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Rocketman (2019)

Paramount Home Entertainment
4K UHD Released: 8/27/2019

All Ratings out of
Movie: ½

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 9/4/2019

Hollywood is known for falling in love with trends.  The thinking here is simple – If it made money once, it might make money again.  This can often result in a string of movies which contain similar themes, characters, or concepts.  While there can be some quality material in such a spate of releases, we can also see a slew of also-rans which reproduce the same old ideas and bring nothing new to the table.  Having said that, every now and then a run like this can produce some good stuff.  2018 saw the release of Bohemian Rhapsody, a music biopic which told a great story and went on to earn Oscar nods.  This year saw the debut of Rocketman, another profile of a flamboyant rocker.  Is this the start of a trend of great rock ‘n roll movies? 

Rocketman opens in the 1950s in the English suburbs, where we meet Reginald Dwight (Matthew Illesley), a young boy who lives with his vapid mother (Bryce Dallas Howard), his doting grandmother (Gemma Jones), and his cold, distant father (Steven Mackintosh).  Reggie begins piano lessons and finds a real penchant for music.  Against his mother’s wishes, the teenaged Reggie (Taron Egerton) begins to pursue a career playing blues and rock ‘n roll music.  Changing his name to Elton John, he approaches a music company in London, who have him work with a lyricist named Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell).  Elton and Bernie become fast friends and Elton finds true inspiration in Bernie’s words. The result is a group of songs which become instant hits and propel the duo on a tour of America and the world.  As Elton’s fame and fortune grow, he turns to drugs and alcohol to not only deal with the pressure, but to combat his inner demons.  He must find a way to overcome this struggle and get back to the music.


There’s a lot to unpack within the information provided in Rocketman.  The film examines a large chunk of John’s life, beginning with his childhood in the 1950s, going all the way to 1983.  As someone who grew up with John’s music, I felt that I knew a good deal about, despite the fact that I was never a huge fan.  Having said that, hearing the songs in the film, you realize just how many huge, memorable hits John had.  I was aware that Taupin was the lyricist, but I never knew the depths of their relationship until I saw the film.  John has long-since been open about his sexuality and his issues with drugs and alcohol, but Rocketman really lays bare how these struggles affected his life, pulling very few punches.  (The movie also does a nice job of presenting a semi-accurate look at residential addiction treatment.)  John is obviously a huge cultural figure and Rocketman truly reminds us as to why.


Then, we must look at Rocketman as a film.  Director Dexter Fletcher finished shooting Bohemian Rhapsody when Bryan Singer was taken off of the project and he doesn’t miss a beat stepping into another rock ‘n roll biopic.  While the Queen story was firmly rooted in reality, Rocketman plays more like a fantasy musical at times, with lavish production numbers in which John and other characters break into song and elaborate choreography suddenly occurs.  Some of these scenes are simply musical number, while others drive home the meaning of the song’s lyrics, but all of them contain a palpable amount of energy.  John’s persona has always been larger than life, so having the movie take on an over-the-top approach to the story and the music feels very authentic.  Along with this, we get fantastic acting, with Egerton leading the way.  He gives a fearless performance, nakedly showing the ups and downs of John’s life.  Bell is right there with him as Taupin, the partner who was always supportive, but didn’t want to be sucked into John’s drama.  Richard Madden is very hate-worthy as John’s manager, John Reid (a character who also appeared in Bohemian Rhapsody.)


Again, I’ve certainly appreciated some of John’s songs, but, as noted above, I was never a huge fan.  There was just something about his latter-day Liberace act which made him seen unapproachable.  Rocketman does an excellent job of looking beneath this façade to show just how talented John is and what drove him to seek stardom.  The acting is great, the music is great (and often presented in a very creative fashion), and the story does a fantastic job of telling the brutal truth, but still presenting a positive message.  If this is the beginning of a run of great rock ‘n roll biopics, I say keep them coming.


Rocketman’s subtitles informed me that I really don’t know the words to Elton John’s songs on 4K UHD courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment.  The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an HEVC 2160p transfer which runs at an average of 70 Mbps.  The image is impressively sharp and clear, showing no noticeable grain and no defects from the source materials.  The colors look fantastic and the image is never overly dark or bright.  The level of detail works quite well and the picture has notable depth throughout.  The Disc carries a Dolby Atmos audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 5.5 Mbps.  The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects.  As one would hope, the musical numbers sound great, as they provide deep bass and surround effects which allow us to pick out individual instruments.  The stereo effects do a great job of providing presence and informing us of sounds coming from off-screen.  Overall, this is a solid technical presentation.


The extra features for Rocketman can be found on the Blu-ray Disc included here. We begin with ten DELETED SCENES which run about 20 minutes.  There are some very interesting moments here and they are all worth watching.  It’s understandable that they were cut for time, but some would have added even more to an already great film.  The scenes are preceded by a 25-second introduction from Fletcher.  In addition to the DELETED SCENES, we also get five “Extended Musical Numbers” which run about 15 minutes and also have an introduction from Fletcher.  “It’s Going to Be a Wild Ride: Creative Vision” (7 minutes) is a brief, yet broad making-of featurette which focuses on how the project came together and what the goals for it were.  We here from all of the key players here, including John himself.  “Becoming Elton John: Taron’s Transformation” (7 minutes) allows Egerton a chance to talk about tackling the role, as Fletcher and John praise his performance.  “Larger Than Life: Production Design & Costuming” (9 minutes) has Production Designer Marcus Rowland and Costume Designer Julian Day discussing how they recreated and re-imagined the look and feel of John’s life.  “Full Tilt: Staging the Musical Numbers” (10 minutes) takes us on-set to see Choreographer Adam Murray and Fletcher working together to stage the numbers where the film truly takes on a fantasy musical feel.  “Music Reimagined: The Studio Sessions” (12 minutes) shows Egerton in the studio recording the songs for the film.  There are also options to jump straight to certain songs and have songs with “Sing-Along” lyrics.

Review Copyright 2019 by Mike Long