Almost Famous, 2000.
Directed by Cameron Crowe.
Starring Patrick Fugit, Billy Crudup, Jason Lee, Frances McDormand, Kate Hudson, Anna Paquin, Zooey Deschanel, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jay Baruchel, Jimmy Fallon, Rainn Wilson, and Marc Maron.
Cameron Crowe’s classic coming-of-age in a rock ‘n’ roll world movie Almost Famous comes to 4K with a glorious remastered image for both the theatrical and extended versions. Paramount ported over all the previous bonus features and even commissioned a few new ones for this edition. Highly recommended.
I wrote about rock music and interned at Arista Records during college, but none of my adventures would have been worthy of a movie. The most interesting thing that happened was Ginger Baker of Cream fame being a jerk to me on a tour bus when he was in a band called Masters of Reality. And I only wrote for our college newspaper – I never got anywhere near Rolling Stone, although I read it religiously back then.
But I suppose that’s the difference between someone like me and a guy like Cameron Crowe, who wrote for the magazine as a teenager and had some cool adventures that served as the inspiration for the film Almost Famous, which he wrote and directed. He even got his then-wife, guitarist Nancy Wilson of Heart, to do the music.
Released in 2000, the loosely autobiographical movie centers on William Miller, a whip smart wunderkind who aspires to rock journalism and gets a big break courtesy of legendary writer Lester Bangs. That gig leads to an assignment from Rolling Stone covering the fictional band Stillwater’s “Almost Famous” tour. A series of adventures with Stillwater, the groupies who hang around them, their manager, and others ensue, creating an indelible mark on William and bringing him closer to his older sister Anita, who left home at the age of 18 because of their parents’ restrictive tendencies.
Don’t consider Almost Famous a glossy remembrance of Crowe’s youth as seen through rose-colored glasses, however. Rock music has always had a seedy underbelly, especially in 1973, the year the story takes place. The members of Stillwater don’t always treat William, nor their groupies, with much respect, although they’re also wary of William portraying them in a poor light in his article. In the end, the film is a coming-of-age story that happens to use rock music as its backdrop, rather than the usual high school setting.
Crowe pulled together an amazing cast to bring the tale to life, including Billy Crudup and Jason Lee as members of Stillwater, Frances McDormand as the mom, Kate Hudson as alpha groupie Penny Lane (the role that made her a star), Anna Paquin as fellow groupie Polexia Aphrodisia, Zooey Deschanel as Anita, Philip Seymour Hoffman as Lester Bangs, and Jay Baruchel, Jimmy Fallon, Rainn Wilson, and Marc Maron in minor roles. (I didn’t know who Maron was when I first saw the film, and my memory of it had mostly faded, so I had no idea for a long time where the “Lock the gates!” sound bite from his WTF podcast intro came from.)
Almost Famous has been remastered in 4K by Paramount, which made sure the extended “bootleg cut” version also found here received the same treatment. The extended cut runs about 39 minutes longer, which might feel like overkill for a film whose theatrical version clocks in at 123 minutes, but it’s not. This is a movie overflowing with great character moments and wonderful story beats, and the so-called Untitled version (that’s what it’s officially called) simply gives us even more of that.
Regardless of which version you prefer, the image quality here is top-notch. The film looks like it just arrived in a theater in 2000, with an early 70s color palette full of rich earth tones. It doesn’t really pop off the screen, but it’s not supposed to – it’s meant to feel a bit understated, which makes sense given the subject matter and the time period it portrays.
Paramount ported over all the bonus features from the earlier Blu-ray release and added a few new ones, including: eight minutes of Crowe looking back on the movie; 13 minutes about the casting and costume choices, with Crowe adding some commentary; 11 minutes of the actors playing the members of Stillwater learning how to be pretend rock stars; 10 minutes of deleted scenes (nothing special here, since the extended version mined all the best material); and nine minutes of alternate footage appropriately titled Odds & Sods, which is also the name of an album by The Who.
You’ll find all the new stuff on the theatrical cut disc, along with the rest of the legacy features, except the wonderful commentary track on the extended cut that occupies the second platter. The commentary, which is from the old DVD of the extended version, features Crowe along with his real-life mother Alice, Mark Atkinson (former Head of Mastering at DreamWorks Animation), Scott Martin and Andy Fischer from Crowe’s company Vinyl Films, and family friend Ivan Corona.
The track is as interesting and far-ranging as its participant list suggests, with Crowe holding court on his childhood, anecdotes from the making of the movie, his thoughts on a wide variety of bands, and much more. It’s mostly him and his mother talking, however, which made me wonder why the others were there, since they’re mostly just heard laughing at his humorous comments.
The rest of the legacy bonus features include an introduction by Crowe, an archival interview with the real Lester Bangs, the director’s top albums of 1973, a 30-minute making-of featurette, a music video, 15 minutes of Stillwater concert footage, the script, the theatrical trailer, and the famous scene that had to be cut because Crowe couldn’t get the rights to Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.” You have to play the song while watching the scene to get the full effect.
You also get a code for a digital copy of the theatrical version (no digital love for the extended cut, unfortunately). Paramount packaged the whole thing in a really nice steelbook with lovely sepia-tone photos on the front and back.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★/ Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★