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Freddie's Ready

New Queen biopic is majestic in 4DX

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Bohemian Rhapsody premiered nationwide last week. The Queen biopic, one of the most-anticipated projects in film’s recent history, was definitely worth the wait. Early reviews were almost all positive, the film headed for a $50 million-plus opening weekend.

It was Bryan Singer who got it all rolling. Best known for his work on the X-Men franchise, here the director took on the legacy of another larger-than-life superhero: Queen frontman Freddie Mercury. Singer was fired just weeks into principal shooting, replaced by Dexter Fletcher, but the final product betrays none of this internal strife.

Bohemian Rhapsody is at theaters across Northeast Florida now. The first screening was last Thursday, Nov. 1, at Regal Cinema, across Philips Highway from Folio Weekly’s former stomping grounds, just up the street from the Avenues Mall. It’s Northeast Florida’s very first look at 4DX, an immersive technology developed by South Korean CJ Corporation. The goal is to enhance the movie-going experience with various sensory effects.

At least 36 theater chains in 52 nations now have 4DX technology, including AEG/Regal. Folio Weekly Senior Copy Editor Marlene Dryden and I were on hand for the local media preview, a matinee ably catered by Talbot’s with pasta salad, finger sandwiches and, of course, hot buttered popcorn. As we settled into stadium-style seats, step one was to disable the water effects, done on a seat-by-seat basis. Other effects are strobes, mist, fog machines and flexible seats that shook and vibrated, in response to the on-screen action. A programming “track” is made for every 4DX film, for a customized experience each time.

Drama/thriller series Mr. Robot breakout star Rami Malek obliterates any doubts about his skills—out the window in the first 10 minutes. By the end, boundaries between Malek and Mercury were dissolved in a way rarely experienced in this age of obvious apery. That early Oscar buzz is well-deserved.

Lucy Boynton plays Freddie’s longtime gal-pal Mary Austin, his lover before the band took off and Mercury embraced his sexuality. His status as an all-time LGBTQ icon seemed downplayed in trailers. Those concerns were unfounded, as the movie goes all-in with the sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll.

Aidan Gillen (TV’s Littlefinger) plays band manager John Reid. Casting the musicians—Brian May (Gwilym Lee), John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello) and Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy)—is spot-on.

What may be the most ingenious casting, though, is Mike Myers, unrecognizable as EMI Records honcho Ray Foster, a fictional everyman label exec, balking at the nearly seven minute length of Queen’s magnum opus “Bohemian Rhapsody.” The irony? The song’s resurgence among a whole new generation of rock fans was largely due to its exposure on Myers’ 1992 SNL spin-off Wayne’s World.

The film opens from Freddie’s perspective, as he readies for Queen’s legendary 1985 Live Aid set. Then it’s back to 1970, as young Farrokh Bulsara joins his favorite local college band Smile. Their meteoric rise jettisons them among the world’s top rock bands within four years. Then the usual rock-star detours popped up: ego, creative clashes, unsavory hangers-on, orgies and, of course, cocaine. The band split for a few years as Mercury made a couple of lackluster solo albums. They reunited just in time for Live Aid.

The film ends with a note-for-note remake of the Live Aid set, and the producers earn their fees. This version of the iconic performance may be (possibly) even better than the original. You can see an occasional tear welling up the eyes of the audience.

All in all, Bohemian Rhapsody goes on anyone’s short-list of most effective biopics in recent years. It’s an ideal intro to one of the greatest rock bands of all time, and for those of us who grew up on his work, seeing Freddie Mercury’s life unfold on-screen can be almost unbearably touching.

It’s hard to find fault in the film, or in the 4DX screening. Yes, the tech’s hokey sometimes. The seats’ movements don’t always sync with on-screen action. The 4DX truly shines in the musical segments, when thumping seat-bottoms reinforce the bass notes—especially on “Another One Bites the Dust” and “We Will Rock You,” which really should have been the film’s title.

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