I remember well, back in the summer of ’77, when The Grateful Dead movie was released. I don’t recall exactly where it was showing in New York City, but with my friends, I went to see it shortly after it opened. It was in one of the few movie theaters that had Dolby sound, and the sound was, indeed, excellent (for the time).
Times have changed, and The Grateful Dead Movie is now available on Blu-Ray, with much better sound than the original film: as with the 2004 DVD release, there’s a 5.1 surround sound mix, this time with lossless audio (because there’s more room on the disc) and 1080p images.
Let’s face it: The Grateful Dead Movie is not a very good movie. It tries to be a cross between a concert flick – which was becoming common at that time – and an overview of what the Deadhead scene was like. Interspersed among the concert footage are interviews and films of people waiting on line at the Winterland, during what was thought to be, at the time, the Grateful Dead’s last concert run. (And that cheesy opening animation…)
Fortunately, this turned out to not be the case, and after the hiatus, the band came back strong. But this attempt to portray the anthropological nature of the scene took away from the concert footage. Had there been full songs, long jams, and uninterrupted musical sequences, together with the rest of the footage, this might have been a good movie, but when watching it, you want to hear the music, and it keeps getting cut off. I’m sure the reason was financial, but if only the movie had been an hour longer, it could have been a good record of the period, and had lots of music as well.
Fortunately, on both the DVD and Blu-Ray release, there are extra filmed tracks with music only. These total about 100 minutes, and are roughly the equivalent of a full set of a Grateful Dead concert, and features the following songs:
Uncle John’s Band
The Other One > Spanish Jam > Mind Left Body Jam > The Other One
China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider
Weather Report Suite
Not a bad setlist. So, while I have the DVD set already, I’ll certainly buy the Blu-Ray, but not for the movie itself; I’ll get it for those extra songs. There are very few good films of the Dead in the 70s, and this is the best record of a Dead show, until the 12/31/78 Closing of Winterland DVD set. Unfortunately, this show was only recorded on VHS, so the quality is not up to par. I really wish that more footage from the October 1974 shows – the ones recorded for The Grateful Dead Movie – were released, but I have a feeling that there’s not much left that’s salvageable. In any case, getting Dark Star, The Other One and China > Rider on a Blu-Ray is worth the price of admission.