Amazing Journey is a documentary film about The Who.  It had a limited theatrical run in 2007 and was released as a 2-disc DVD in November.  The official site can be found here.

Musically speaking, The Who is a strange beast that straddles both the best and worst of the 60s and the 70s.  Personally, I'm only really interested in their pop and r&b material, more or less up to Tommy.  Their operatic and stadium-rock phases I simply can't get into (musically or visually). 

Having said that, during the 70s Townshend did accomplish something I have great admiration for on a number of levels: the film (not the album) Quadrophenia.  So keep in mind that this review focuses on the personally interesting bits and more or less ignores everything else.

The Good

Any new documentary about The Who has to inevitably be compared to the seminal The Kids are Alright and other opportunistic lower-budget efforts such as Under Review 1964-1968.  In that regard, I find Amazing Journey to be an improvement over its predecessors in a number of ways.

First off, Amazing Journey is officially sanctioned, which means that it features top-notch source material and proper band member interviews as opposed to random pundits as in Under Review.  Furthermore, unlike Kids, it:

  • covers a longer timespan to the present day
  • has more balance in terms of interviews vs. music
  • features additional relevant personalities (Stamp, Barnes, Talmy, families, etc)
  • is faster-paced with shorter segments

Although it's a plus that Kids has long and unedited segments when covering the early Who, that tactic becomes terribly boring during later bits such as Woodstock and Who's Next.  Amazing Journey, on the other hand, follows a standard documentary format with very tight editing, and therefore makes it much easier to stick through passages that aren't as interesting.

Given the age of some of the material, the video and audio quality is excellent.  There is a lot of fantastic early footage, especially on the second disc, that is previously unreleased or only available in limited crappy quality.  In fact, if (like me) you're already too familiar with the story of the band from the other documentaries and various books such as the ones by Richard Barnes and Dave Marsh, you might find some of the bonus features more valuable than the main film itself.  The full unedited 1964 Railway Hotel performance and Who Art You? (a 10-minute segment covering the Who's art and mod influences) are especially captivating.

The Bad

It's a shame that the marketing wizards behind the film felt that the story, characters, and music weren't powerful enough to stand on their own.  Appearances and endorsements by contemporary artists like Eddie Vedder, Noel Gallagher, and The Edge are prevalent throughout.  Those snippets aren't without some value, but they would have been better off as a separate "legacy and influence" feature in the bonus materials.

The film's modern pacing and short segments (its main strengths versus Kids) are also its main weakness.  There were several times where I wished that the director would have stayed for a while longer with some particular event or vintage clip.  In all fairness, however, the bonus disc plus the existence of Kids should address the needs of viewers wanting more material.

Last but not least, from an emotional standpoint, it's a bit of a downer to watch the last half hour meander into tragic deaths, loss of relevance, and middle-aged geezers singing that they hope to die before they get old.  Stick to watching Kids if you prefer a story that ends on a high note with the protagonists all living happily and still in their prime.

The Bottom Line

If you're interested in the early part of The Who's history, these two DVDs do a good job of complementing and expanding prior documentaries.  At a minimum, they're worth a rental, but most likely you'll find that they deserve a place right next to The Kids are Alright as a permanent addition to your collection.

Posted on Wednesday, January 02, 2008
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