I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.
Preston Barta // Features Editor
Hitting the ultra high definition format this week is the Elton John musical biopic ROCKETMAN.
Rated R, 121 minutes.
Director: Dexter Fletcher
Cast: Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Richard Madden, Bryce Dallas Howard, Gemma Jones, Steven Mackintosh, Tom Bennett, Matthew Illesley, Kit Connor and Tate Donovan
Available today on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD.
Movie Grade: B-
Musical biopics have become one-note. Many films don’t bother to break the rote formula. This doesn’t necessarily mean they’re bad; the Queen biopic BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY showed the power of the tried-and-true. That Oscar-winning film followed the traditional A-to-B plot structure but found a rhythm in its energy, portrayal of family beyond blood, and expression of love.
But the Elton John biopic ROCKETMAN, starring a rip-roaring Taron Egerton, isn’t like BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY.
Well, for the most part.
It may have common narrative threads — a dirtbag band manager, unsupportive parents, sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll — but the lens through which filmmaker Dexter Fletcher presents the story is unlike anything you’ve seen before. Fletcher, who directed Egerton in the 2015 biopic EDDIE THE EAGLE (and who also had a hand in the completion of BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY), aims to shake things up by crossing over into the fantasy genre.
ROCKETMAN is a movie about music that also happens to be a full-on musical, and that may surprise you. It uses renditions of Elton John’s songs throughout to illustrate the dark and happy times in his rise to fame. While that’s a refreshing change of pace for biopics, the film burns its potential to be a blast with its scattershot focus.
Once Egerton is introduced as the older Reggie, ROCKETMAN begins to take flight. Egerton brings a contagious exuberance. The way he moves about the screen, dons Elton John’s iconic getups, speaks and even sings (yes, impressively, Egerton does all his own singing) is about as close as one can get to jumping back in the past to witness the real thing. If lip-syncing Rami Malek earned an Oscar for playing Queen frontman Freddie Mercury in BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY, I wouldn’t put it past Egerton to reach the same level of success for his performance. He certainly deserves praise and is the single best ingredient in this film’s offerings.
Throughout ROCKETMAN there are many compelling facts about Elton John’s life that are sketched out, such as his toxic affair with manager John Reid (an icy Richard Madden). Sadly, many of those story elements are lightly touched upon and aren’t deeply explored — the prime one being the relationship between Elton and his long-term lyricist Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell).
The two artists share the film’s most endearing scene, in which Elton puts music to Bernie’s lyrics for the 1970 hit song “Your Song.” It’s one of the quieter and more inspired sections of the film that speaks volumes about their companionship, especially in the build-up to that scene when the two run around town and share verses with each other.
Unfortunately, Bernie is sidelined to make room for all the other complexities in Elton’s life. It’s a shame because their genuine affection for one another and respect for each other’s role in making some of the most beloved songs of all time would have made a great story angle. Every circumstance could have been filtered through their connection. Instead, we get a sampling of all the notable beats in Elton John’s life without them snowballing into one exhilarating story. It’s a film that is simply trying to accomplish too much, and it hinders the experience.
ROCKETMAN is about the most ambitious and lavish musical biopic you’ll find. It’s clear Fletcher and Egerton worked hard to try to eliminate any comparisons to BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY and other biopics about legendary artists, and good on them for going the distance. While their reach far exceeds their grasp, for a Saturday night kind of movie, it’s all right.
4K Picture Grade: B+
Elton John’s story is loaded with all kinds of colors, and they all pop in this pixel boost. The aforementioned opening scene, especially, when Elton storms through a doorway wearing a bedazzled Lucifer costume as a beaming light shines through. From there, the colors only get more lively.
In 4K, occasionally some of the subjects look too soft and you can spot a few poorly rendered warped effects (when the camera moves around too fast, and the editor tries to smooth out the movement); however, ROCKETMAN still manages to shine from a visual perspective.
Extras Grade: A-
The 4K Ultra HD release from Paramount Home Media Distributions includes a sparkly slipcover and a special booklet that features a message from Elton John (“Think You Know Me? Think Again”) to fans of this film. Among the 75 minutes of special features on the Blu-ray disc, the deleted scenes and a featurette on the creativity on display in the film pumped up the volume on this release.
The 10 deleted scenes show more touching scenes of Elton John taking news from people and having genuine interactions, the chief one involving more development for Elton and Bernie’s relationship. The noted featurette (“It’s Going to Be a Wild Ride: Creative Vision”) ropes in all the filmmakers and cast members to speak on how important it was for them to tell a fantasy story that’s based on fact.
Other extras contain extended musical sequences, a sing-along with select songs, and a handful of featurettes that detail Egerton’s transformation, production design and costuming, and studio sessions with Elton John and Egerton.