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S'more Entertainment presents
The Specials: Too Much, Too Young (2007)

"This place is coming like a ghost town; bands won't play no more: too much fighting on the dance floor."
- The Specials, Ghost Town

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: February 28, 2008

Stars: The Specials
Other Stars: Brian Zabawski
Director: Brian Zabawski

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 01h:09m:27s
Release Date: February 12, 2008
Genre: documentary


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B- B+C+C+ C

DVD Review

One of my favorite albums of all time is the classic ska sampler This Are Two Tone, which showcased such bands as Madness, The Selecter, and the band that founded the Two Tone label, The Specials. That English band's infectious brand of ska that melded punk with reggae was an instant hit. Their songs offered both danceable fun and important messages without being obnoxious or smarmy.

This documentary covers the short three-year career of The Specials, using music videos and live performances as the centerpiece of a rather skimpy narration by director Brian Zabawski, who also shot much of the 1979-1982 performances on 8mm film. The lack of participation by the band is palpable and is a significant weakness. While it's certainly nice to have all these classic tunes and their accompanying videos in a handy package (and the songs in the documentary are happily presented complete, without voiceover), the documentary offers little factual background about the band's members so that they're virtual ciphers. That's too bad because The Specials were an interesting group that not only offered a lyrical message of racial harmony, but practiced it with the interracial composition of the band. The documentary does touch briefly on their significant troubles with the National Front and other neo-Nazi skinhead groups endemic in Thatcherite Britain, so at least there is recognition of the important social influence of the band and their label.

The unique sound of The Specials, particularly their orchestrations, are given disappointingly short shrift as well, other than an observation about the ambitious and atmospheric sound of Ghost Town, which remains a haunting production. The television performance of Do Nothing features the band awkwardly lip-synching. More entertaining are the music videos proper and especially their live performances, which convey the frenzied pace of their concerts well. They must have been great to see live. That's in stark contrast to the subdued, if not dull narration by the director, which makes this feel like a rather home-made production.

The 70 minute running time offered on the case is a bit deceptive; the documentary proper covering the career of The Specials, including the incarnation of the band by keyboardist Jerry Dammers and drummer John Bradbury, Special AKA, is covered in a mere 37m:54s. The balance of the running time is made up of Special AKA music videos, which while interesting both visually and musically don't offer any documentary content. The running time also counts fragments of songs shot on Super 8 in 1980 that tacked on are at the end, and considered under Special Features.

The songs covered are:

The Specials

A Message to You, Rudy
Gangsters
Concrete Jungle
Too Much, Too Young
Rat Race
Do Nothing
Ghost Town
Enjoy Yourself

Special AKA

Free Nelson Mandela
War Crimes
Alcohol
Housebound
Girlfriend


Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: Because much of the source material is either Super 8 or video sourced, you can't expect too much in the way of quality. There's the aliasing and noise inherent in such material, and color is fairly poor. The live performances are either too dark or washed out substantially. As historical documents of the live performances, though, they're invaluable and it's doubtful whether better source material survives. So the grade is boosted a bit more than it might be otherwise.

Image Transfer Grade: C+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishno


Audio Transfer Review: While the music videos (especially A Message to You, Rudy and Gangsters) sound fine, the live performances and Do Nothing suffer from murky audio, which is exceedingly unfortunate. While the "virtual 5.1" sounds better at first blush, the 2.0 track on close examination offers higher fidelity and is recommended even though it doesn't quite have the same bass extension as the 5.1 track.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 14 cues and remote access
Music/Song Access with 14 cues and remote access
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Bonus live performance footage
Extras Review: Although counted in the 70m running time, there is also a collection of snippets of footage of live performances on Super 8 from two concerts by The Specials in 1980. The audio is terrible, however, and the fragmentary treatment of the songs makes this material suitable only for hardcore fans.

Extras Grade: C

 

Final Comments

The documentary is rather disappointing, but the music of The Specials remains as magnificent today as it was nearly 30 years ago. It's just too bad that the band members didn't participate.

 


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