by Mitchell Brown, Reporter
Rock biopic movies are much like comic book movies. There will always be a hardcore fan contingent who will look at said films with hyper-critical eyes, addressing any discrepancies or adjustments in the film when compared with the original source material.
I can think of a personal example for me, “The Watchmen” movie and Ozymandias. The significance of this character was reduced to the periphery in the movie, while he was a crucial story element in the comic books. Anytime the focus of a movie includes a timeline that stretches over years, events will have to be condensed to fit the movie’s running time. With “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the story is set over a span of 15 years.
At the start of the movie, the audience is drawn in via point of view shots of Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury energetically moving from backstage, ready to make an entrance at Live Aid, the 1985 charity concert. The roar of the crowd captured on screen is larger than life
The film then flashes back to circa 1970, and we see a young Freddie Mercury working a menial job while looking somewhat dejected. You can just tell that he’s not meant for such a doldrum, humdrum, ordinary existence.
Then it cuts to young Freddie’s home life, family tensions, rooted in old world ethnic identity versus the cultural backdrop of late ’60s/early ’70s swinging London. We see Freddie in a pub, checking out a band called Smile, which contains future Queen members Brian May, played by Gwilym Lee, and Roger Taylor, played by Ben Hardy.
There’s not much build up or characterization concerning Queen’s formation, probably condensed to move the plot along. Once the members have connected, many of the usual band movie elements are present – practice, recording, creative push and pull between members, the big break, getting signed, the first major tour.
The minor conflicts, the push and pull disagreement between both those within the band and those outside of the band (management, loved ones, etc.) is a prevalent, driving element of the film.
The struggle between art and commerce is perfectly displayed in a scene in which the members of Queen are trying to convince a record label executive the song “Bohemian Rhapsody” should be the first single off the album “A Night at the Opera.” The pushback from the record label was that the song defied any previous formula. A record exec states he likes formulas because they sell, but Queen could not be defined by a single formula. The shape-shifting of the sounds of their songs was a testament to that.
This scene ends with no one in Queen’s camp backing down and a projectile being hurled through an office window at EMI Records, after the band had made their exit.
During this point in the movie, the band is portrayed as a seemingly unstoppable force, gaining freight train-like momentum. This is exemplified by a beautifully-shot montage of Queen on their first American tour, set to the tune of “Fat Bottomed Girls.”
With this, something as typical as a montage, which is a rock movie cliche’, really sparkles and shines – due to Malek’s electrifying and sensational portrayal of Freddie Mercury. The greatest strength of the movie is how he shines as Mercury during the performance segments – perfectly, down to a T, with spot on accuracy, he captures the mannerisms, vocal tones and stage presence.
Those who know the history of rock & roll will know the 1970s was an era of excess, the coming of arena rock, when theatrics and rock music combined, giving way to shows that amounted to spectacular spectacles such as Elton John, Alice Cooper, and David Bowie.
And Queen was another personification of the dramatic, larger than life, rock & roll spectacle.
Freddie Mercury was not just a talented singer and songwriter but a showman in the truest sense of the word, putting every ounce of his heart and soul into every performance. That essence is captured on the screen in such a magical way.
But the movie is not all song and dance – the true life story of Freddie Mercury ended on a tragic note, as he died of AIDS in 1991, and in “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a shift occurs once he’s diagnosed with the deadly disease.
Malek’s performance then goes from satisfactory to extraordinary. His character becomes driven, knowing his time is limited and will run out sooner than later. Things are on the rocks between Mercury and the rest of the band, and he breaks ties with a manipulative saboteur of a partner named Paul.
He pulls things back together with the rest of Queen, and they are signed on to perform at Live Aid, at the time one of the largest assembled concert crowds ever. These concert performance scenes contained some of the most captivating visuals of the whole movie, moving between the band and shots of the crowd. This was the grand finale of the movie, ending on such a triumphant note, which I didn’t expect.
I assumed it would end with an emaciated Freddie battling a disease and fading away. Instead it ends on a high point, using the closing credits to epilogue the real life story, yet still feeling upbeat and triumphant.
After seeing “Bohemian Rhapsody,” I started to reflect on what I had just viewed.
I’ve never been a huge Queen fan, as fan is short for fanatic. I don’t own any of their albums, I know the hits and will turn them up when they come on the car radio. With all of that taken into account, I walked into the movie skeptical. Most music related biopics range from mediocre to terrible, i.e. “What We Do Is Secret” (the Germs/Darby Crash biopic).
Of course, the diehard fans will more heavily scrutinize “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Maybe because I’m not a diehard fan, I was able to more so enjoy the movie for what was presented, instead of focusing on timeline inaccuracies, such as the part in which “We Will Rock You” is being conceived in 1980, but the song was recorded and released before then.
Such an inaccuracy might stand as a minor distraction, but it’s not enough to detract from the overall spirit of the movie, which stands as a majestic tribute to the life and music of Freddie Mercury and Queen.