U2 was not just one of the seminal rock bands of the Eighties and Nineties; they are one of the greatest rock bands in the history of Rock & Roll. The Dublin quartet had already been established as a very talented group, but they skyrocketed to superstardom with their 1987 release, "The Joshua Tree." The band was on top of the world and one of the biggest names in the music business when they decided to stretch their influence from radio stations to theatrical houses with the concert film "U2: Rattle and Hum." Lead singer Bono had become a poster boy rock star and the band who thrived on putting on the big shows strived to deliver a more personal look into the band with documentary segments spaced between songs in the film. Unfortunately, where "The Joshua Tree" sizzled the airwaves, "Rattle and Hum" fizzled in the projector booths.
"Rattle and Hum" is a nice little collection of many of U2's hits from both "The Joshua Tree" and their earlier albums. In some ways, it feels like an early Greatest Hits presentation via live music videos. If you are a fan of U2's music, then "Rattle and Hum" is perfectly acceptable as a musical entry in one's collection. However, as a film, "Rattle and Hum" suffers miserably. A few quick interview segments are pieced together where the band is given time to discuss their influences and what makes them tick. However, the bandmates typically laugh their way through the interviewing moments and provide very little information on who these men are and why they play their music. They are self-serving moments for Bono and the other men and by entertaining themselves, they are completely ignoring the audience that this film was intended for. "Rattle and Hum" feels as if it were made solely for U2 and not for their fans.
Not every track is an arena-based live rendition of an album track. "When Love Comes to Town" finds BB King jamming with the band in one of the rare moments where the band gives insight into their influences. "Angel of Desire" and "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" find interesting backing instruments and vocals that breed new life to the tracks. The band dabbles in covers and deliver a raucous performance of Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower." The song list mentions the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil" and "Ruby Tuesday," but disappointingly, only a few lines are sung from each of the classic tunes. I had hoped for complete versions and feel the tracks should not have been even listed as ‘selections.' It is comforting and enjoyable to hear some of my old U2 favorites brought to life in a new light, but "Rattle and Hum" is still left feeling like that bonus disc of outtakes you find in a box set.
"U2: Rattle and Hum" is nearing the twenty year old mark. When it was filmed, it was not intended to be a gorgeous picture that would take home many cinematography awards. Its black and white frames were meant to be gritty and harsh. The 1.85:1 image is terribly grainy and completely lacking of detail. When a few songs do dabble in color, the image rises no higher than a decent standard definition DVD transfer that suffers from poor color saturation and a poor sense of contrast. The blacks are quite dark. If anything can be said about this transfer is that the black levels are true. Interestingly, the film is mastered in MPEG-4 according to the Toshiba on-screen display. This is the first HD-DVD title I have seen that was not mastered in VC-1. I'm not sure of the reasoning for using the older codec. Did they decide that it was going to be visually weak and just go with a higher resolution version of an older SD-DVD master? Or, did they find that MPEG-4 handled the film grain better? Either way, "U2: Rattle and Hum" is far from a title you would expect to grace HD-DVD as an ambassador of the format. It certainly looks better than the recent "Beastie Boys" concert film, but in no way does this look like the future of home video.
Since "U2: Rattle and Hum" serves its audience better as a collection of music videos and the picture quality is so weak when compared to just about every other HD-DVD release, one would hope that the sound quality is at least decent. Fortunately, the Dolby Digital Plus and DTS 5.1 soundtracks hold up pretty good, even with the volume cranked up loud. The sound on this concert disc can just about rival any other genre release on the market. Musical range is pleasant and powerful. Bass is deep and booming. High ranges twang sharply through the tweeters. Rear speakers are not utilized very heavily as most sound emanates through the front three speakers. English, French and Spanish subtitles are included and an English SDH track. When compared to a good DVD-Audio or SACD release, "Rattle and Hum" cannot compete, but it bests a comparable CD concert disc, so for any U2 fans who want these live renditions in a solid sounding digital format, then perhaps "U2: Rattle and Hum" is worth a purchase.
Paramount has provided a theatrical trailer remastered in High Definition.
I love U2 and I love U2's music. However, "U2: Rattle and Hum" is nothing to get excited about. The film does provide some new twists on the band's classic hits, but the title is best served as something to listen to and not something to necessarily watch. The segments where the band is being interviewed reveals nothing of great interest about the band. They spend their time laughing about their great musical journey and though they seem very entertained, the same cannot be said about their audience, who is left with a visually boring HD-DVD hindered with a subpar visual presentation. There is just no depth to "Rattle and Hum" and the whole thing feels like live outtakes that were pieced together for a box set. At least the sound is decent, but considering it is on the latest and greatest technology, it is put to shame by many DVD-Audio titles. No supplements are provided to help soften the blow to the wallet. I enjoyed listening to the film, but found very little on-screen happenings that held my interest long enough to watch it. For a fan of the band, "Rattle and Hum" is a disappointment.