Rocketman and Godzilla: flamboyant and fun fantasies in 4K
By Jim Bray
A couple of guilty pleasures premiere on 4K disc this week, and both are well worth your home theatre time if you're into the wildly different types of movie they represent.
More than a mere biopic, "The Elton John Story" is kind of a cross between a conventional biopic and something that perhaps could have been crafted by someone like the late Ken Russell. And Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a pretty cool hat tip to the old Japanese monster movies of decades past. Add to the mix Avengers Endgame, and you have a lot of compelling content for a long weekend!
Rocketman is more than just the story of the early years of Reggie "Elton" Dwight and his musical career. It's also a reasonably fully blown, old fashioned Hollywood musical that's teeming with production numbers and wild visuals. And of course, a shout out for homosexuality, if not exactly for the agenda of the "gaystapo" that we see being rammed down our throats (no pun intended) these days.
The overt homosexuality was really my only issue with Rocketman. Well, other than the original song's title – from which the movie was made – being Rocket Man instead of Rocketman.
The moviemakers didn't need to lay on the homosexuality so thickly. Everyone knows Sir Elton's persuasion just as everyone knew Freddie Mercury's – yet Bohemian Rhapsody managed to acknowledge Mercury's tendencies without beating us over the head with them. Rocketman doesn't, and the "poufter" stuff (hey, Elton's character uses that word!) takes away from what would have been an even better film than it is already. Or maybe it would have made room for another song.
Oh, how intolerant of me! Are you guys (sorry for the assumption!) now going to try ruining my career because I don't knuckle under to your bully tactics? Go ahead. I could use the publicity.
After all, Rocketman isn't just about Reggie/Elton and his personal life, it's about his career – and I argue that more people are interested in learning how Reg and Toots became Elton John and Bernie Taupin than where either one of them stuck his various appendages.
And, of course, it's about the music. Oh, the music!
I've been an Elton John fan since Rocket Man (and I think that has been a long, long time!) thrust his music into this sci-fi nerd/rock fan's consciousness. He and his lyricist Bernie Taupin have done some really great stuff over the years (and some "meh" stuff, too, just like everyone else) and their best is timeless. Taupin's words coupled with John's music can be glorious and soaring and uplifting, fun and catchy, or merely good rockers.
I expected a more conventional biopic without the production numbers, but as a long-time fan of musicals – Broadway and Hollywood – it's hard to hate a film that appears to be trying to channel that genre as it goes beyond the typical biopic's boundaries.
And it succeeds, mostly. Oh, it's a bit weird to see little Reggie singing John/Taupin songs that wouldn't be written for many years yet (the songs jump around their real-life timeline), and it's just as weird to see what were mere extras suddenly become a chorus of singers/dancers. But it's a musical, and musicals don't necessarily have to make sense. I mean, how many people thought Little Shop of Horrors was a documentary?
The movie's timeline also plays with quantum physics, in that it opens with Elton John, in a kind of Satanic-homage costume, bursting into and taking over a support group at a rehab centre. This becomes the movie's centre, to which it returns repeatedly as John pours out his heart to the others there. This is the least interesting part of the movie, but the way it's structured it's essential.
Fortunately, the segments are fairly short and we soon get back to the "biopic" action.
If you're expecting the original recordings and arrangements, however, you may be disappointed. I thought I would be when I first heard the music that plays over the disc menu – but by the time the movie itself was playing I was fine with it.
It doesn't hurt that Taron Egerton is great as Elton John, and he has a great singing voice as well. I'd only seen him before in Kingsmen: The Secret Service, and he was fine there – but that was a very different movie!
And while it's definitely weird hearing the songs arranged the way they are here, it fits in well with the film's overall mien. And it works – kind of how Ken Russell's Tommy used The Who's music but re-done for his version.
It also made me dig out my old Elton John discs to make sure I had all the great songs of his that I wanted (fortunately, I still did!).
Directed by Dexter Fletcher, who apparently finished Bohemian Rhapsody when accused pedophile Bryan Singer was fired, the movie looks and sounds great, especially in its 4K incarnation. Paramount's two disc (4K and Blu-ray, the latter of which houses the extras) set also includes a digital download code.
The audio (Dolby Atmos, backward compatible to Dolby TrueHD) does a nice job of capturing the music (which in my opinion is the most important audio aspect of this musical), while the 4K video, with HDR offers appropriate fidelity to this colourful and flamboyant production.
You get some decent extras, too, including a short booklet in which Sir Elton (or is it Dame Elton?) flogs his upcoming autobiography. More important, you also get a singalong, some extended musical sequences and deleted and/or extended other scenes. The box says it's over 75 minutes of extra stuff and though I couldn't be bothered timing it that seems like a fair figure. I enjoyed the singalong parts the most, but there's plenty of interesting stuff on hand.
In all, it's a terrific package for a fascinating, though far from perfect, motion picture.
Godzilla, King of the Monsters, meanwhile, is if nothing else a fun guilty pleasure for folks who grew up on monster movies and/or those who wish they'd grown up with them.
I grew up with them and, even more so, with the monster movies of Ray Harryhausen, so am a sucker for such flicks. And what better way to watch multiple massive monsters making mayhem than in 4K with HDR?
Apparently, this is a sequel to the 2014 version of Godzilla, which I never saw, but it builds off that movie and presents us with an Earth in which the powers that be have set up special monster units to monitor and combat the king-sized critters.
This time around Godzilla is potentially a good guy and the human powers that be want to recruit his help to defeat Monster Zero and his big little friends, once a group of zealots who sound a lot like the climate change "warm-mongers" we hear from ad nauseam start waking them up and releasing them on an unsuspecting populace.
These supposedly well-meaning folks' goal is to reshape the world in their image (fewer people, more monsters), so the good guys try desperately to bring Godzilla (who they supposedly manage to kill near the movie's beginning) back to life so he can fight their battles for them. It's like bringing in Goliath to battle another Goliath.
Of course, we get to see a world laid waste by these gigantic critters as they fight each other.
Not much point in outlining the plot, which seems to be only an excuse for the special effects, further. And while I'd usually be the first one to complain about special effects overshadowing story, I'm familiar enough with this genre to know that the special effects are why we're there in the first place.
It certainly was the case with me! I remember enjoying flicks like Destroy All Monsters, an old Toho studios flick in which the entire Japanese giant critter collection fought it out, with Godzilla and (I think) King Kong slugging it out with fancy boxing footwork thrown in just to make it even more silly than it was already. And Godzilla's son could only blow radioactive smoke rings rather than big energy beams like his daddy can. Ah, those were the days!
So, yeah, I was there for the mayhem. And there's plenty.
We also get to see some neat military tech, primarily a flying base and some V-22 Ospreys that seem to be doing things the real planes probably can't (not that I'm a military aviation expert), and there's also some neat, secret military base stuff that's the stuff of "nerdvana". And there's some other fantasy ordnance inspired somewhat by today's tech. It's very cool.
The actors say their lines as if they believe them, which of course is their job, but I wonder how many rolled their eyes before and after the cameras ran – because it's all pretty silly and illogical. On the other hand, the eco-whackos behind the plot to release the Titans don't sound all that different from the ones I see and hear in the media all the time – you know, the ones who were telling us back in the 1970's and 1980's that we'd all be dead due to rising oceans and temperatures by Y2K.
It's popcorn movie stuff, of course, and as such it's a fun ride in the home theatre. I still think Godzilla 2000 was a better and even more fun movie, and a better traditional Godzilla movie – but Hollowwood doesn't generally consult me. Besides, they now have a big CGI budget that the earlier and more traditional movies didn't, and I guess that beats hiring writers.
The main problem is that much – if not most – of the mayhem happens at night or in dark locations, so all that CGI work is very dark and that makes it harder to revel in the rampaging. Fortunately, it's also a great excuse for High Dynamic Range (HDR), which in this case comes courtesy of Dolby Vision, and it does let your 4K HDR TV help you see the action better. And other than the tendency toward darkness, the picture is great!
The Dolby Atmos/TrueHD audio track, as with several other Warner Brothers 4K discs, is very bassy and I had to turn down my subwoofer a couple of notches or my wife would have beaten me for rattling all the family pictures she put on the home theatre's wall (I know they shouldn't be there, for exactly that reason, but I don't live in a vacuum).
There's an entire giant menagerie of extras, too, probably more than the film warrants (and which cover topics beyond the scope of this particular movie, including the gestation of each Titan, behind the scenes stuff, etc.)
Disney finally got around the sending the Blu-ray of Avengers Endgame, though the 4K disc version apparently eluded them despite other reviewers having received copies (or who simply made up their reviews…). It's a fine wrap-up to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, tying up an abundance of loose ends that all came to an apparent head in last year's Avengers Infinity War.
So we have the remnants of humanity (or whatever race they may be on different planets) trying to pick up the pieces of their lives and their civilizations after Thanos snapped his fingers and half of all living things vanished into wisps of dust. This includes the surviving Avengers who, thanks to the genius of Tony Stark and a happily coincidental time travel experience by Scott "Antman" Lang, come up with a plan to go back in time and scoop up the Infinity stones before big, bad Thanos has a chance to find them and use them.
It's kind of "Back to the Future" meets "The Terminator ", but it's very well thought out and written, and it's an epic adventure that really should be experienced on the biggest screen you can find.
Audio and video are what we've come to expect from Disney, which means it's nothing short of superb, though I was disappointed in the extras. There's an entire second Blu-ray with the supplements but they aren't worth a whole disc – and that surprised me because Disney usually piles on the extras.
Still, it's the film that's important and if you like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you'll want to see how its timeline to date wraps itself up, while preparing to pass the torch to what appears to be a new, politically correct (white male characters handing off their "superness" to non-white and/or non-male followers).
This PC torch passing makes me wonder if Disney is about to destroy the Marvel universe the same way it has the Star Wars universe; time will tell. What happened to just making great movies without beating the audience over the head with a political agenda?
Meanwhile, Avengers Endgame is a great movie, a ripping yarn and a suitable signoff for what may turn out to be Marvel movies' golden age.
Copyright 2019 Jim Bray
Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.