Updated: Jan 16, 2020
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
August 25, 1970: Elton John launches his U.S. tour at the Troubadour in West Hollywood. British actor Taron Egerton plays Reginald "Reggie" Dwight a.k.a. Elton John.
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 2019; R for profanity throughout, drug use and sexual content; streaming via Amazon Video/Prime, Apple (4K), FandangoNOW (4K), Google Play (4K), Movies Anywhere (4K), YouTube (4K), Vudu (4K)
Best extra: “It’s Going to Be a Wild Ride: Creative Vision”
ROCK LEGEND Elton John gets a musical biopic of his own. Is it worthy of the original Captain Fantastic? With Elton himself as executive producer and Director Dexter Fletcher – the man who saved “Bohemian Rhapsody” – behind it, you bet!
The script was written by Oscar nominee Lee Hall, who also penned “Billy Elliot,” “War Horse,” and “Victoria & Abdul.” The big surprise is Taron Egerton as Reginald “Reggie” Dwight, who transforms into writer/singer/Oscar and Emmy winner Elton John. Egerton, known for his two “Kingsman” films and “Eddie the Eagle” (2015), does all of his own singing and dancing. He disappears into the role, giving a bravura performance. IMDb reports he wore 53 different pairs of glasses throughout the film.
Elton leaves a concert and marches into a support group meeting wearing a devil’s costume with sequined horns and massive wings. He demands help with his addictions – alcohol, cocaine, sex, prescription drugs, and bulimia. That brings us back to his childhood, where young Reggie (Matthew Illesley) lives with his cruel, self-centered mum, Sheila, played by an unrecognizable Bryce Dallas Howard, and homophobic, emotionally detached dad, Stanley, played by Steven Mackintosh of the “Underworld” films and “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.” Like anyone, Reggie needs to be loved, even admired for his bonafide musical genius. He can play even the most complicated music on the piano note by note after hearing it once. The kid taught himself to play.
Elton enters rehab to deal with his addictions. “I wanted ["Rocketman"] to be fun, and I wanted it not to take itself too seriously. But on the other hand, there were a lot of serious issues that had to be addressed with my drug addiction, and my life and my upbringing." — Elton John, Executive Producer
The Early Years: Reginald "Reggie" Dwight
(1) It's the 1950s! Young Reggie is played by Matthew Illesley seen here in the opening number, "The Bitch is Back." (2 & 3) His mother Sheila (Bryce Dallas Howard) and grandmother Ivy (Gemma Jones) are surprised when Reggie begins playing piano by ear and, later, composes his own music. (4) His talents get the older Reggie (Kit Connor) a scholarship at the Royal Academy of Music.
That’s what drives him – that need for affection and acceptance, – throughout his life. But even while millions come to adore him, Reggie/Elton never gets the personal response he craves, especially when he finds himself in the ruthless world of pop music. His grandmother Ivy (Gemma Jones) is always kind and loving, but quick to explain away his parents’ faults. The best relationship comes from his co-creator and “brother” Bernie Taupin played by a grown-up Jamie Bell of “Billy Elliott.” Bernie proves grandma is no fluke. He's not gay, although he loves Reggie. Taupin, who has written the lyrics for Elton’s music for over 50 years, becomes the beacon promising Elton should expect and accept better.
“You have to take the rough and the smooth and mix it together. The irrational behavior, the dark moods, the depression, the self-loathing came as a result of not having a balance in my life and getting totally addicted to cocaine and alcohol and bulimia and sex, whatever. And that’s represented in the film.” — Elton John, Executive Producer
All of this is set to Elton John’s music which becomes a genuine movie musical. With choreography by Adam Murray and music adapted by Giles Martin, “Rocketman” is very much in the tradition of the MGM classics. Song and complex dance routines carry the show. So does Hall’s dialogue. Chances are, you’ll never think of “The Bitch is Back,” “Rocket Man,” “Honky Cat,” “Your Song,” “Tiny Dancer,” “Benny and the Jets,” and “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” the same way again, and that’s just fine.
“Every dance routine is Elton growing or going through a different stage of his life.” — Lizzie Yianni Georgiou, makeup & hair designer
Despite the glam, this is a darker story than “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which caught critics and viewers by surprise last year. The two pictures are different. Still, like “Rhapsody,” every actor gives an authentic, even brilliant performance. It’s easy to imagine there will be Oscar nominations in Fletcher’s latest.
“My life, when I started to become famous became really, really extraordinary and kind of surrealistic. And that’s how I wanted the film to be.” — Elton John, Executive Producer
Reggie finds his mum and another man, Fred (Tom Bennett) making out in front of their home. His father leaves them. Later, Sheila marries Fred. (2) The encounter is only one of Elton's pain-filled memories.
(1) Reggie, meets his best friend and lyricist Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell) completely by accident. They hit it off immediately. (2) Their songs get them a contract with Dick James' (Stephen Graham) DJM Records label. (3 & 4) As their songs and Elton's performances become more popular, DJM gets them a booking at the Troubadour, where Elton becomes a star. Bernie meets a woman ("Tiny Dancer") and remains in the U.S., leaving the singer alone - abandoned - again.
Viewers are in for a carnival ride of color and action whether they choose the 2160p or 1080p format (2.39:1 aspect ratio). We’re talking roller coaster. Digitally shot on the Arri Alexa Mini, with Panavision G-Series lenses, “Rocketman” received its 4K upgrade from a 2K digital intermediate. Like Elton’s songs, every color becomes a star.
“Certain bits in the film are more historically accurate than others. But it’s more a flavor of his life story than a slavish retelling.” — Marcus Rowland, production designer
Contrast is very good, with sparkling highlights and solid blacks. Widescreen moments – and there are many, especially in the opening dance number, “Saturday Night’s Alright,” “Honky Cat” and “Tiny Dancer.” Detail is excellent, showing good background images in wide shots. Wall-sized screens will show a bigger difference between the Ultra 4K and 1080p, particularly in HDR color toning and highlights. In most cases, the pictures are very similar due to the 2K intermediate. Even so, no one will be disappointed in either format.
“Looking at all those periods – from the ‘50s through to the ‘80s – was fantastic. We did a change in fashion for all those periods.” — Julian Day, costume designer
(1) Elton meets and is seduced by record manager John Reid (Richard Madden, John Stark of "Game of Thrones") Aidan Gillien, also of GoT, played Reid in "Bohemian Rhapsody." He convinces Elton to leave DJM, and becomes his manager. (2) Now famous, Elton/Reggie returns to England and visits his father, Stanley (Steven Mackintosh), who has a new family. (3) It's a fresh wound. Stanley still keeps Reggie at a firm, disapproving distance, but shares time and affection with his new sons. Ironic, when you consider Reggie's interest in music may have come from an attempt to please his dad.
Paramount delivers the top of the line with 7.1 channel Dolby Atmos and default Dolby TrueHD tracks. Dialogue is clear and effects delivery is sublime on both.
People will disagree on this point, but the audio tracks are totally – deliberately – out of balance. Songs are at least three times louder than dialogue, even in the quieter music, so the remote must be kept close at hand. Annoying. Some are going to love the sudden concert hall impact – which is constant since characters almost always sing or dance. Others with sensitive ears or neighbors won’t. It’s most noticeable on the Atmos track, but both tracks give subwoofers and drywall a workout.
“One of my favorite films is … ‘Singing in the Rain’ so we reach back into that toy box. [We] have these great songs like ‘Saturday Night’s Alright’ that make people smile … and then you can add all this imagery to it as well, and there’s storytelling to it. People come out going, ‘Well that was f*****g great!’” — Dexter Fletcher, director
Paramount scores again with a boatload of fine extras. They begin with deleted scenes, and extended musical numbers that can be watched with or without an introduction by Dexter Fletcher.
Making-of features include interviews with filmmakers, cast and crew, and behind-scene sequences: “It’s Going to Be a Wild Ride: Creative Vision”; “Becoming Elton: Taron’s Transformation,” with Elton and Taron Egerton; “Full Tilt: Staging the Musical Numbers”; and “Music Reimagined: The Studio Sessions.”
But the most fun to be had is the “‘Rocketman’ Lyric Companion: Sing Along with Select Songs,” (also accomplished by turning on the closed caption feature in the film) and “‘Rocketman’ Juke Box,” that provides direct access to all the musical numbers. We had these features on repeat.
“I was told right from the outset, do what you believe ‘Rocketman’ should be. Follow your vision. So I set about drawing on all those things that I found exciting and interesting and how I [could] blend them and bring those things … to the story. I just brought people on who fell in line with what that vision was.” — Dexter Fletcher, director
— Kay Reynolds
(1) Elton's onstage presence becomes even more flamboyant. “It’s a dream job … Elton John is one of the most iconic people in the world. Everything about him is larger than life. So it was quite daunting, the idea of representing him through his clothing.” — Julian Day, costume designer (2, 3 & 4) Under Reid's influence, and his attempts to deal with his past, Elton life spins out of control through drugs, debauchery, and excess of every kind. He attempts suicide at a party at his home. “‘Rocket Man’ starts in the bottom of a swimming pool and ends up in a stadium. You don’t really think of [it as] a stadium song, but we’ve kind of thrown the kitchen sink at it, if you like … There’s a beautiful, dream-like quality to it.” — Giles Martin, music producer
(1 & 2) Elton's drug habits are so severe, he has a heart attack. Rushed to the hospital, Reid forces him back onstage for a sold out concert, saying it's only a chest cold. (3) Seeking comfort, Elton marries his friend Renate (Celinde Schoemaker), but he's still gay. It doesn't work out.
(1, 2 & 3) Always his friend, Bernie visits Elton. As always, he tries to assure him that he deserves and should expect better. Elton is able to learn from rehab this time; he doesn't need validation from his parents or Reid - or anyone. He also learns he can compose and perform without drugs or alcohol. "I'm Still Standing" blends new footage with the original MTV video.
So ... you thought "Rocketman" was only a simple musical? No way. Before end credits, we learn Elton John has been sober for 28 years - although the shopping addiction is still there. He and Bernie remain good friends. He's now married to David Furnish, with whom he has two children. He also began the Elton John AIDS Foundation in the early '90s, a nonprofit that supports HIV prevention, education, care and support to those living with HIV.