It is difficult to imagine a more fan-friendly artifact than the documentary “One Direction: This Is Us.” Following the planet-conquering band on their recent tour of world domination, “This Is Us” mixes concert performances, interviews, and carefully chosen footage of the band between shows, messing about in the way that only pop stars do when they’re on camera. Those who aren’t already fans will probably find the film a bit of a trudge in its clean-cut self-promotion, but initiates will surely enjoy what passes for intimate access to their idols, every frame assuring fans of their wisdom in loving this band.
Most of “This Is Us” is as slick and relentlessly peppy as One Directions’ music. Especially in the concert sequences, this is state of the art in both contemporary Top 40 music and modern image management, hair-gelled and fashion-designed and air-brushed within an inch of its life.
With the group’s origins in his vast music delivery industry, its no surprise the shrewd, muscular grip of producer and pop svengali Simon Cowell can be felt everywhere, holding the center firm against any negative vibe. The film flirts very briefly with showing a price paid for stardom, but that’s immediately overcome by numerous declarations of “it’s just so amazing to be here” and a general sense of careful choreography. Cowell’s true stock in trade, the religion of pop stardom, is driving the van at all times.
That’s not to say “This Is Us” is totally bloodless and calculating. Though you don’t really get much of a feel for the differences in their personalities, the young men of One Direction come across as reasonably likeable and surprisingly centered, given the enormously distorting forces that whirl around them like an odious fun house ride. The possibility for self-indulgence is vast, but they seem to keep it in check for the most part. How much their behavior on camera resembles reality is impossible to say, but it’s a pleasant relief to see them not acting like selfish gits, even if it is stage-managed. Special kudos for a nice but brief stretch where they visit an African village as part of a fund-raising trip for Comic Relief.
Midway through, director Morgan Spurlock (yes, the guy from “Super Size Me”—ain’t show biz amazin?) puts the brakes on for a sequence where the band splits on a tour break, and visits their individual hometowns and families. It’s a breath of relatively non-managed air to hear from the band members’ parents and see them interacting with their families. The break from the kinetic editing of the performances is a relief, and brings a welcome note of humanity.
Early in the film, one interview subject makes a comparison to Beatlemania, and with the numerous shots of hysterical fan reactions in the film, one can’t but help but think of that earlier landmark film. I tried, without success, not to ruminate with a wry grimace on the two films’ differering lessons about how to be a pop star, and on the avalanche of the cult of celebrity since 1964. My guess is the Beatles never felt it necessary to appear shirtless to show off their sculpted abs.
“One Direction: This Is Us (The Ultimate Fan Edition)” contains both Blu-ray and DVD discs, and code for an Ultraviolet digital copy. The feature is in 1080p High Definition in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Not surprisingly, this is a bright, clean and brisk video transfer, with energetic colors in the concert sequences and a nice edge of detail throughout. Indicative of the global conquest aims of the film, there are options for subtitles in English, English SDH, Cantonese, simplified Chinese, traditional Chinese, French, Indonesian, Korean, Malaysian, Portuguese, Spanish, and Thai.
The audio track is presented in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. The music is so polished and produced it doesn’t really sound like it is being performed live, but that’s not a knock on the disc audio, which is appropriately clear in the interviews, and softer in the concert scenes than I expected. There are no audio set-up options on the Blu-ray disc.
On the DVD and Blu-ray:
- Two extended scenes, including a fishing sequence that I’m grateful they cut down, and footage of the band talking about each other and their ‘roles’ in the band.
- A music video for “Best Song Ever”
- “Going Home” –deleted scenes of the band on their own in their hometowns, visiting their old schools and day jobs, getting back in touch with their families, and playing some really terrible basketball. The low key demeanor of this footage is engagingly open.
- “The 1D Family”—a short featurette where the band talks about their rabid fan base, and fans talk about what One Direction means to them. Danger, danger–delusion dead ahead.
Extras on the Blu-Ray only:
- “Before The Show”—negligible footage of the band goofing and pranking while killing time backstage
- “Hold That Pose”—the band gets their heads sculpted in wax for a display at Madame Tussaud’s. Insert your own ironic comment here.
- “I Didn’t Do It!”—the band filming a Japanese promo spot where the props fail.
- “Up All Night!”—a dopey and pointless house-party video
“One Direction: This Is Us” is everything a fan could want from a documentary starring music sensations One Direction, and a wearying lesson in big-scale pop culture values for the rest of us.