The moment a music documentary reaches cinema screens its potential audience immediately extends beyond the core fan base of the band in question and into the wider public. Given the scarcity of such theatrically released films nowadays this has become even more so the case, as recently proven by Metallica : Some Kind of Monster, a film which came under discussion in both a Sight and Sound article and on Newnight Review. And all this despite having started out as a mere album promo destined for a direct-to-video/DVD release with little or no fanfare. Godsmack : Changes has obvious pretensions towards this lucrative crossover market with its document of life on the road interspersing the concert footage with various vérité moments, plus an opening credits sequence in which the titles are unravelled in a manner akin to a feature over shots of an American city at night. Indeed, it is also heralded as “A Film by Daniel E. Catullo III”, a claim repeated on the sleeve’s strap line.
Any hopes of coming under the scrutiny of Tom Paulin are dashed almost immediately, however, as Changes, for all its aspirations, never really escapes the realms of being a piece solely for the fans. If we consider the film solely as a documentary, and from an outsider's point of view, difficulties are ever present. A knowledge of the band and their background are taken for granted and as such we are never formally introduced to them, or indeed the tour as a whole (oddly, the concert footage is taken from a single Pennsylvania gig whereas the other material covers the entire 2003 - 2004 period). Rather we are thrown straight in at the deep end with little context and no bearings. Unfortunately, this doesn’t just prove problematic for the viewers, but the filmmakers also. Without any guiding structure they seem to have put little thought into what sequences have made the final cut; rather than answer any of our many questions (who are these people being just the most prominent), they instead regale us with the various band members goofing around and spouting the typical metal macho bullshit (sample: “My throat’s fucked. I haven’t smoked enough today.”).
It’s this level of indulgence that not only makes the documentary segments largely pointless (they would be better suited as DVD extras as they add little to the accompanying concert footage), but also faces the danger of alienating the fans. Godsmack have already released a live DVD so why bother picking up another that is essentially compromised and won’t repay repeat viewings in its entirety? Moreover, the various performance sequences are perfectly adequately filmed which no doubt makes this all the more frustrating. As the sleeve proudly proclaims, Changes was filmed utilising 14 cameras and comes with a variety of soundtrack options. And despite the multiple cameras the editing never becomes too hectic or too determined to show of the fact that there are 14 of them. Rather it takes an unobtrusive approach and one that is pleasingly democratic, giving pretty much equal screen time to various band and audience members. The concert has also been filmed on a fairly reasonable budget meaning that the sizeable venue never overpowers the footage, nor do we lose sight of just how big it is. As for the show itself, Godsmack’s brand of muscular riff-heavy metal is neither especially poor nor particularly inspiring, whilst the stage dramatics amount to some laser work and overblown pyrotechnics, plus the seemingly obligatory acoustic-and-stools mid-set number and a bizarre “drum battle” that sees singer Sully Erna and percussionist Shannon Larkin take on each other whilst sat at revolving drumkits. It’s a unique enough moment, but as with the rest of Changes one that is unlikely to appease too much outside of the fan base.
Recorded during 2003 and 2004, Changes’s footage is fresh enough to look and sound perfectly fine on disc. The gig itself was shot on high definition video and looks as good as can be expected from such a format, whilst the documentary inserts run the gamut from very sharp to ultra grainy, though this is solely the fault of the original material. The latter also has varying levels of audibility (again as per the original material), but then the various sound options (PCM Stereo, DD2.0, DD5.1 and DTS) are there primarily to serve the purposes of the concert footage. Surprisingly, there is little difference between the four options as the rear speakers are rarely given a genuine workout. This also applies to the overall quality, as none of the choices, as is also the case with the picture quality, demonstrate any technical difficulties to speak of. As for extras, the sole bonus feature is a lengthy photo gallery made of stills taken during the tour.