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Here's the thing about movies that are in a relatively untouched genre; a first attempt at one can be detrimental. Let's take the case of Bohemian Rhapsody. With an astonishing amount of critical praise, you wonder if those that voted on the awards ever actually SAW the thing, because it wasn't that good. It wasn't bad, just wasn't as good as people made it out to be. Such a movie like that, telling the story of Queen and frontman Freddie Mercury can have an adverse effect on subsequent films. You know that films made on other musicians of the time are going to get made now because they haven't been, so do people go out an ignore them because Rhapsody was average? I hope not.
Written by Lee Hall (Billy Elliot) and directed by Dexter Fletcher (Eddie the Eagle), the film about the life of British singer Elton John was given his blessing, to the level that John served as an executive producer while his husband David Furnish produced it. The film chronicles John's life but done against the backdrop of his music, and him discussing some of his life while in rehab. Fletcher picked Eddie collaborator Taron Edgerton for the role, which does does not flinch at the warts in John's life, be it growing up in an isolated family with a cold mother (Bryce Dallas Howard, Jurassic World) and a father who disassociated from him. Or his battles with cocaine, alcohol and bulimia. His sexual evolution is shown, primarily his relationship with his manager John Reid (Richard Madden, The Take), and his working relationship with writer Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell, Snowpiercer). The film looks at John's life until the mid 1980s but focuses primarily between 1968ish and 1985. The film uses John's entire catalog starting from the opening credits, but uses songs in a nonlinear fashion to help illustrate an emotional point; for example, "I Want Love" was recorded early this century, but is sung by an elementary school age John a.k.a. Reg Dwight to try and get acceptance from his parents.
What Rocketman does from the outset is it doesn't try to be overly formulaic, hitting on some more of the nuance in John's life good and bad, but ultimately wanting people to enjoy the music while perhaps getting a deeper appreciation for the moments therein; it does wrap its arms about being a musical told cinematically, and does so in its own voice. The music is John's, the singing is done by the cast and executed admirably.
The centerpiece of the ensemble is Edgerton and he handles himself well in the role. He's got the stage braggadocio down, he's got the physical and emotional deterioration down pat (a key sequence in the second half of the film shows John attempt suicide in a pool, is wheeled through a hospital and to a chance of clothes ahead of his Dodger Stadium performance in a not subtle expression of how his mindset was during that epoch. Edgerton expresses a range that he seems to find when only working under Fletcher's direction. Not that it's a bad thing but it's fascinating to see how well he commits to the role and transforms himself into Elton from physical and wardrobe perspectives. Vocally he's mimicking John to an extent but making it his own because well, why go through the process of lip-synching and looking foolish if you're going to do every other damn thing in the film?
The supporting cast is also up to it; Bell is interesting as Taupin, and the dynamic of how they work cannot be stated enough. Madden is good as Reid and Howard's turn as the mother is diabolical at times in its precision. Everyone helps set the stage for Elton trying to find out who he is and what he wants, long after Reg Dwight has gone. This part of the film is muddled a little bit but does come through eventually.
Look, you have every right to shat on Bohemian Rhapsody as you see fit, and as you probably should. Rocketman winds up being a film that you generally know a bit about the subject, but you'll probably wind up learning more about that you expected, and done without compromise. Plus, you get the added bonus of listening to a pantload of Elton John songs in the process, and you'll find yourself smiling more at the screen than you perhaps anticipated you would. There's going to be more films on other musicians and you should explore them all, because you'll wind up being surprised or just enjoying yourself, as I think you will with this one.The Ultra HD Blu-ray
In 4K Rocketman looks pretty great. The detail in Elton's costume in the beginning is abundant as are textures in older clothing, and colors look vivid as can be. Black levels in some of the concert footage fluctuate a tiny bit but generally the image is devoid of smearing or haloing to deter from the viewing experience. There is also a multidimensional feel on some of the bigger crowd shots and even the 1984 wedding that reinforce how sharp things look. Paramount did well with this one.The Sound:
The Dolby Atmos track is going to show off your sound system and it doesn't care what personal objections you have to it! The songs sound great, starting with a gentle version of "I Want Love" then charging into "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting," and dialogue throughout or the cut backs to the interviews with modern Elton are strong and well-balanced. Ambient effects and channel panning are present and abundant and you're placed in the middle of the theater or arena (or baseball stadium) as applicable.Extras:
All of the extras are on the Blu-ray, and the film is on both the Blu-ray and UHD. The first extra is a set of four extended musical numbers from the film (14:48), specifically "The Bitch is Back," "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting," "Breaking Down the Walls of Heartache" and "Honky Cat." They also include an introduction from Fletcher, which is not included on the ‘Play All' function. Next are ten deleted and extended sequences (19:39), also including an intro by Fletcher than doesn't populate when you hit ‘Play All.' There are a couple of interesting moments, and there is a small subplot of John's recognition of AIDS and the impact on the world at the time that would have been nice to leave in, but such is life.
Next are a series of featurettes, starting with "It's Going to be a Wild Ride" (7:08), on the origins of the film and allure by the cast and crew, including producer Mathew Vaughn, who directed Edgerton and John on the second Kingsmen film. "Becoming Elton John" (6:52) looked at Edgerton's metamorphosis, while "Larger Than Life" (8:55) examines the production design, costumes and such. "Full Tilt" (10:09) shows us the work put into the productions for the songs in the film and any possible visual effects breakdown, "Music Reimagined" (11:33) looks at Edgerton's singing in the studio, and there is a Sing Along version of the film (in English only) and a version that lets you go straight to the songs in the film. It also comes with a Digital Copy which has more extras exclusive to iTunes, plus there is a booklet hyping an autobiography from John, which includes content exclusive to the disc, including a brief discussion on the pool sequence. All in all a pretty good package.Final Thoughts:
Rocketman may not be an according to Hoyle definition of a biopic, but it combines storytelling of one and musical execution pretty well and keeps you engaged for two hours. It may not wow you, but it's an honestly told story and the music gets you in early and doesn't let you go. Definitely worth checking out, and the overall package is pretty nifty to boot.