AC/DC - Let There Be Rock: Limited Collector's Edition
Directed By: Eric Dionysius, Eric Mistler
Starring: Phil Rudd, Bon Scott, Cliff Williams, Angus Young, Malcolm Young
The Film ****
Let There Be Rock is a concert film capturing the band AC/DC performing in Paris, France in late 1979 during their tour to support the successful "Highway to Hell" album.
Being the only (nearly) complete filmed document of an AC/DC concert with original singer Bon Scott, who died only a few months after it was filmed and before it was released, it is safe to say that Let There Be Rock is an essential document for fans of the band. As a matter of fact, long-time fans can go ahead and mentally add the fifth star to my film rating preceding this write-up. It was shot on 16mm film with stage lighting by relatively inexperienced filmmakers who followed the band through Europe for only a brief time leading up to the concert in order to figure out how they would technically proceed. My assumption is that after seeing Angus Young throwing himself about the stage at the first gig they observed, they immediately hired additional cameras and cameramen to increase coverage. The film is a document of the second of two consecutive concerts performed at the Pavilion de Paris on December 9, 1979. The first show was used as a dress rehearsal for the filmmakers. This may account for a slightly reduced energy level from singer Scott, particularly as the show opens, but he picks up steam as the show progresses and he is in fine voice throughout.
The concert is broken up by interstitial segments, mostly consisting of interviews with band members in which the filmmakers frequently ask them stupid questions which are met with a "Spinal Tappish" combination of wit and insobriety. One segment that actually occurs during the band's performance of Walk All over You features Drummer Phil Rudd tooling around in a Porsche visting Bassist Cliff Williams operating a prop plane and then driving to pick-up singer Bon Scott walking and tap-dancing on a frozen lake. Other than this segment, the film mostly avoids forays into The Song Remains the Same style tedium.
The band's stage dynamic is as straightforward as their approach to hard rock, with Singer Bon Scott and Lead Guitarist Angus Young out in front. Bassist Cliff Williams and Rhythm Guitarist Malcolm Young stand back on either side of the drum riser, moving straight forward to microphone stands at the front of the stage for passages of background vocals and straight backwards to the drum riser when they are done singing. Their movement as if on rails provides an entertaining counterpoint to wildman lead guitarist Angus Young, one of rock's greatest showmen, who seems incapable of moving in a straight line or standing completely still at all.
The set-list for the concert film is as follows:
- Live Wire
- Shot Down in Flames
- Hell Ain't a Bad Place to Be
- Sin City
- Walk All Over You
- Bad Boy Boogie
- The Jack
- Highway to Hell
- Girl's Got Rhythm
- High Voltage
- Whole Lotta Rosie
- Let There Be Rock
The Video ***½
The 1080p high definition presentation is windowboxed to a 4:3 aspect ratio and encoded via the AVC codec. It is likely that the film was shown matted to wider aspect ratios in theaters, but assuming the presentation on this Blu-ray disc is representative of the full film frame height, this would have led to some very bad compositions. Wide shots would likely matte fine, but the closer shots appear to have been shot on the fly and composed in the camera at the native 4:3 aspect ratio of the 16mm frame by the film crew. The element, which must have either been the cut 16mm negative or something close to it, has certain native artifacts that will always be part of the film such as a vertical scratch on the right side of the frame for several seconds during the film's first reel, increased grain during the darker segments of the film, and other limitations inherent to the 16mm origins and lack of lighting specifically for film. That being said, viewers who have encountered this film or excerpts of its footage in previous home video or broadcast presentations will be mightily impressed by the contrast levels, color, and sharpness achieved by the folks who created this transfer. I honestly did not think it could ever look this good.
The Audio ***
Audio comes in two flavors. The default option is a Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track encoded at 192 kbps. A lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 track is also included with a notation on the menu indicting that the track is 5.1 during the concert sequences only. The lack of a lossless version of the film's original 2.0 sound mix is a bit puzzling, but the lossless 5.1 mix is not really all that different than the 2.0 mix anyway. There is extremely little information sent to the surrounds, and what is there usually amounts to some very low level leakage/spread of the main audio in the front three speakers. The stereo image across the front is very close in character to the 2.0 mix although the low end is goosed a bit with some LFE enhancement effectively bringing Cliff Williams' bass and Phil Rudd's kick drum a bit higher in the mix. As with the video, the audio presentation exceeded my expectations about what could be possible based on previous video releases which seemed to have some wonky effects applied to make it sound fuller and even the "Bonfire" CD box set from 2003 which featured the tracks from this concert film (and one additional track from the same show) with a very narrow stereo image. I would not exactly characterize the stereo spread of this release as "wide", but it is a noticeable improvement over the CD release.
The Extras ***½
Extras includes a series of featurettes, most derived from the same sets of interviews with journalists and famous fans looking at various aspects of the band, its history, and the concert film. Curiously, but not terribly surprisingly, no member of the band participates in any of the featurettes. They are presented in 1080p AVC encoded video with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. These featurettes appear collectively under a special features menu heading oddly titled "Behind the Story" and are also all repeated on the included SD DVD of the film.
Loud, Locked, and Loaded: The Rites of Rock (8:38) is primarily a discussion of the rock 'n' roll attitude and AC/ DC's embodiment of it. On camera comments are offered by Author Anthony Bozza, Musician Billy Corgan (Smashing Pumpkins), Actor/Musician Pauley Perrette, Musician Lemmy Kilmister (Motorhead), Musician Matt Sorum (Guns 'n' Roses/The Cult), The Donnas (The Donnas (Torry Castellano, Allison Robertson, Brett Anderson, & Maya Ford), Musician Scott Ian (Anthrax), TV/Radio Host Eddie Trunk, Author Susan Masino, Musician Rick Allen (Def Leppard), and Author Lonn Friend
AC/DC: The Bedrock of Riff (11:10) covers the appeal of "Riff Rock" as practiced expertly by AC/DC, the dynamic between Angus & Malcolm Young, Malcolm's rhythmic bedrock riffs and songwriting, the band's rhythm section, and their seeming simplicity with subtle complexities. On camera comments are offered by Masino, Corgan, Bozza, Ian, Friend, Perrette, Trunk, Kilmister, Allen, & The Donnas
Angus Young: A True Guitar Monster (11:50) discusses the band's lead guitar player including the unusual situation of a guitar player as a front man, Angus' unique persona & mystique, the schoolboy uniform, his technique and control, the influence of early wild rock and rollers such as Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, & Little Richard, and his extremely physical approach to performance. On camera comments are offered by Friend, Musician Georg Dolivo (Rhino Bucket), Ian, Masino, Corgan, Trunk, Sorum, Bozza, Allen, The Donnas, Perrette, and Kilmister
Bon Scott: The Pirate of Rock 'n' Roll (11:39) focuses on the band's original lead singer covering topics including his embodiment of good time rock 'n' roll swagger, his uniquely powerful approach to singing, his vocal quality, his aura of authenticity, his lyrics, his hedonistic lifestyle, the wear and tear of touring and living the rock life, his death, and his legacy. On camera comments are offered by Friend, Sorum, Kilmister, Ian, Bozza, Corgan, Masino, Trunk, The Donnas, Thunderstruck (Stephanie Leigh, Dyna Shiraski, Andrea Zermeno), Allen, and Perrette.
AC/DC: A Rock Solid Legacy (23:45) is the most comprehensive featurette on the disc and offers an extended appreciation of the band and its history. Topics discussed include opinions on what made them great, their American breakthrough, their commitment to touring and building their fan base through the '70s, Producer Mutt Lange's contributions, their straightforward approach to rock in contrast to the indulgent progressive rock of the day, their punk energy with rock chops, their gradual and progressive build-up in Europe, the improbably successful transition from Bon Scott to Brian Johnson, their enduring relatable populist appeal, and their disregard for trends. On-camera interview participants include Friend, Corgan, Sorum, Perrette, Allen (Def Leppard), Bozza, Dolivo & Kilmister.
Bad Boy Boogie Pod (5:02) is the first of six brief featurettes called "pods" that focus on individual songs by the band that are performed in the film. This one focuses on Bad Boy Boogie that has endured in the bands set-list for decades as a showcase for wild-man lead guitarist Malcolm Young filled with guitar shredding and comic antics including a striptease in which he removes his trademark schoolboy uniform and frequently moons the crowd. On-camera comments are provided by Friend, Bozza, Corgan, Perrette, Allen, Masino, and Ian (who speaks up for the sub-set of fans who just don't get the appeal of the stripping).
The Jack Pod (5:15) tells the story behind the band's ode to Gonorrhea, a fact lost on some casual fans ufamiliar with the Australian slang term for it that provides the song's title. Bemused comments are offered by Masino, Bozza, Ian, Allen, Sorum, and The Donnas.
Highway to Hell Pod (3:19) discusses the breakthrough hit song about touring that sparked objections from religious fundamentalists who were convince the band were promoting Satanism. Comments are provided by Masino, Perrette, Ian, Allen, Kilmister, Thunderstruck, and Sorum.
Whole Lotta Rosie Pod (4:33) discusses the bands amusing and enduring ode to romance with a large lady and the story behind its composition. Comments are provided by Masino, Sorum, Thunderstruck, The Donnas, Friend, Kilmister, and Ian.
Rocker Pod (4:16) discusses the hard-driving straightforward rocking Chuck Berry influenced song that was frequently played by the band as an encore featuring Angus Young interacting closely with the crowd. Comments are provided by Masino, Corgan, Ian, and Sorum.
Let There Be Rock Pod (7:07) is an extended discussion of the band's show-closing Biblical-referencing mission statement song that gives the film its name. Comments are offered by Friend, Perrette, Kilmister, Masino, Bozza, Corgan, Thunderstruck, The Donnas, and Ian.
In addition to the "Behind the Story" selection under the "Features" menu, there is another selection for a Playlist feature. This takes the viewer to an interactive menu where they can choose any song from the film and add them to a playlist in the order of their choosing. The playlist can then be either saved or played. This feature is unique to the Blu-ray disc.
Also included is a second disc with an SD DVD of the film. The DVD presents the film in 4:3 SD video with choice of either Dolby Digital 2.0 audio encoded at 192 kbps or Dolby Digital 5.1 audio encoded at 384 kbps. As previously mentioned, all of the featurettes available under the Blu-ray's "Behind the Story" special features menu are also available under the Features Menu for the DVD. The featurettes are presented in 16:9 SD video with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio.
As with previous "Limited Collector's Edition" releases from Warner Bros., this Blu-ray release features deluxe packaging an numerous physical extras. All of the contents are enclosed in a black metallic box with embossed silver/gray graphics and text.
Inside the box is a standard sized Blu-ray case with hubs on both inner covers to accommodate the Blu-ray disc and SD DVD. Also included is a cardboard folder with an interior pouch containing the physical extras:
Ten commemorative Postcards with three black and white and seven color images from the film. nine of them appear to be stills extracted from the film while the tenth is a reproduction of the theatrical poster.
A 32 Page Booklet containing an extended essay from Anthony Bozza, the author of the book Why AC/DC Matters. As with most of the special features on the disc, it is a celebration of the band's history and a somewhat fawning appreciation. The essay is accompanied by numerous black and white photos of the band. As with the blacl cardboard folder in which it is enclosed, the cover of the book is a glossy black that can also be used as an amateur CSI fingerprint collector.
A Guitar Pick with a graphic of Angus Young on it rounds out the physical extras. It is mounted on a small piece of cardboard wrapped in resealable clear plastic so as not to get lost in the rest of the packaging.
Let There Be Rock captures the Bon Scott-era AC/DC in concert at their peak and is an essential document for fans of the band. The film is slightly hampered by some technical issues associated with the way it was shot, but these are mitigated more than I thought they could be by the excellent 4:3 windowboxed video presentation on this Blu-ray. The lack of lossless 2.0 audio is a bit of a head scratcher, but the lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio is very similar in character to the 2.0 audio. The film is accompanied by a number of extras including various featurettes celebrating the band and its history, an interactive playlist feature, a 32 page booklet, a collection of postcards with promotional images, and an Angus Young guitar pick.