I just got back from the theatre where I saw Phish 3D. Rather than wait until I lose my thoughts, I figured now would be a great time to write the review having just discussed what I liked and disliked about it with Susan, who reluctantly went with me.
For those of you who don’t know, Phish 3D is a 3D movie that was filmed at Festival 8 in Indio, CA. The three day festival was held over Halloween weekend and included eight sets of music. On Halloween night, the band played the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street in its entirety. And on the final day, they played a full acoustic set.
To make this easy, I’ll use bullet points with explanations of what I liked and didn’t like, along with a letter grade.
- Song selection (B-): There were some good point and some bad points, but overall it was decent. I think they should have shown more from the Exile set. After all, that was the focal point of the festival. Only choosing four songs from that set was a little weak, though the song selections were good. I would have liked to hear more of the “raunchy” songs. I would have liked to have seen more from the acoustic set, though I thought the song selections from that set were just fine. It would have been nice to see McGrupp and hear Trey tell everyone to sit down on the nice soft grass. Finally, the songs from the other sets could have been better. My biggest complaint is that they didn’t show Party Time. The song kicked off the first set of the festival and set the tone for the whole weekend. It was a big party. I would have liked to have seen Fluffhead and You Enjoy Myself. Both songs were high points with fun from the fire towers in the back of the concert field. The only easy going songs they showed were from the acoustic set. It would have been nice to see Joy or When the Circus Comes.
- Song order (C): I don’t know why they couldn’t play the songs in the order that they were played at the festival, starting with the first night and ending with the last. I know it worked out best showing a set opener first, but, again, why wasn’t the first song Party Time? Instead, they started with songs from the last night. They showed the acoustic set before the Halloween set. I imagine that was to put some of the higher points of the movie towards the end, but that goes into the whole song selection. They could have picked more upbeat rockers from the acoustic set.
- Views (C+): While I really liked seeing the stage, I would have liked to have seen more of the audience, especially on Halloween night. Part of what would have made this movie great would have been seeing glowsticks and balloons flying at your head, just like you’re there. It would have been nice to see more views out from the stage as well. They also showed way too much of Trey and Mike finger work on their guitars during the acoustic set. Why this set in particular you ask? Because they were sitting down with their legs spread and the guitars resting on their thighs. What am I getting at? Crotch shots. There were WAY too many of them. One of the parts I really enjoyed seeing was Fishman playing the drums. He’s the one guy who is hard to see from the audience because he’s surrounded by tall equipment and he’s not a really tall guy. It was fun watching him get into it. The last thing that I have a complaint about is the lights. The lights are one of the best things about a Phish show. I don’t know if it was the editing or the cameras, but the lights didn’t really come through in many of the shots. I was really hoping to see some 3D lights. It also would have been nice to have a camera way in the back to film the whole field of people and the speaker/light towers near the back of the audience. Those are a bit part of the festival experience.
- Picture quality (A-): The picture was clear as day. It was better than any of the DVD’s the band has released date. I was very impressed by it. However, for what they were trying to do, this would have been much better in IMAX 3D. I’m sure the movie crew didn’t have the money for IMAX cameras, but that would have really drawn you into it.
- Sound quality (B+): The sound was excellent, though the bass could have been turned up a bit (no surprise there, that’s exactly how I feel about the soundboard copies of the show). I did feel that Page was a bit louder in the mix than usual, especially during the acoustic set.
- Overall (B-): It was a good movie, but I didn’t feel drawn into it the whole time. The song selection, the order, and the shots were distracting at times.
Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, I’ll explain what I think could have made the movie better. Concert movies are tough. They either really draw you in or really don’t. The one other time I saw Phish in the theatre was for their show in Brooklyn that kicked off their “final” tour in 2004. The difference was that it was a live simulcast. People watching it in the theatre were just as excited as the people at the show. This time was different. It was just a film made at a concert. I think in this case it didn’t have to be 3D. While it was great to see the depth of the stage setup and all that up close, it wasn’t necessary, though, as I said, it would have worked if it was IMAX.
The best parts of the movie were the parts the audience and fans never get to see. I loved watching the band rehearse with the horns and backup singers. The movie needed more of that. I also loved watching the crowd come in for the acoustic set on Sunday morning. That part was fun because it added the excitement of the festival to the movie. What concert movies don’t usually do is give you that full experience of being there. That’s what this lacked.
This movie would have been better off as a documentary. It’s so difficult to make a concert movie out of a three day festival with eight sets of music. Which songs do you pick? What order do you show them? How much of the audience do you show? There needs to be a balance, but if you mess any of that up, it can make what could be a great movie into a mediocre movie. I had really high hopes for this, having been at the festival and dealing with the camera booms going up and down over the audience blocking our view. It would have been nice to have seen people coming in for the Halloween set. Other than the fact that the movie mentioned it was Halloween weekend, you couldn’t tell from watching. They should have setup an area near the entrance to the venue where they could have lights and a camera man filming people coming into the show in their costumes. That would have made the movie and given some people their 15 minutes of fame. The could have filmed people coming onto the site on the first day and setting up their campsites. There should have been more wandering around the campgrounds. There was so much at the festival, I feel this didn’t really capture it, even when it came to the music. Had they included more of this other stuff in the movie and cut out some of the music (they could have cut out AC/DC Bag, in my opinion) it would have really brought you into the festival and drawn you into the movie, like you were part of the experience. I guess if I had to summarize the movie in a word, it’d be flat (kinda funny considering it’s a 3D movie).
I’m not going to tell you if you should go see it or not. That’s up to you to decide. I did enjoy the movie. I don’t know if being there made me a bit jaded about the movie because it lacked that full experience. It really is a toss up. I’m inclined to suggest seeing it in the theatre for that full big screen experience and buy the DVD because I’m sure it will have special features with additional songs and hopefully some of that documentary type stuff I’m looking for.