Let me start this review by saying that both of these documentary films reviewed here are essential viewing for any fan of rock and roll. Both films are excellent snapshots of the moments in time and the music they intend to capture, preserve and educate people on; in fact, chances are you have read about them already elsewhere (which is why I am not going into that sort of detail here in this review describing what the films are about — you can find that out there on the Interwebs in abundance).
Both films are well produced and have spectacular soundtracks and some important, insightful archival footage. And, both discs sound quite good all things considered, both in unremarkable but genuine high fidelity 5.1 surround sound that more or less keeps a stereo image front and center, saving the surrounds for ambiance.
The problem with these discs lies in the missed opportunity to do something extra special, something a bit more. Or as Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter (form Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland) might have commented, ‘It’s lacking in muchness.’
Lets take Festival Express, for example, a legendary and once-long-thought-lost movie that came out several years back on DVD and was really quite good all things considered. The grainy 16 mm movie footage captured the essence of the concert sequences and the soundtrack delivered an effective, standard DTS 5.1 surround mix.
To that, the main difference I can detect on this new Blu-ray disc of this film is that the sound is bigger and somewhat less compressed, presented in DTS-HD Master Audio. It sounds groovy, don’t get me wrong. But that seems to be the only difference. They didn’t clean up the footage any more (it could use it, frankly). They also didn’t give us any NEW footage — all of the same bonus bits that were on the DVD are here. The film footage may have a tad more definition, but not by much. It is what it is and I’m cool with that. But if you are going to go to the trouble of reissuing it, why not include MORE STUFF? There has to be more footage from all the concerts that were recorded and filmed!
Missed opportunity #1, no doubt.
The Big Star movie — titled Nothing Can Hurt Me — is Missed Opportunity #2. You see, the music label Omnivore Records issued a lovely two-LP set compiling music from the documentary — released while the film was still making the rounds of theaters across the country. Those LPs sound just stunningly awesome.
Now, I have to say that I really really DO understand the importance of presenting Big Star’s music on LP — that is the medium these songs were made for and, as we learn in the documentary, part of the sound of that first album (especially) happened in the actual LP disc mastering process! I do get it.
That said, the powers that be should have at least given us that complete soundtrack music on this Blu-ray Disc in an uncompressed digital format; it could have likely fit on this same disc or if not it would have certainly fit on a bonus disc. I am sure there are many people who would like to hear Big Star’s music in an uncompressed format and it would have fleshed out the Blu-ray experience a great deal. As it stands, the bonus materials on the disc are pretty slim, apart from some deleted scenes (which are so short they kinda could have been left in the film and no one would have noticed).
So, do you need to get these discs on Blu-ray? Well, of the two, I’d probably skew toward Festival Express since it does sound and look a bit better than the DVD version if you don’t have it at all and want to have seminal performances by The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, The Band and others in your collection. If you are a Big Star fan, you probably own the Blu-ray version of Nothing Can Hurt Me already; if you are just a curious music fan interested in learning about the band, save your money and stream it from your favorite online movie rental service.
I say the latter with an important caveat: with the money you save, go out and buy the first two Big Star albums on vinyl! You can usually find them reissued in fairly decent pressings for about $12 a piece. For less than the price of one of these Blu-ray Discs, both of those recordings will make you go “O My Soul”!
Mark Smotroff is a freelance writer and avid music collector who has worked for many years in marketing communications for the consumer electronics, pro audio and video games industries, serving clients including DTS, Sega, Sony, Sharp, AT&T and many others. www.smotroff.com Mark has written for EQ Magazine, Mix Magazine, Goldmine/DISCoveries Magazine, BigPictureBigSound.com, Sound+Vision Magazine and HomeTechTell.com. He is also a musician / composer whose songs have been used in TV shows such as Smallville and Men In Trees as well as films and documentaries. www.ingdom.com Mark is currently rolling out a new musical he’s written: www.dialthemusical.com.