If there are two things Judge Dennis Prince remembers clearly from the big-hair '80s, it's that Def Leppard rocked like few others and that he should never drink the bong water.
"The story of a band that rocked the world."
And with a tagline as lame as that, you can only imagine how badly this VH1 crap-umentary sucks.
Just when we gracefully aging rockers who turned on in the '70s and banged our heads in the '80s thought we had found a place of music television refuge after the formerly hip MTV elected to wallow in unreal "reality" junk programming, sister station VH1 soon felt the need to also stray into music-related hell by becoming a half-assed music history channel. With A&E and The History Channel already doing a decent job of looking back into days gone by, it's odd that VH1 would become a "me too" station. Nonetheless, the newest of the bygone music channels has stepped forward as the self-proclaimed source of all music-history-related content. Not so fast. While their "Movies That Rock" series of original productions would seem to offer some truly interesting material for fans to feast upon, the result is that much of it is amateurish and self-serving. Take, for instance, this Hysteria: The Def Leppard Story, a tepid attempt to chronicle the history of one of '80s-rock's kingpin players. Sadly, this little movie should have been skewered with a hot iron and dumped into the cut-out bin.
This telepic at times tries to provide a reasonable back story behind the highly successful rock band that marked the '80s music scene with hits like "Rock Brigade," "Bringin' On the Heartbreak," "Photograph," "Pour Some Sugar On Me," and others. Truly, their music was inventive, evocative, and, despite its inherent simplicity of style, quite captivating. Unfortunately, coming from the likes of VH1 (clearly spurred on by the National Enquirer mentality that pervades parent company Viacom), Hysteria cannot help stopping and gawking at the car wreck that afflicted the band, literally—drummer Rick Allen lost his left arm in an automobile accident. The picture opens with a high speed game of chicken between Allen and a mysterious driver of a Jaguar, leading to a slow-motion end-over-end wreck of the musician's Corvette. Thinking it needed that bit of salacious sickness to suck us in, the picture then goes back to the mid-'70s where we meet a band in the making. As told in this music-history lesson, it's a rather impatient parade of selected moments all building up to—you guessed it—that awful 1984 car wreck. *Sigh*
So, in the hazy gray existence of Sheffield, England, young factory slog Joe Elliot (Orlando Seale) hates the grueling and unrewarding life of being just a "cog in the machine," dreaming instead of headlining the greatest rock band in the world, tentatively doodled as "Deaf Leopard." He meets up with another young musician, Pete Willis (Nick Bagnall) and is granted an audition as a guitarist for Willis's own band. With the rest in tow, Elliot proceeds to whip out a few decent riffs on his axe but seemingly blows the group away with his screechy vocals. Now in the band, Elliot shares his dreams of "Deaf Leopard," which Willis adjusts to "Def Leppard" (a la Led Zeppelin). Quickly we see Elliot take over the band and drive them to practice and practice and practice in almost fanatical style to ensure his dream of becoming the almighty Def Leppard comes to pass. The band begins to bitch among itself, original drummer Tony Kenning quits, and 15-year-old Rick Allen joins up to form the first productive ensemble of Elliot, Willis, Allen, Rick Savage, and Steve Clark.
After the new band's initial EP, "The Def Leppard EP," raises a few eyebrows on the local UK music scene, the band finds itself entertaining the interest of the already-legendary producer Mutt Lange (Anthony Michael Hall, The Dead Zone). In no time, the band's first internationally released album, "On through the Night," is released on Mercury Records. We're played strains of "Hello America" as the band breaks into the Western World, yet we never hear the more prolific "Rock Brigade." Anyway, now the band has to deal with alcohol issues as both Willis and Clark imbibe a bit too much. Willis leaves the band, but the second album, "High 'n Dry," ushers in hits "Bringin' On the Heartbreak" and the title track. No time to slow down, though, because Elliot is still displeased with the band's output and is apparently also upset that he can't seem to adopt the right sort of shaggy hairdo. Then the "Pyromania" album is released, but the super smash hit of "Photograph" is only lightly mentioned.
Ultimately, this hasty history lesson finds its target point when we again watch the high-speed car joust between Allen and the mysterious Jaguar. After Allen's Corvette careens off the road, we see him standing dumbfounded alongside the wreck, amazingly still alive yet minus his left arm, the bloody shoulder socket exposed and leered over by the camera for far too long. We're also granted a tasteless rubbernecking review of the disembodied limb lying among the Corvette's wreckage. Now the band must decide how to go on, Allen must decide if he'll ever drum again, and we must decide if we'll ever watch another VH1-produced "Movies That Rock" abomination.
On this new disc from Paramount Home video, the full-frame transfer looks about as good as the original broadcast likely looked. It's all a bit muted and soft, and the picture quality never reaches any sort of striking quality where color saturation and detail level merge to provide the sort of digital presentation you deserve. You'll see plenty of source quality issues, largely when the producers try to merge obvious set performances with clips of actual Def Leppard audience shots; it doesn't work well at all. The audio is offered in a Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo mix and it sounds all right but never makes a serious impression, probably because very little of the band's music is showcased. There are no extras on this disc.
Watch this picture, and you'll see the producers really hoped to make hay with the gruesome accident that Allen endured and then tried to put a happy face on it all when he found a way to continue drumming into the band's next album, "Hysteria," and beyond. Unfortunately, alcoholic guitarist Steve Clark died in 1991 due to drinking-related illness. (This fact is only mentioned in a text panel during the end credits.) It's all really a mess, and, although this band has definitely encountered some seemingly insurmountable challenges throughout its history, this film is yet another battle wound that will need to be endured. If any band can withstand, however, it's Def Leppard.
I can't recommend this picture to anyone, really, and would instead guide viewers to the compilation videos Def Leppard: Historia, Def Leppard—Visualize, or Def Leppard: Hysteria, the video album. Avoid this VH1 mess.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Review content copyright © 2005 Dennis Prince; Site design and review layout copyright © 2013 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.