Man oh man, so much was going on with Bohemian Rhapsody behind the scenes that it's like people failed to take care of the film so that it could be good. The movie that chronicled the times of the English rock band Queen had director Bryan Singer (X-Men Apocalypse) leave the film after principal photography and retain the only director credit, even as word about his sexual behavior ostracized him. Then there was uproar about the decisions made to tell the story about Freddie Mercury's sexuality and the stories of his band members, then the talk of visual effects artists not getting paid, then this past week, when the film took home 4 Academy Awards. Imagine what would have happened if everyone behaved themselves!
Anthony McCarten's screenplay (Darkest Hour) focuses on the time from 1970 when Mercury (Rami Malek, Mr. Robot) joins the band, to their work creating the "A Night at the Opera" album, to eventually their breakup and reunion show, held at the 1985 Live Aid concert. With guitarist Brian May (Gwilym Lee, The Tourist), drummer Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy, Only the Brave) and bassist John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello, The Social Network) , their rise to stardom is shown. We also witness Mercury's sexuality explored from his initial relationship to Mary (Lucy Boynton, Miss Potter) as he leaves her and moves to his business manager Paul (Allen Leech, The Imitation Game), in the backdrop of drug and alcohol abuse.
I'm not entirely sure where to start with Bohemian Rhapsody, largely because I'm not sure what movie it decided to be, and it was something I was trying to figure out as it went along. Were I to guess within the rock biopic genre, Bohemian is sort of like La Bamba, if La Bamba was half as dialed in and four times cockier. Mercury comes in as a guy who tries to emerge from the upbringing of his parents, shows up to a club and does an impromptu audition for the band. He just shows up to a lot of these things, brings in bravado that nobody seems to know where it came from and they just go with it. There's little in terms of a dive into why Freddie did some of the things he did, and with May and Taylor as Executive Producers of the film, you'd think they'd have a better idea than what was represented onscreen.
Even though the story may have issues, the performances in them are as heartfelt as could be given the material. Lee and Boynton are good but the film is Malek's show to run, and he inhabits Freddie well. The problem (again) in this is there's a certain disconnection to Freddie in the early years because the film never really focuses on him, and by the time we get into the solo work and later years when he is suffering from AIDs, the film almost feels like one of those transparent awards push storylines that spotlight on the actor involved. I mean, it worked and all since Malek got the Oscar, but still.
Ultimately, Bohemian Rhapsody comes off as an incomplete and even shoddy storytelling product, despite the work of some of the cast involved. The music is good, there are moments of laughter and emotion, but they come off as satire in some places because of a lack of connection to the performer, just the performance. It works in concerts, and less so in movies. I'm left wondering what could have been for this.The Blu-ray:
With Bohemian Rhapsody, Fox gives the Blu-ray an AVC encode to go with its 2.39:1 widescreen presentation, and looks quite nice. Image detail in Freddie's face and the royal robes he wears is good, colors are loyally reproduced; nothing is too vivid, and appears to look like a docudrama of sorts. Black levels are dark and include a fine contrast, and the image is devoid of haloing or DNR. It looks like it could have been plucked out of the early ‘80s, and is nice to watch.The Sound:
DTS HD-Master Audio 7.1 track rules the day for this Fox release and the music sounds like you'd expect it to; low-end for it isn't as powerful but has more of a nuanced balance to it. When Freddie does his call and response humming both in the club and at Wembley, crowd noise is immersive and on some of the studio performances, the isolated tracks (like on the piano intro for the song the film's name bears) the vocals are pretty damn powerful. Channel panning is abundant and effective, dialogue is consistent, this one is good as the material expects from it.The Extras:
Lots of things surrounding the production of the film, but conspicuously absent is Singer for obvious reasons. The band's Live Aid performance is included (21:55), and the cast gets a chance to show off their musical chops in a longer form. "Becoming Freddie" (16:13) covers Malek's transformation to the singer, how he approached it, and some biographic information on Mercury. The surviving band members also chime in on his performance. "The Look and Sound of Queen" (21:44) is kind of the same thing, but expanding out to a band perspective. They talk about how the project came off, and the bond the actors had as musicians. "Recreating Live Aid" (19:55) looks at the penultimate performance from hard, wardrobe and visual effects aspects, and the cast and band talk about how it looks.Final Thoughts:
I've developed a fondness for Queen's music and had an idea about the band growing up, and if you're wondering if this is definitive or provocative, it's not. Using another biopic as an example, in Dragon (which recounts Bruce Lee's time on Earth), the stipulation, made to the viewer is that it may not be a complete story, but it's the story I know and the one I wanted to have told. In that movie, you get earnest performances and an interesting story. What do you get in Bohemian Rhapsody? A two-hour "Behind the Music" episode, if that removed anything fascinating from the topic. If you're a Queen fan you will probably like this, you just won't get much from it, which is a shame.