Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.
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.