MRR Review: "Downloaded"


MRR Review: "Downloaded"

Rating: NR
Length: 106 minutes
Release Date: March 10, 2013
Directed by: Alex Winter
Genre: Documentary

For an entire generation of music lovers, nothing beat Napster. Napster, which let users share and download their favorite music and digital files, faced opposition from all sides. The documentary "Downloaded" examines the history of Napster and digital media sharing.

Alex Winter ("Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure") originally met with Shawn Fanning, one of the founders of Napster, in the hopes of creating a documentary about the Internet service. The more he talked to Fanning and the other founders, the more he realized that the story was about more than just Napster. After compiling his interviews and research, he built a documentary encompassing the roots of illegal file sharing.

Napster created a revolution by showing users that they didn't need to spend money to gain access to their favorite music and films. "Downloaded" does a smart job of sticking to the facts, but it does show different points of view. This isn't a film that focuses on why downloading is wrong, but it isn't a film that tells people to run out and illegally download files either. It somehow manages to stay in the middle without deciding which side is right.

Those looking for interviews with famous people will love "Downloaded" because it offers unflinching portraits of the rich and famous. Lars Ulrich appears in stock footage, detailing the reasons his band, Metallica, stood up against Napster. In their early days, the members of Metallica encouraged their fans to record their concerts and share those recordings with others. However, once Napster launched, Metallica became one of its biggest opponents. Ulrich comes across as a bully at certain times and a whiner at others.

Some of the other famous faces do a better job. Actor and singer Henry Rollins appears to be almost sympathetic, while Smashing Pumpkins' singer Billy Corgan seems to mimic much of what Ulrich says. Noel Gallagher of the British band, Oasis, and Hilary Rosen, who once ran the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), also make appearances in the film. While the interviews with Winter come across as interesting and even brilliant at times, the stock footage feels a little too repetitive.

"Downloaded" becomes a stronger film when it moves beyond Napster to focus on other file-sharing programs. The film starts with a history of Napster, which launched in 1998. It shows how many people used the program and how the RIAA viewed those people. The film then delves into the way Napster changed once it faced lawsuits from different organizations and recording artists. The film ends with Rhapsody buying Napster in 2011, and some viewers will wonder why the film didn't focus more on the other programs that also faced opposition.

The only problem with "Downloaded" is that it feels dated at times. While millions of people still use the Internet to listen to music and watch videos, the downfall of Napster changed the way people use their computers. Many Internet providers now look for signs of illegal downloading, and the news media has run dozens of stories about the RIAA filing suit against people who downloaded just a handful of illegal songs.

Those who lived through the days of Napster will find "Downloaded" quaint and funny at times. One man compares Napster and similar programs to Vietnam, claiming that they ruined an entire culture. The film smartly moves from that interview to interviews with experts talking about the rise in the availability of MP3s. Those who make it through to the end of this documentary will find that it asks a few questions worth answering. For example, the film wonders if people would be using iPods and other music players today if it weren't for Napster paving the way and showing users how to download and play music files on their computers.

While "Downloaded" does have its moments, the film stops too far in the past. With programs like Spotify and Rhapsody, users can now download their favorite songs to their computers, music players and even cars, but the film doesn't really mention those apps. It follows Napster from its beginnings to its eventual end, but it doesn't take the time to explain that the end of Napster didn't signal the end of file sharing.

Despite a few minor missteps, "Downloaded" is a smart documentary. It offers a look at the rise of illegal media sharing and how some recording artists and the recording industry tried to stop it.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Tags: Downloaded