of education and keeps her son away from everything, she doesn't want him falling down the wrong path and getting into drugs. William also loves to write tremendously, and when William was younger, his older sister exposes him to her collection of rock music secretly. William ends up getting a gig from "Rolling Stone", who are so impressed they offer him to write a story on the up and coming band Stillwater (a fictional band that Crowe created who says is a combo of all his favorite bands). William also gets some advice from famous rock writer Lester Bangs (Philip Seymour Hoffman who proves that he is one of the best character actors working today). Things kick into high gear when William is invited to go on tour with Stillwater for the article. While his mother is reluctant, she gives in and lets him go. That's when things kick into high gear, as William experiences life as a rock star first hand. While he's out to cover the music, he finds out so much more. He witnesses the romance between "band-aid" Penny Lane (Kate Hudson's award winning role) and band member Russell Hammond (a fabulous Billy Crudup). He sees the friction building between members Hammond and Jeff Bebe (a nice Jason Lee). William's eyes really begin to open.

I guess what I really like most about this film is that this film conveys what nearly all of other Crowe's film do: that life is made up of so many little moments. However, these little moments mean so much to us and are really important. They change our lives somehow someway or another, and we remember our "first times" as well as certain experiences that really open our eyes and shape us for the better. These moments may seem like nothing to us at the time, but when we look back, they really add up and make our lives.

Not only does this movie has some great, classic music but it has some excellent acting. The acting seems natural, open and honest, not forced or overdone. It's pitched perfectly. Philip Seymour Hoffman as Lester Bangs is sort of like a guiding force to William in a way, but with it, comes arrogance. I can't say more about Kate Hudson, who's already been awarded and showered with praise, but she's everything Penny Lane should be. There was a lot of hype on her for an Oscar®, but she lost, as well as Frances McDormand who also nominated for her open, honest, stern and funny as Elaine, William's mom. I really feel Billy Crudup was robbed of an Oscar® nod or any major awards for his performance as Hammond. I've been a fan of Crudup before this movie, but he really shines through here. Patrick Fugit, in his first feature film role, is really amazing as William. William captures what I'm assuming what Crowe was when he went on tour with bands at a young age. Innocence, gaining experience and really learning about things in the world in general. All of these actors bring Crowe's beautiful screenplay to life.

Speaking of Crowe's script, it's incredible and he truly deserved the Oscar® for it. It's really well written and seems to really capture the 1970s. The dialogue isn't corny or stupid, like the acting, it's very natural. Some movies, I think, have dialogue that you'd think people never say, it doesn't seem natural. Here, every word out of a character's mouth is believable. While Crowe's writing has been getting attention with awards, his direction for the movie has sort of been snubbed. Many argue Crowe's a better writer than director, but I disagree. He's equal, and when he does both, his whole vision comes alive. He scored a Director's Guild nod, but not a Golden Globe nod nor an Oscar® nod sadly. I felt his direction was really underrated by most, but with a script like his I think it takes a lot to make a movie like "Almost Famous".

Despite the various awards and the mountain of critical acclaim, "Almost Famous" was sadly ignored by audiences (and by the Academy for Best Picture!). Dreamworks hoped to score with their "American Beauty" strategy: slowly roll the movie out in theaters. Each week for a few weeks, open in a few more theaters and by the end, it'd be all over the country. While "American Beauty" made well over a hundred million, "Almost Famous" only made a little over thirty. I found this very disappointing, because this movie has a lot of things audiences can relate to. I'm not sure why people were turned off by the movie. In anycase, this second and final (probably) release of the film on DVD is completely breathtaking. If you've never seen it, what are you waiting for? Buy this. And if you already have the original disc from earlier on it's worth buying it again for a second time.

 

Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, both versions of "Almost Famous" looks outstanding. Dreamworks once again delivers fabulous transfers. Both have colors that are well saturated and very solid. The whole look and era of the 70s is captured perfectly with Crowe's hazy and down-to-earth shots. A lot constantly changes as far as setting, time, colors and more, and this transfer keeps up with it. Detail is excellent and lighting in scenes look really good. There is some slight shimmering here and there, and some grain as well as a blemish or two, but both transfers are strikingly solid. In the Bootleg Cut, I was surprised how good the deleted footage looked. It matches the actual film, and in fact, the new footage sometimes surpasses the original stuff. There's no awkward cutting or anything, it all flows and appears to be seamless. I've hated other cuts of films where you can simply tell what a shoddy job was done when reassembling the film, as you can tell where the new changes are and how it looks (not to mention DVD releases where a film is in anamorphic widescreen and when you have the option during the film to see a deleted scene, it's non-anamorphic). "Almost Famous Untitled" gets it right. Impressive and pleasing. Enjoy!

 

Just as impressive is the audio on both versions of the film. Dreamworks has provided Dolby Digital 5.1 (in English and French), English DTS 5.1 and English Dolby Surround mixes for the regular theatrical cut, and as I expected, only a 5.1 Dolby Digital remix and English Dolby Surround for the new version, which is a shame, since the DTS is a bit better in my opinion than the Dolby Digital. But as far as sounds for the new scenes... it won't matter that much. Sounds for the old scenes for a better listening experience in the new version does make a difference. I was very surprised by the 5.1 mixes. Each have some great dynamic and directional range. While there is a good amount of talking in "Almost Famous", there are some very nice surrounds, particularly in the concert scenes. Check out 25:56 into the movie, it's a very nice example. Your speakers may burst during a little scene later on in the movie with electrocution, it gave me quite a jolt. The classic music really lights up all the channels nicely, and there's some nice .1 LFE to be heard. However, my edge goes to the DTS if you are watching the theatrical cut. The Dolby Digital is good, but the DTS is a lot sharper and louder. I found that the DTS got me into the movie more. English subtitles are also included.

 

Whew! Dreamworks has put together a really spectacular package with Cameron Crowe that every fan of the movie will love to death. On the first disc, besides, the extended cut, we also have an Audio Commentary with Cameron Crowe, Vinyl Films' Scott Martin, Vinyl Films' Andy Fisher, Family Friend Ivan Croner, Dreamworks' Marc Atkinson and Alice Crowe, that being his Mom. Personally, I think having Crowe's Mom as a participant is an ingenious idea (it was originally going to be Cameron's editor instead), seeing how this is based on a true story and her character was the bases for Elaine. In anycase, this is an incredibly strong track that perfectly fits the film and one of the best commentaries I have had the pleasure of listening to. Crowe leads this track and keeps things going no matter what. His approach here is really warm and truly makes you feel part of his experience. Alice talks about her favorite scenes and what of her made it into the movie. Crowe starts the track saying it's going to be a personal commentary, and it truly is and he seems to be quite happy about that and sharing his stories. Besides the "personal" portions of this track, Crowe offers a tremendous amount of insight on creating the movie, the cast, the crew and a lot more. He also hints at a sequel... I found it hard to tell if he was joking or not (I hope he wasn't!). DO NOT MISS THIS! Kudos once again to Dreamworks for included subtitles for a commentary.

We have a full frame Interview with Lester Bangs with optional Cameron Crowe Intro. These seem to be snippets of an interview (it fades in and out here and there), but it's still really interesting and really cool. It's only about two minutes, but worth checking out. Comparing this to Hoffman's performance, I think Hoffman nailed Lester Bangs perfectly. Crowe also gives a nice audio intro. Let me just mention that all the intros here are audio only, giving it a feel of a record and fitting within the film's style. Just click the microphone to hear Crowe...

Cameron Crowe's Top Albums of 1973 is simply ten album covers, the band, the album's title and Crowe's thoughts on each (he narrates the whole way through). Incredibly nifty if I must say so myself. Also nifty is "Love Comes and Goes" with optional Cameron Crowe Intro. This is the original demo of the song, set to four minutes of assorted footage taken behind the scenes. Crowe's intro is quite good too (and fun). We also have seven Rolling Stone Articles Cameron Crowe wrote, these too with an optional intro by him.Very good reads and they're nicely presented.

Finally, we have B-Sides with optional Cameron Crowe Intro. Shot by Cameron Crowe and Scott Martin, this is a bit short, but I would have loved to see more. In anycase, this is great. The two basically shot the behind the scenes process of making the movie with their own digital video cameras. We have rehearsals, auditions and a lot of fun behind the scenes stuff. Again... it would have been nice if there was more, but this is cool as is. It's in full frame.

Disc two now... besides the original theatrical cut, we have the same intro from the first disc and a lot of cool new stuff. First up? The Cleveland Concert with optional Cameron Crowe Intro. This is the entire concert as it lasts nearly sixteen minutes. What I found so cool is how it's shot like a concert. It's in non-anamorphic widescreen. There's also Small Time Blues, a scene that I believe was trimmed down in the Untitled version (or maybe just cut out altogether).

The most talked up supplement is the deleted scene Stairway (when the film first came out, Crowe went on and on how this would be on the DVD and how he'd pull it off). Basically, this scene has William trying to convince his mother to go on the road. There's a passionate audio intro from Crowe. This is a great scene and it's too bad they couldn't get the rights for the actual song. But you can get around it by simply using your own copy of the song and playing it at the right moment (when instructed to do so). Well done and it's a great scene. My only complaint about this and the other deleted scenes: they're not anamorphically encoded. Grr!

We also have the complete Script (no DVD-ROM needed). I found the type to be a bit small on this... oh well, I have the actual book of the script anyway. There's also a load of detailed Cast and Filmmakers Bios, Production Notes and the anamorphic widescreen, Dolby Digital 5.1 Theatrical Trailer. There's a scene in it where we see a young William at what appears to be a school dance... this was not included in Untitled, not to mention some other stuff. But I guess it wasn't good and the other stuff wasn't good, as Crowe said he put together only the best. Still, makes you wonder...

So is anything missing from this version when compared to the last one? Not much. Just the HBO Making-Of which I liked and the pretty decent Stillwater "Fever Dog" music video (which was culled from the Cleveland Concert footage mostly), but it's no big deal. However, if it is to you, hold onto the other version (I'm hold on to mine!). Don't have it? Well duh... get this one! The menus here are really, really nice and the new Nancy Wilson music created for the menus kick major ass. Not to mention the really nice packaging, making it feel like a bootleg record. Oh, did I mention some pretty amusing easter eggs as well?

 

"Almost Famous Untitled" is one of the best director's cuts I have ever seen, as it fully captures what these extended cuts should be and are all about. While the previous DVD wasn't bad, this is the version you must buy, even if you do happen to own the older edition. Crowe provides a great commentary, the Bootleg transfer is much more superior to the original and the sound mixes fully embody the 1970s experience. Just in case you don't like the new version (I think 99% of everyone who enjoyed the original will), Dreamworks has also included the original cut of the film. The new version is a must watch if you've never seen the movie or have seen it before, whether you liked it or not. Those who did not I feel will gain a new perspective on it and may change their minds, while old lovers have much more to gain. Throw in some really cool extras, a bonus CD with Stillwater songs and excellent packaging, and you have yourself one of the best DVD releases of 2001. The best movie (in my opinion) of the year 2000, and one of the most memorable in recent years just got even better. "Almost Famous" is a movie that will surely not be forgotten, and will hold the test of time in years to come.