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4K Ultra HD Review: Almost Famous (Steelbook Edition)

July 14, 2021

By John Corrado

Writer-director Cameron Crowe’s coming of age rock dramedy Almost Famous is 21 years old this year, and Paramount is marking the occasion by revisiting the film with a new 4K Ultra HD remaster, that comes in a limited edition Steelbook package.

Based on Crowe’s own experience as a teenage writer, Almost Famous follows William Miller (Patrick Fugit). William is a sheltered 15-year-old kid in the 1970s who ends up getting a writing assignment from Rolling Stone magazine to follow a rock band on tour, allowing him to escape the shadow of his protective mother (Frances McDormand) for the first time.

The band is Stillwater, a fictional group fronted by lead singer Jeff Bebe (Jason Lee), and hotshot lead guitarist Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup). William’s real motivation for following the band is Penny Lane (Kate Hudson), a young woman that he falls for who is part of a group of “band aids” who follow the band on tour. In other words, a “groupie,” though she bristles at the term. Groupies sleep with the band, and they are simply fans of the music who provide other services.

Watching Almost Famous now is a joyous, bittersweet experience. With its evocative depiction of the waning days of rock and roll in the early 1970s, the film has always been a nostalgia piece, and this nostalgia feels even greater over twenty years removed from its original release. Told through the youthful vantage point of his teenaged protagonist experiencing the world for the first time, Crowe beautifully captures a sense of time and place with the distinct feel of someone fondly looking back.

Crowe made the film fresh off the success of Jerry Maguire. While he has never been able to fully recapture this magic since in his subsequent narrative films, Almost Famous stands tall as maybe his finest achievement. The film, which was famously Roger Ebert’s favourite movie of 2000, won Crowe the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. It also picked up an editing nomination as well as a pair of highly deserved Best Supporting Actress nods for McDormand and Hudson, but was strangely (and unfairly) left out of the Best Picture field that year.

The film is a time capsule of rock music in the early ’70s, yes, but it’s also an almost universally relatable portrait of a teenager finding his way in the world for the first time. It’s carried by strong performances, including a small but impactful performance by Philip Seymour Hoffman as Lester Bangs, a music critic who mentors William. The film is set to a memorable soundtrack, and features any number of indelible moments. The “Tiny Dancer” singalong on the bus is just as poignant now as it ever was, and the final scenes have a bittersweet nostalgia to them that still tugs at the heartstrings.

The 2-disc set includes both the 123 minute theatrical cut from 2000 and the 2001 “Bootleg Cut,” which runs for 161 minutes and restores nearly forty minutes of deleted and extended footage to the film. It has become the preferred version for some fans, with the lengthier running time helping to expand certain storylines and allow the film to breathe more. While I love the theatrical cut, those two hours do fly by, and the “Bootleg Cut” promises a longer, more complete experience.

The Steelbook itself has a nice matte finish to it, with an image of Penny Lane on the cover, a closeup of her boots and legs on the back, and a lineup shot of the ensemble cast on the inside. It’s an attractive set for fans of Almost Famous, who will surely be impressed by the quality of the film’s transfer.

Bonus Features (4K Ultra HD):

The film has been remastered from a new 4K film transfer under the supervision of Crowe, and is presented here with Dolby Vision and HDR-10. The set comes with a great selection of old and new bonus features, which are mainly found on the first disc with the theatrical cut, and are broken up into several sections. A code for a digital copy is also included in the package.

First Disc (Theatrical Cut):

New Releases

Filmmaker Focus – Cameron Crowe on Almost Famous (8 minutes, 6 seconds): The filmmaker reflects on making the film, including his own personal connections to the story, and the experience of shooting the film chronologically.

Casting & Costumes (12 minutes, 52 seconds): This featurette focuses on casting the film, including teenaged newcomer Fugit, and features voiceover from the different cast members over early audition and rehearsal footage. It also looks at how the costumes help define the characters.

Rock School (10 minutes, 48 seconds): This featurette focuses on how the actors worked with Peter Frampton to believably portray musicians, with Crudup taking a crash course in learning to play guitar for the film.

Extended Scenes (9 minutes, 0 seconds): A collection of extended scenes from the film.

Odds & Sods (8 minutes, 53 seconds): A collection of alternate takes and extended moments.

Greatest Hits

Intro by Cameron Crowe

The Making of Almost Famous (24 minutes, 50 seconds)

Interview with Lester Bangs (1 minute, 55 seconds)

“Fever Dog” Music Video (4 minutes, 42 seconds)

“Love Comes and Goes” (3 minutes, 50 seconds)

B-Sides (9 minutes, 11 seconds)

Cleveland Concert (15 minutes, 46 seconds)

“Small Time Blues” (2 minutes, 55 seconds)

Stairway (12 minutes, 13 seconds)

Theatrical Trailer (2 minutes, 27 seconds)

Hidden Talent (Unhidden Easter Eggs)

Eerie Outtake (45 seconds)

Stolen Kisses (4 minutes, 59 seconds)

Cameron Crowe’s Perfectionism (9 minutes, 3 seconds)

Second Disc (Bootleg Cut):

Audio Commentary with Cameron Crowe and Friends

Almost Famous (Steelbook Edition) is a Paramount Home Entertainment release. It’s 123 minutes and rated 14A. The “Bootleg Cut” is 161 minutes and rated 14A.

Street Date: July 13th, 2021

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