Dreamworks has finally done it. With the recent DVD release of Cameron Crowe”s rock opus, “Almost Famous,” the partnership of SKG has put the ultimate screws to the consumer. Yes. Right now if you want to own it the glory, the music, the uncool, the fever, all that is “Almost Famous” you have to take one in the keister when you shell out your cold hard cash. And why? All for the sake of the all mighty dollar.
“Almost Famous,” or as director Crowe calls it in the behind-the-scenes documentary featured on the disc, “A love letter to rock “n roll,” went through years in the making. The film tells the tale of young rock journalist William Miller, who goes on the road with Stillwater, a midlevel band trying to come to terms with its own identity. Along the way, he learns a little thing about love, about family and about writing from none other than legendary rock journalist Lester Bangs (Phillip Seymour Hoffman).
Former Rolling Stone writer Crowe explains he had been writing the film for a long time and wanted to close the drawer filled with his past of family, friends, backstage Led Zepplin passes, Humble Pie ticket stubs and Allman Brothers mix tapes. A true labor of love for the writer-director of “Jerry Maguire,” “Singles” and “Say Anything…,” Crowe and his alter-ego William Miller (Patrick Fugit) share a true creator-character bond. Yet the DVD doesn”t relish in this one bit.
Instead, Dreamworks gives us a turd and tries to call it a Baby Ruth. It might smell sweet, but it sure isn”t (Dreamworks already announced Crowe will release a director”s cut version when he finishes work on his next film “Vanilla Sky”). The “Almost Famous” DVD, aside from having a solid print of one of the most enjoyable films of last year, carries no commentary track nor any deleted scenes (and they are out there, as Crowe has touted in interviews). While the disc carries a very interesting HBO documentary (which aired when the film was released last fall) concerning the making of the film and the principle actors involved, this is a travesty in terms of what could have been.
Along with interviews from Crowe himself, wife Nancy Wilson (formerly of the band Heart), musician consultant Peter Frampton and Oscar nominated starlet Kate Hudson, the documentary offers a glimpse of William Miller in the making: Patrick Fugit”s screen test. It”s a rare delight to see such a young, fresh actor who has never acted before try to get into a character that he would eventually bring to life.
A Stillwater “Fever Dog” video (a full edit of the song on the film”s soundtrack), copies of eight of Crowe”s major Rolling Stone articles during the “70s and the trailer round out the rest of the disc. What then is so wrong? Isn”t this enough?
Sure, “Almost Famous” could pass (again, judging from Crowe”s hilarious, insightful witticisms on the “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” disc, his commentary here is sorely missed). But Dreamworks, in full knowledge of the Director”s Cut DVD release to come, went and shipped “Almost Famous” to the store shelves right in time to cash in on the Academy Award Oscar buzz the film was receiving. As a lover of films or a collector of DVDs, what is the consumer supposed to do? Run to the store and shell out $19.95, wait a year or so for the director”s cut to be released and then hope that they can sell it back used and get a smidgeon of what they originally paid for it?
Sadly, these are tough times in this digital age of ours. DVDs are just another consumer product that the film industry is quickly cashing in on. At the same time, they foster film preservation, an alternative to high priced film schools and greater knowledge into what really goes on behind the scenes of Hollywood. If only the “Almost Famous” disc offered the film”s original ending, or maybe more Stillwater footage in Cleveland or … but wait. Two years from now, you might get to see this in Crowe”s ultimate edition. For now, the “Almost Famous” disc is a sore reminder.