It's been a long time coming but finally the Billion Dollar Babies live film has made it to general release. Up until now the only way to see this film was either on an old bootleg VHS copy or, for the lucky few, the unofficial German VHS release that turned up briefly in the mid-eighties. However those were the re-edited release version while this is the original version of the film including the dopey storyline and comedy sketches. The original plan was to have both versions of the movie on the disc but unfortunately getting clearances for all those old movie clips was simply impossible so what we get here is the original version, plus an option to play just the live footage. Personally I'm kinda glad that it's the sketches version as even in trading circles copies of it are pretty poor quality.
The movie itself includes the full 'Billion Dollar Babies' show recorded in Houston and Dallas at a point when the band were at their commercial height on the back of a number one album. It opens with a version of 'The Lady Is A Tramp' setting up the silly storyline that intercuts the live footage. The band are decked out in white and playing lounge music before finally rebelling and trashing the set. This is pretty cool and it's a shame none of the other "sketches" are as good. Most are just silly and often don't feature the band at all while the 'interview' parts are just boring. Luckily there is an option to play just the movie footage as after a couple of viewings the extra stuff just isn't very interesting, and it's the live footage most people will be buying this for anyway. It's interesting comparing this version to the better known movie clips version though. It IS substantially different and even though the clips version includes 'Lady Is A Tramp' (the only sketch retained) it's heavily cut to remove references to the movie's storyline. Here you get the full version.
The live footage is pretty much indispensable to any Alice fan. Finally you get to see what all the fuss was about 30 years ago when Alice Cooper were at their peak. The band are fantastic and sound like no one else. Alice has never had a solo band that could replicate the sound of Neal, Dennis, Michael and Glen (with Mick Mashbir and Bob Dolin helping out). However it's not perfect. The film looks it's age. It's very dark sometimes, grainy, and the picture's not that sharp. It's also a shame you can't really see the revolutionary stage set in any detail as the long shots are often too dark and brief to make much out, but after all this time these are minor complains no one can really do anything about. At least we finally get to see something!
Along with the standard stereo soundtrack you get a 5.1 surround mix and a commentary by Alice which was on of the things was most looking forward to after the excellent commentary on the 'Welcome To My Nightmare' US DVD. It would have been nice to have commentaries with the band as well as Alice, either together or separately, but for whatever reason (Neal once told me he wasn't interested in doing a commentary. "Let the music do the talking") this time we just get Alice alone. He starts up very slowly but stick with it and he eventually warms up, memories start to flow, and it's great stuff. It's especially nice to hear his positive comments about the original band.
The other extras on the disc, while interesting and worthwhile, aren't really earth shattering. The uncensored version of 'Unfinished Sweet' is cool to have as are the silent outtalks, but not really the sort of thing you would watch to often. Possibly most interesting is the short clip of interview footage (actually a hidden 'easter egg'), which was included in the clips version but not the original cut of the movie, and the use of original radio adverts which play over the menus. All rare stuff and it does look like every available thing related to the film was shoehorned in somewhere to make as complete a package as possible.
At the end of the day I think the producers have made the most of the material they had, with all it's limitations, and created a very worthwhile release. Sure it's not perfect but its still indespensible for any Alice Cooper fan. Now can we have 'The Nightmare Returns' and ' The Strange Case of Alice Cooper' on DVD to complete the set?