Bohemian Rhapsody, 2018.
Directed by Bryan Singer.
Starring Rami Malek, Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, Joseph Mazzello, Lucy Boynton, Aidan Gillen. Tom Hollander, Allen Leech, Aaron McCusker, Dermot Murphy, Meneka Das, Ace Bhatti, Dickie Beau, Neil Fox-Roberts, Philip Andrew, Matthew Houston, Michelle Duncan, Max Bennett, Adam Rauf, Scott Morrison Watson and Mike Myers.
Bohemian Rhapsody arrives on home video in a package that includes the movie on Blu-ray and DVD, along with a code for a digital copy and a smattering of bonus features. The film is probably a must-watch for hardcore Queen fans, but anyone wanting a complex portrayal of lead singer Freddie Mercury will be disappointed, since the story is more of a greatest hits of key moments from the band’s history.
My first exposure to Queen was listening to their album News of the World in the basement of an older kid in my neighborhood who was really into music. For whatever reason, I found the cover of that vinyl record fascinating, and the songs contained within were among my first introductions to rock music of the 70s and 80s. My parents were fond of The Village People and songs like “Islands in the Stream,” so I wasn’t going to get that influence at home.
I’ll admit that I never really got into Queen the way I later got into Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Who, and many other classic bands, as well as alt-rock groups like The Replacements, The Cure, REM, and so forth. But I always admitted Freddie Mercury’s showmanship and vocal range, and I have fond memories of watching them onstage during Live Aid in 1985. That day was one of those magical moments in rock history that I don’t think will ever come again, given how fractured our culture has become.
With that preamble in mind, big-time Queen fans will have to forgive me for thinking that Bohemian Rhapsody is a good, but not great, movie. It follows the standard formula of most biopics, trotting out the subject’s greatest hits (forgive the pun) and bouncing from plot point to plot point without diving too deep into character development. The film also spends copious amounts of time meticulously recreating the band’s concerts, with the Live Aid performance serving as the climax, but I felt much of that time could have been better spent on getting to know Mercury better.
I’ll confess I didn’t know a lot about the singer’s background before watching the film. Born Farrokh Bulsara in Zanzibar, he immigrated with his family to England at the age of 18. His ethnic heritage and buck teeth led to social ostracization, and in his early 20s he found himself unloading planes at Heathrow Airport. However, a chance meeting with Roger Taylor and Brian May, who were searching for a new lead singer, gave him an opportunity to break out of his shell onstage and the rest, as they say, is history.
Some time is spent on Mercury’s struggles with his sexuality, as well as friction with his bandmates, but director Bryan Singer doesn’t dwell too long on the character moments before jumping to the next iconic moment. A coda fills in details from the last years of Mercury’s life that would have been better shown onscreen. The concert recreations could have been reduced considerably to accommodate more dramatic moments. Sure, there’s the question of whether this was a biopic about Queen or its lead singer, but I would argue that the latter is much more interesting subject matter.
Freddie Mercury is one of those larger-than-life personalities whose fans will never be in complete agreement about who should play him onscreen, but Rami Malek does an admirable job in the role. My only criticism, which isn’t his fault, is that his teeth border on caricature. Someone points out in the bonus materials that teeth that were the real size of Mercury’s were tried and were deemed to be too much, but perhaps they should have been scaled back a bit more. I realize Mercury had little tricks to hide the size of his teeth, but maybe that’s the look they should have gone for, so it wasn’t so jarring.
This home video edition of Bohemian Rhapsody includes the movie on Blu-ray and DVD discs, along with a code for a digital copy that has all the bonus features too. The extras are rather scant, unfortunately, and Singer is conspicuously absent from them. That’s not a surprise since he was fired when he left the film late in production, but the lack of his presence is just as well, given recent allegations of heinous behavior by him. If the stories are true, he should suffer the same fate as Harvey Weinstein and others who have committed crimes.
The bonus features include:
- Rami Malek: Becoming Freddie (16 minutes): Malek, his movement coach, producer Graham King, Queen members Brian May and Roger Taylor, and others discuss the process by which the actor transformed into the singer.
- The Look and Sound of Queen (21 minutes): This piece covers casting the rest of the members of the band. May talks about how he felt “shivers up my spine” the first time he and Taylor saw the main cast members playing their roles on the Live Aid set. Malek, May, Taylor, King, Gwilym Lee (Brian May), Ben Hardy (Roger Taylor), Joe Mazzello (John Deacon), and others offer their thoughts. I assume Deacon isn’t in the bonus features because he retired from the band in 1997 and has chosen to stay out of the public eye since then.
- The Complete Live Aid Movie Performance (21 minutes): It’s nice that the band’s performance at that iconic event was recreated in its entirety, which is included here, along with cutaways to promoter and musician Bob Geldof, Mercury’s family watching at home, and others. Wouldn’t you rather watch the real thing, though?
- Recreating Live Aid (20 minutes): You may be shocked to hear that the filmmakers endeavored to recreate Live Aid down to the littlest details, including Teamsters sitting on the scaffolding, posters on the walls, and the actual stage. However, it’s interesting that King and others claim that the concert was a reunion for the band, as the movie shows, when in reality they had completed a tour just two months prior. I understand the need to alter history for dramatic effect in a movie like this, but why not acknowledge that in the bonus features?
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★/ Movie: ★ ★ ★