"Pearl Jam Twenty," the documentary celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the titular band (and now available on DVD), is bookended by two performances of the song "Alive."
The first, filmed on grainy home video in 1990, offers up a young band crying defiance in front of a small audience. The second, filmed in New York City's Madison Square Garden in 2010, showcases a group of fortysomethings celebrating perseverance with a crowd that numbers in the tens of thousands.
How the band in the first clip became the band in the second is the story director Cameron Crowe is trying to tell, and for the most part, he succeeds brilliantly, providing a comprehensive account of what amounts to a musical institution.
Also Check Out: "Pearl Jam Twenty" Soundtrack Review
But is it a good movie? That's an interesting question. To be sure, this is an incredibly thorough exploration of the band and its origins, featuring lots of never-before-seen video footage by everyone from MTV to the guy who sold t-shirts at Pearl Jam's earliest shows. Crowe does an excellent job of creating context, illustrating how changes in the music world -- the explosion of grunge, the death of Kurt Cobain, the tragedy at the Roskilde Festival in which nine fans were killed, the activism of the '90s and '00s -- reflected back on guys who, at heart, have always been those dorky kids geeking out to records in their bedrooms.
At the same time, this is certainly not a critical look at the band; it's understood that Pearl Jam is great, and that everything the band members say is to be taken at face value. What's more, Crowe has a tendency to start narrative threads that he then lets dangle. For example, in an interview segement, Stone Gossard talks about how, after the release of "Yield," there was concern that frontman Eddie Vedder didn't want to be a part of the group anymore ... and then we jump ahead, and that conversation is never revisited. What brought everyone back to the same page? We never find out, and it's a little frustrating.
Still, given Pearl Jam's notorious desire for privacy, the amount of access and opening-up Crowe achieves is impressive. For their part, the members of the band come off as cool and surprisingly grounded given the journey they've been on. And then, of course, there's the music, which is really what this is all about. "Pearl Jam Twenty" is bursting with it, featuring live performances from every era of the band's career. It's easy to see how Pearl Jam's reputation as a top-notch live act was developed and has lasted, as Crowe vividly delivers a portrait of musicians putting every bit of passion into connecting with an audience.
There's little likelihood that "Pearl Jam Twenty" will battle for the top box office spot when it hits theaters -- this is very much a love letter for fans, and anyone who's not interested likely won't be converted. But for anyone who's ever been into Pearl Jam, who's loved their music and had it be a part of their life, Cameron Crowe has provided an exciting and emotionally resonant meditation on the how, the why and the what of a band that is very much still alive.
Extras! The DVD includes 26 minutes of never-before-seen bonus footage. If you're lucky enough to track down a copy of the deluxe limited edition Blu-ray set, you'll be treated to three discs that include an alternate version of the film entitled "The Kids Are Twenty," plus 80 minutes of footage on Pearl Jam's fans. But by "limited" they really did mean limited -- the deluxe edition sold out immediately.
Originally published on September 20, 2011.