Eagle Rock Entertainment // 2010 // 98 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // August 25th, 2010
"Even the losers get lucky sometimes."
The third album released by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Damn the Torpedoes was a breakout, triple-platinum smash. It remains arguably their finest album to-date. Up until this point in their career, the band languished in relative obscurity, playing endless gigs as the opening act, never managing to make an impact on the charts, save for a small spike in popularity after touring the U.K. Everything changed for the band with their third album. America suddenly woke up, recognizing the Heartbreakers as a band of immeasurable musical talent -- and one literally sitting under their noses the whole time.
Part of an ongoing "Classic Album" series of documentaries, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Damn the Torpedoes and Eagle Rock Entertainment take audiences back to the inception of this seminal rock album, with interviews from band members and producers, as well as hands-on footage of the band mixing the original master recording and breaking down the songwriting on guitar. A mix of archival footage and new interviews create a surprisingly complete story of a band in transition, bankrupt and in heated negotiation with a new record label. The end result: a classic and timeless rock album that still sounds every bit as fantastic today.
Even if you think you've never heard the album, you've heard the songs. Classic rock staples like "Here Comes My Girl," "Refugee," "Don't Do Me Like That," and "Even the Losers" helped rocket the band to superstardom. What is admirable about the Heartbreakers is how they stayed true to their vintage musical vision -- a synthesis of Southern sensibilities and twelve-string jangling guitar -- producing a straightforward, almost deceptively simplistic pop sound that fueled every radio station in America for the next two decades. Like a sublime mishmash of The Byrds, garage rock, Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones, the Heartbreakers are (for lack of a better word) delightfully timeless. Damn the Torpedoes personifies Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers at their most vibrant and dynamic, a quintessentially pure expression of rock and roll as an American art form. Their sound is an homage to all that has come before, and yet manages to break new ground moving forward. Not a bad trick, if you can pull it off.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Damn The Torpedoes (Blu-ray) does exactly what a good making-of documentary should do: it puts the camera down in front of its subject, shuts up, and lets other people talk. The end result is both intimate and informative, striking a nice balance between the sort of obscure technical production and recording details that gets sound engineers all worked up, and you know, the stuff normal people like about documentaries -- funny anecdotes, quips and inside jokes, factoids, names and dates. Anyone who fancies themselves a guitar player should be in rocker heaven with this feature, as guitarists Petty and Campbell give songwriting demos and walkthroughs of their most famous album cuts, from inception to completion. Breaking each element of the song down, from guitar riff to individual isolated track on the master board, illustrates exactly how technically complex and innovative a sound the producers managed to coax out of the Heartbreakers. Musical aficionados will be in heaven.
Hardcore fans will gripe that the feature skims over the deep album cuts, like "Louisiana Rain" and "You Tell Me," and they would be right. All the attention gets focused on the big hits, with only a few segues and sidebar comments for the rest, but thankfully it doesn't negatively impact the film. I found it hard to fault the documentary for focusing its energy and attention on the more famous songs. It doesn't hurt that they're really great songs. I mean, really good.
The biggest problem with this Blu-ray is that it feels like a DVD. Call me greedy, but when I throw in a musical documentary into my system about the making of one of the finest rock and roll albums in the last thirty years, I expect to have my eardrums tickled. The audio categorically disappoints. All we get is a simple LPCM Stereo track. Seriously? Where are the lossless codec formats? Where are the master audio tracks? As a consumer, why shell out the extra money for a Blu-ray -- a format capable of rocking your home theater system into oblivion -- if the disc in question offers the exact same sonic experience in the cheaper standard DVD format?
The stereo presentation sounds okay, if I have to sulkily admit to such a travesty. Dialogue is clear, bass response is balanced and the sounds sound natural and full, just like they should. The 1080i transfer is where this Blu-ray redeems itself. Shot in HD, the recorded footage of the Heartbreakers in the studio is picture-perfect, just like you are sitting in the room with them. Flesh tones are slightly red saturated, but detail is immaculate -- you could count every whisker on Tom Petty's face, or every skin pore. You know...if you wanted to do that. Not that I ever would. (I lost count.) Black levels are solid and edges are crisp. You couldn't ask for a nicer treatment in the visual department.
Extras are also identical to the DVD. We get about 40 minutes of supplements in the way of deleted scenes, which should be quite enjoyable for fans excited to hear the band go on in length about the drum tracks in "Here Comes My Girl," or the 12-string Rickenbacker adorned on the cover of the album. We also get a delightfully vintage television commercial advertising the 1979 release of Damn the Torpedoes. A "Play All" feature is included, but the end result of using it is a bit disjointed, as there is no segue between sections.
Format issues aside, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Damn the Torpedoes (Blu-ray) is still worth the cost of admission. Music geeks are going to love the intimacy and detail in which the band dives into dissecting their beloved songs, watching individual track elements mixed in and out to highlight their unique tonal qualities, or having Mike Campbell break down a song on guitar, riff by riff. Fans of the band are going to be in heaven. If you're not a Tom Petty fan, this is a trickier sell.
The disc fails to take advantage of the Blu-ray format, but a fantastic album and a solid documentary all the same. Not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Eagle Rock Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080i)
* PCM 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes
* Vintage Commercial