As the band received its final applause at the end of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ standing in front of the 72,000 people who attended Live Aid on Saturday, July 13, 1985, at Wembley Stadium in London, England, I was left with a sense of familiarity.
On one hand, the images of Freddie Mercury, Brian May, John Deacon, and Roger Tayler waving and bowing to the historic crowd has since been burned into my memory. We’ve all seen it after countless viewings of recorded airings of the entire set Queen played at Live Aid that day.
On the other hand, leaving the theater, I was left feeling like I had just witnessed a watered down version of what I had come to love about the famous band.
Crazy little thing called ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’
‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ stars Remi Malek as the flamboyant and electric Freddie Mercury (originally born as Farrokh Bulsara), and follows his rise from baggage handler at London’s Heathrow Airport to global superstar.
Malek portrays the British singer incredibly well, even donning a fake set of teeth that matched that of Mercury’s. To further prepare for the on-stage singing performances, Malek has said that he practiced singing with them every night before the movie was even greenlit.
The different stages of Mercury portrayed in ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ are a testament to Malek. The actor is able to maneuver in-and-out of the phases of the rock star’s life — portraying him as a young, hungry-for-fame, budding musician, followed by a growing vocalist coming into his own and then lastly, to the AIDS-ridden powerhouse who has come to finally feel comfortable in his own skin.
The “Mr.Robot” star is able to really shine in the final act of the film where Freddie begins to spiral down after pushing away his bandmates, opting to go solo and endure a life of partying, drugs, and “hundreds” of sexual encounters, as asserted by his former manager-turned-villain, Paul Prenter (Allen Leech).
But as with portraying any musical legend, the on-screen persona rarely is able to capture the magic of their counterparts — which says more about the legacy that Freddie Mercury was able to leave behind and less of Malek’s performance.
It should be noted that a majority of singing heard throughout most of the film is that of Queen Extravaganza front-man, Marc Martel, who recorded the vocals prior to Malek’s casting, with a “blend” of Malek’s voice. It should also be noted that some details of Queen’s timeline have been altered in the film version – such as the timing of Prenter’s betrayal and firing.
The heart and soul of Queen
As soon as the official trailer for ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ was released, showing a behind-the-scenes creation of the self-titled song in the studio, I immediately knew that Casting Director, Susie Figgis, had found the perfect cast to portray the remaining members of Queen.
Whether it’s the off-beat humor of Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy), the combative authority of Brian May (Gwilym Lee), or the quiet and often picked-on John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello — most known for his role as Tim in Jurassic Park), the entire band seems to move with the same beat and truly appears to be a family of misfits.
The entire group’s on-stage performances are incredibly reminiscent of what you will remember from a traditional Queen performance, ranging from May’s awkwardness to Mercury’s flamboyant nature and the entire ensemble performing together. These scenes are what truly makes the movie.
Unfortunately, the impressive performances by the main cast, including Mike Myers as record label snob Ray Foster, aren’t enough to recreate the magic that everyone has come to adore from the British rock band throughout the decades.
The film walks a tightrope of preserving Mercury’s legacy and delving into the events that would ultimately lead to his death in Nov. 1991, falling short of truly contributing to the greatness of Queen.
The film rarely introduces a broader, more in-depth narrative of the band, that you wouldn’t find in “Inside The Rhapsody” or “Days of Our Lives,” which causes the film to feel as if it’s piggybacking off the band’s success.
The official soundtrack features 22 tracks, five of which have been taken from the Live Aid performance, as well as new takes on many of the Queen Classics. By far, the soundtrack is the greatest aspect of the film.
As the story unfolds and the movie progresses, you subtly realize you’re about to witness the events that led to the creation of “We Will Rock You” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” and that, alone, is enough to see the movie.
However, the pacing feels incredibly off throughout the movie, whether it’s the inclusion of Farrokh Bulsara to Smile, the predecessor to Queen, or even Mercury introducing his parents to his boyfriend, Jim Hutton (Aaron McCusker), immediately before playing Live Aid, the film just never seems to find the pocket that shifted the history of music.
The “behind-the-scenes” moments that actually refine the experience are very few and far between, leading to incredibly dull moments and then spiking into musical fits of joy and nostalgia.
I’ve since realized that maybe the movie wasn’t meant for a typical, die-hard fan of Queen. It just might be for a new generation that has never listened to the band or even an older generation that has never explored their enormous discography.
And if that alone introduces others to the complex and historic rise of one of the greatest British rock bands of all time, then the movie just may be a success after all.
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