4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 2018; PG-13 for thematic elements, suggestive material, drug content and profanity; streaming via Amazon Video/Prime, FandangoNOW (4K), Google Play (4K), iTunes (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)
Best extra: All good, but “The Complete Live Aid Movie Performance” is a standout
HE DID IT! With Queen’s Brian May and Roger Taylor looking on, Raimi Malek received a Best Actor Oscar for his spectacular performance as frontman Freddie Mercury. What a follow up to Raimi’s best actor victories from the Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild and BAFTA.
“I may not have been the obvious choice, but I guess it worked out.” — Raimi Malek, Academy Award acceptance
“Bohemian Rhapsody” also won Academy Awards for Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing, and Best Achievement in Sound Mixing. Although nominated for Best Picture, controversy over director Bryan Singer probably cost votes. Known for his work on “The Usual Suspect” and early “X-Men” films, Singer dealt with personal and legal problems during production. The atmosphere on set wasn’t good and friction increased daily between director, crew and cast. He was fired when he failed to return after the Thanksgiving break, and Dexter Fletcher took over. “My situation with Bryan, it was not pleasant, not at all. And that’s about what I can say about it at this point,” Malek said at the Santa Barbara film festival as reported in The Guardian.
We’d never guessed a biopic could be this much fun or have so much appeal. It shows how Mercury and his bandmates became a family to one another, bickering, joking and creating some of the best music of the 1970s and ‘80s. The music is memorable; most of it is still in rotation: “We Will Rock You,” “Don’t Stop Me Now,” “Another One Bites the Dust,” “Somebody to Love,” and “Radio Ga Ga.” Even the film soundtracks for “Flash Gordon” (1980) and “Highlander” (1986), with “Princes of the Universe” and “Who Wants to Live Forever?” have become classics. Queen was made for cinema.
And there was no better showman than Mercury himself.
“There are so many different faces of Freddie Mercury and I don’t think one is more true than the other.” — Rami Malek, “Becoming Freddie”
Malek first appeared on the small screen in “Gilmore Girls” (2004) before becoming Egyptian king Ahkmenrah in the “Night at the Museum” films (beginning 2006) starring Ben Stiller and Robin Williams. After a variety of shows, films and voice acting, he slammed into stardom in USA Network’s “Mr. Robot” earning best actor Emmy and Critics Choice awards. In the bonus features from 20th Century Fox, Rami talks about career choices. He could have made steady money playing terrorists and other villains, but decided to take a different, more positive path.
Mercury was born in Africa and raised in India. During his 20s, he worked as a baggage handler at London’s Heathrow Airport before he joined forces with Brian May and Roger Taylor. Mercury was bullied as a child, and taunted as a young man for his heritage and teeth. He was a boxer in school, a long-distance runner and played golf. The production used movement coach Polly Bennett to help Malek achieve Mercury’s distinctive on- and off-stage mannerisms and moves.
Malek was born in Los Angeles to an Egyptian Coptic Orthodox family. In his Oscar acceptance speech, he said, “We made a film about a gay man, an immigrant who lived his life unapologetically. The fact that I’m celebrating this with you tonight is proof that we’re longing for stories like this. I am the son of immigrants from Egypt. I’m a first generation American and part of my story is being written right now, and I could not be more grateful.”
There’s great chemistry among the cast which includes Lucy Boynton as Mercury’s first love, Mary Austin; Gwilym Lee as lead guitarist Brian May; Ben Hardy as drummer Roger Taylor; Joe Mazzello as bass guitarist John Deacon; Aidan Gillen, Allen Leech, Mike Myers and others. Every performance is spot on.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” concentrates on Mercury’s rise to international fame; the band’s falling out, unhappy solo efforts and diagnosis of AIDS, a death sentence at that time. He learns – the hard way – that he needs to return to his bandmates and their music, and what better way to do it than in the Live Aid concert? Held July 1985, Live Aid featured dozens of international bands who worked free, raising $125 million for famine relief in Africa. Queen was a last minute addition. Each band had a firm time limit to show off their best, but Queen had not performed together in years. They stole the show.
Despite the rough spots – betrayals, insane press conferences, professional leeches, family misery and breakups – “Bohemian Rhapsody” is a beguiling, triumphant story. Mercury had no boundaries. He was himself in a time when nonconformity was discouraged, especially in the singer’s straight-laced home.
Roger Taylor sums it up in “Becoming Freddie.” “He sort of invented himself. It was an act of pure willpower and intelligence.”
Cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel digitally shot “Bohemian Rhapsody” on the Alexa SXT and Alexa 65 (2.39:1 aspect ratio). In an interview for Red Shark, he says, “There is this wonderful transition from the end of the counter-culture, through glam-rock into the hedonism of the eighties … I decided the movie needed to have a visual arc that best represented the band’s transition from idealists to rock stars and all the issues that it creates.”
Footage was captured at 6.5K and 3.4K, and some scenes used 35mm film. It was mastered in 2K. At any rate, there’s no disappointment in the vivid, saturated color toning, detail, and contrast from dark, neon-blasted clubs to the bright sunlight of Wembley Stadium. Blacks are solid and deep, with good detail in wide shots. Skin tones show a good range of nationalities and ages; color is natural, with realistic lines and textures.
If ever a film was made for sound, this is it. Those Oscar wins for Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing, and Best Achievement in Sound Mixing prove it. Queen’s music carries the story and the audience. The Dolby Atmos track on the 4K is excellent, especially during the foot-stomping “We Will Rock You” segment, and waves of cheers and singing from the audience during two big concert scenes. That’s where we really notice the blast from the height speakers. The default DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track is also stellar. Delivery ranges from deep bass to Taylor’s increasingly sharp “Galileo’s” during the creation of the title song.
Malek may have reproduced Mercury’s expressions and moves, but provided minimal singing. He mimed vocals to master tapes of Mercury’s singing mixed with new material from Canadian Christian rock musician Marc Martel. Movie magic blends the three voices into a perfect performance.
The film begins and ends with the actors’ recreation of Queen’s Live Aid performance. There’s a lot to love, but only a few minutes could be used in the film. The extra you’ll watch again and again is the full 20 minute performance available on both the Ultra 4K and Blu-ray discs.
Three additional bonus features, “Becoming Freddie,” “The Look and Sound of Queen,” and “Recreating Live Aid,” provide filmmaker and actor interviews, and production details.
“[Freddie] never wanted to be the poster boy for anything. He ignored all that as noise and said, ‘I will define myself,’ and ‘I will be the man that I want to be.’” — Joe Mazzello, “Finding Freddie”
Longtime Queen purists quibbled over authenticity. Sacha Baron Cohen was long considered to play Freddie Mercury, but rejected by surviving members of Queen. Producers also felt Baron Cohen was too associated with raunchy comedy and a desire to exploit Mercury’s insatiable sexual excesses. The final edit only hints at the debauchery in keeping with the PG-13 rating – and allowing more audience members, young and old, to simply relax and enjoy the movie.
In truth, Mercury was a man of opposites – flamboyant on stage; retiring and shy, his home filled with cats, away from the spotlight. He truly oved his furry friendlies, talking to them on the phone while on tour as shown in the movie, providing each with a room, dedicating the liner notes to one on his solo album and “all the cat lovers across the universe.” He left his fortune to Mary and his cats when he died.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” remains one of the best films of 2018, great to watch alone or with friends. There will never be another Freddie Mercury, but Raimi Malek comes very close.
— Kay Reynolds