...the thing it documents best is how music producers and press agents market a product.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.

I wonder if in ten or twenty years the fans of teen idol Justin Bieber won't have forgotten about him, or perhaps feel a little embarrassed they became so enthralled by him in the first place. I dunno. When I was a youngster in the Fifties, my favorite pop singers were Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry. My fondness for Elvis quickly faded, but I remained a fan of Berry. However, Berry was a remarkable singer, songwriter, and guitarist who helped transform an entire industry; Bieber is a cute, mop-topped kid (who has since trimmed the mop). Who knows. Maybe Bieber will become an adult favorite as he gets older, taking his present fans with him as he gains new ones, in the manner of Frank Sinatra or the aforementioned Elvis. Or maybe he'll just fade away.

In any case, Justin Bieber is enjoying his fame of the moment, as this popular 2011, musical-documentary concert film attests. It traces his life and singing career from his discovery on-line through his 2010 concert tour to his sold-out performance at Madison Square Garden. It's been quite a journey for so short a time.

The film begins with Bieber's YouTube video, the one he made that surprisingly got a ton of views; the one that lead to his discovery; the one that is truly awful. We see an on-screen friend sending it to another friend, among several other cutesy links. It starts a sensation.

Mostly "Justin Bieber: Never Say Never" seems like a promotional fluff piece on the singer, ceaselessly showing how sweet and cuddly he is and how adoring his young-teen and preteen female fans are. "I think of him, like, 99% of my life," says an adoring young girl and, along with a couple of her friends, screeches for no particular reason; I suppose they're excited and want to show their love for him.

Then in home movies we see Bieber as a youth growing up, clips of his family, his small-town life, etc. The movie intersperses these scenes of Bieber with concert footage, backstage activity, and comments from fans and fellow entertainers like Usher Raymond, Jaden Smith, Miley Cyrus, Ludacris, Sean Kingston, Snoop Dogg, and others.

OK, I admit that as much as I tried to like what Bieber was doing on stage, I could discern only an ordinary musical talent in him. I must have missed something. Cute, yes. Talented? No more so than a thousand other young singers struggling to make a name for themselves in the entertainment world. At least, I did not find enough talent in the fellow to warrant the amount of attention (and money) he's getting. Believe it or not, the film tells us that Bieber never had any singing lessons. That I can believe. Most of his singing is of the vapid pop variety, with his musical accompaniment pumped up to the threshold of pain.

The fact is, I found no hint of excitement, fun, fission, spark, sparkle, or allure in any part of the documentary or live-concert segments of the picture. It seems to me the filmmakers could have condensed the relevant parts of the movie to about ten or fifteen minutes. Most of it looks like a simple promo, and the thing it documents best is how music producers and press agents market a product.

When it's not patting itself on the back too much, "Justin Bieber: Never Say Never" may remind you of something you would find on the Biography Channel. Often loud and noisy, the movie plays like a DVD bonus item, keeping you waiting for the main feature to begin.

Paramount use a dual-layer BD50 and an MPEG-4/AVC encode to reproduce the film on Blu-ray disc in its native aspect ratio, 1.85:1. The filmmakers shot most of the concert and backstage footage digitally, and the rest, the home movies, folks probably also shot digitally. Since we get various pieces of film, we also get various degrees of picture quality, some of it very clean, very sterile, as many TV shows look, and some of it rather blurred, bland, and dull.

In the opening titles we hear some very nice ambient bloom in the surrounds, the lossless 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio doing its job effectively. Then in most of the concert footage, the sound is boomy and slightly forward, with so wide a dynamic range it will either impress you enormously or force you to reach for the volume control continuously. Most of the time, you won't even notice the sound quality, while other times it can be just like a live concert, capturing all the noise of the crowds and all the distortion of the loudspeakers.

The first of the movie's extras is "Concert Dance Off" (HD), about three minutes on stage with several young dancers. Next is a concert performance of "Favorite Girl" (HD), about two minutes. After that is the most-interesting item, "R.I.P. Hair Flip" (HD), about three minutes on the historic occasion (February 21, 2011) of Justin's first normal haircut in years, while the world stands still. I understand the Vatican has enshrined his shorn locks as holy relics. Finally, we get "Giving Back," about eight minutes with the fans.

The disc's extras conclude with twenty scene selections; bookmarks; English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese spoken languages and subtitles; English audio descriptions; and English captions for the hearing impaired.

Then, because this is a Combo Edition, the package includes the high-definition movie on Blu-ray, a standard-definition version on DVD, and a digital copy for PC and Mac (the offer expiring May 13, 2012). The two discs come housed in a flimsy Eco-case, further enclosed in a handsomely embossed slipcover.

Parting Shots:
There is no question "Justin Bieber: Never Say Never" is a movie for Justin Bieber fans. If you like him (nay, love him; I doubt there is a fan alive who merely "likes" him), you'll have to own this movie about his life, career, and backstage goings-on. If, on the other hand, you're like me, recognizing him only by name, never having heard him sing before, you probably aren't among the movie's target audience. In that case, you may find the film as boring as I did. Forewarned is forearmed.


Film Value