Storytelling is as important to documentary films as it is to dramatic features, and framing the story is almost as crucial. Unfortunately, actor and director Alex Winter, best known as co-star of “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” seems to have forgotten that.
About a third of the way through his surprisingly unimaginative film “Downloaded,” about the ill-fated Internet “file sharing” program Napster and its co-founders, Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker, I found myself asking, “And so why am I being retold this hoary tale?” It’s not until the end of the movie that you realize the point is that Napster was the first peer-to-peer Internet site and, thereby, arguably the grand precursor of Facebook, not to mention iTunes, Spotify (Parker’s on the board) and pretty much the whole fabric of our digital, cyber-drenched lives.
But Winter never highlights that, though he does, at times, capture the drama of those heady years from 1999-2001 when Napster blew up the music industry by persuading 50 million people to allow one another to reach into their hard drives for music files, without paying the artists a nickel. (The best detail is the reminder that back then the Internet was slow and Napster was magically fast.) The industry reacted with a heavy hand, certainly, but Winter never weighs in on the moral and legal issues Napster raised. He is content, rather, to let the Napster pirates claim they always wanted to make a deal with the industry and let the industry honchos deny it.
Worse, for a film about music, the soundtrack (by DJ Spooky) is awful, a sonic wallpaper of electronic curdling that does nothing to enhance the already dull sequences of talking heads. There is scant vintage footage nor much analysis of a subject that deserves a much better movie.
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