I'm too young to have been at Woodstock and my parents (while at the right age) weren't part of the hippie, druggie, peace crowd, so I have no direct experience with the event. But as a musician, I'm definitely fascinated by what went on there and of course, by all the great music of the time. It's been called one of the greatest rock concerts of all time and luckily it was turned into a feature documentary film so that everyone could at least see and hear part of the spectacular event. The film was originally released to theaters in 1970. Then in 1994 it was released on DVD as a 25th anniversary Director's Cut. This is the same cut that you'll find on the current Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace and Music 40th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition, but it's been fully remastered for DVD and (more importantly) high-definition Blu-ray.
Woodstock: The Movie
Although the box says that the movie is 4-hours long, it's actually 3 hours and 45 minutes, so they were off by 15 minutes in the description. Even so, the coverage of the event is excellent and because of the filming techniques used (split-screen and triple-image composites) there is nearly 8 hours of material here. Most of the material is focused on the musical performances from such acts as Joan Baez, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Canned Heat, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Joe Cocker & The Grease Band, Country Joe McDonald, Country Joe & The Fish, Crosby Stills & Nash, Grateful Dead, Arlo Guthrie, Richie Havens, Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, Mountain, Santana, Jonn Sebastian, Sha Na Na, Sly & The Family Stone, Ten Years After, The Who, and Johnny Winter, etc.
Woodstock: The Restoration
The movie was originally shot using 16mm film with a wide variety of lighting situations since the concert continued day and night. Some shots were very dark, some were grainy, and others very vibrant. There were also a variety of aspect ratios used to allow the split-screen and triple-image composites. I'm very happy to say that Warner Bros. has done an excellent job with the restoration process. The blacks are very dark and colors are very vibrant. Given the source material I'm very surprised at the great video quality they achieved. The main feature is presented in 1080p high definition 16x9 with variable 1.85:1 and 2.4:1 aspect ratios as in the original. The bonus materials offer a variety of 1080i/1080p high definition and 480i/480p standard definition qualities.
Of course, being a rock concert, the audio is as equally (if not more) important as the video. Originally, the audio was recorded with 8-track analog tape, which was actually 7-track since the eighth track was used a sync track. Warner Bros. converted this source material to Dolby TrueHD and Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound with great success. As you sit and watch the film, it actually sounds as if you are at an outdoor concert – the music and stage in front of you with the audience all around you.
Woodstock: The Bonus Features
In addition to the movie, the Ultimate Collector's Edition is packed with bonus features. Woodstock: Untold Stories provides over 2 hours of additional musical performances that are never-before-seen. Some are performances by acts that appeared in the film: Joan Baez, Santana, Canned Heat, The Who, Joe Cocker, etc. Some are performances that didn't even make it into the film: Paul Butterfield, Johnny Winter, Mountain, and the Grateful Dead. This additional material is worth the purchase of this title alone. Plus, there are a couple of short clips about the opening and closing of the festival, which are interesting.
There's also The Museum at Bethel Woods: The Story of the Sixties & Woodstock short promo video, but more importantly is the comprehensive Woodstock: From Festival to Feature. This bonus content includes 21 featurettes (about 76 minutes of material) that show behind-the-scenes of how the concert was put on and how the film was made. There are also interviews with Martin Scorsese, Grace Slick, Director Michael Wadleigh, Woodstock Festival Executive Producer Michael Long, and more.
Woodstock: The Collector's Edition Goodies
The Ultimate Collector's Edition is actually a limited run title, authenticated with an edition number (I got number 973 out of 140,000). Included in the box is the 2-disc Blu-ray set, but also a cool collection of Woodstock related items. You get a Lucite Display with Images from the Festival, a 60-page Commemorative LIFE Magazine Reprint, an Iron-on Woodstock Patch, a Woodstock Fact Sheet, and Reproductions of Festival Memorabilia including Handwritten Notes and a Three-Day Ticket. Some people may like these things and some may not. I happen to like having items like this in a collector's package. The LIFE magazine reprint is especially cool.
Woodstock: A Must Own Movie Experience
No matter what your age and no matter what your background, Woodstock was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Whether you were there and able to experience the real thing or only just heard about it from various sources, the Festival was an event not to be missed. It provided some of the best music of all time and a look into a significant part of American history. Those of us who didn't attend will never truly know the Woodstock experience, but the Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace and Music 40th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition is definitely the next best thing to being there. Every music-loving adult (18 or older) should see this movie.