2018 was a banner year for musical biopics: Bohemian Rhapsody, and A Star is Born were heavy-hitters in the recent awards season, having undoubtedly shifted the lives of musicians and the circumstances of their music a little further into the public consciousness. 2019 appears to be little different, with the Sia-backed Vox Lux on the way, and now, the semi-eponymous title Rocketman, promising a deep dive into the life and times of Elton John.

It only takes a cursory glance at the comments in the above embedded YouTube video to confirm that people are making the obvious comparison between Elton and Freddie Mercury—flamboyant rock stars with a penchant for glamour and difficult interpersonal relationships behind the scenes. In this trailer, even the adoption of a stage name and a broader discussion of identity is briefly explored, perhaps a promise of much more and similar explorations the film itself.

In terms of form, the first few seconds at the start of the trailer are immediately different and interesting. Usually comprised of a micro-teaser, this one literally counts down to the trailer proper in large, glittering numbers, synchronized to that classic, stomping piano riff from the song “Bennie and the Jets”. 

In the first few moments of the trailer we are immediately invited to take part in Elton’s creative process (with Taron Egerton taking the lead role), bearing witness to the composition of “Your Song” (released on his second album, in 1970). This diegetic music carries over to a few scenes before shifting at 0:40 back to “Bennie and the Jets”, alongside the (offscreen) applause of a rapturous audience, teasing the stage show visuals to come. 

The piano chords from “Bennie” are cut and spliced between the dialogue, left to hang reverberantly, doing do again from 0:50 to 0:53. It’s a clever bit of editing that handily frames the dialogue, and doesn’t sound too jarring because of the phrase structure of “Bennie”.

At 0:58 “Bennie” plays again in earnest, and for a split second we see Elton recording it in the studio, blurring the lines as to whether we hear the recording as within the world of the film, or as the soundtrack—effectively encouraging us to hear all of the music as connected to the live moment they were committed to tape, much the same as we saw “Bohemian Rhapsody” being recorded in the studio in the trailer for that film. 

At 1:18 we’ve reached the midpoint, and as if on cue, we get the Paramount Pictures title card and probably the most iconic song of Elton’s career, “Tiny Dancer” (1972). A montage juxtaposing Elton’s at-times difficult personal life and the glamour and prestige of his concerts follows, effectively setting up the intriguing premise of the film as an exploration of the humanity of a star. The editing is generally much smoother in this half, with the song playing more or less uninterrupted; it promises a relative easygoingness and affability that’s unafraid of verging a bit into comedy, recognizing, as in the ending scene, the sense of verve and fun embedded in Elton’s persona.

Rocketman hits theatres May 31st.

– Curtis Perry