Judge Clark Douglas warns this one is more Mad Hatter than Mona Lisa.
"The greatest thing about rock and roll is that someone like me can be a star."—Elton John
If you're reading this review right now, two things are quite probable: first of all, you're sitting at the computer, and secondly, you're connected to the internet. I'm just going to assume that no one is printing out my reviews and making copies for all of their co-workers (not a bad idea, though…think about it). Anyway, since you're sitting at an internet-connected computer, let me suggest that you go to Wikipedia and search for "Elton John." Read the biography, make a note of the trivia, and even click a link or two if you like. Done? Good. You now have absolutely no need whatsoever to watch Elton John: Someone Like Me.
You see, that's all that Elton John: Someone Like Me is…a visual Wikipedia entry. The DVD packaging claims to that this is an "authoritative new documentary," but that's about as far from the truth as possible. Elton John: Someone Like Me offers up a few key elements, none of which are very interesting. First of all, we're given generic facts about Elton's life. His childhood years, his teenage years, his early adult years, his drug troubles, his relationship troubles, and his personal and artistic comeback are discussed in the most generic manner possible. A small handful of people who are friends of friends of friends of Elton offer banal comments…"Yes, he was talented as a child. He was very gifted when it came to music." How nice to know.
We're also given a lot of rather clinical information about Elton's career, most of which is provided by simplistic graphics and a rather annoying female narrator. "Elton's popular song 'Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me' reached number sixteen on the pop charts in the U.K., and went all the way up to number two on the charts in the U.S. Meanwhile, the album went all the way up to number one on both charts." You know, that sort of stuff. We see stat after stat after stat for pretty much every Elton John album ever released.
Finally, we're presented with some commentary and thoughts from a few biographers and music critics. While some of their opinions strike me as terribly uninformed and quite preposterous (this one annoying little fellow insists that the timelessly rich "Tumbleweed Connection" is a lame album that has aged very poorly), this is easily the most interesting portion of the documentary because we're actually getting some thoughts that wouldn't appear on a biography page or in CD liner notes. Sadly, such comments are pretty much limited to less than ten minutes of the running time, as banal stats pad most of the documentary. Elton himself pops up from time to time, but only in old archival footage.
Part of what makes this documentary so terribly frustrating is the fact that Elton John's life and career are chock full of rich, ripe, juicy drama that could make for a fascinating documentary. You wouldn't guess it from watching Elton John: Someone Like Me, which glosses over many of the more turbulent portions of Elton's career. When discussing the 1980's, an extremely troubling time for Elton as an artist and as a human being, the documentary focuses on Elton's modest chart successes and his insecurities about losing his hair. Are you kidding me? Do you really think that baldness was Elton John's biggest difficulty in the 1980's? What inspired the man to write some of the dreck appeared on albums like "Leather Jackets"? Nobody offers any thoughts. How about the drug problems? Only generic statements like "he had trouble with drugs." Well, duh.
Perhaps the most crucial problem with the documentary is that there is not a single note of Elton John music to be found anywhere on the DVD. If someone is waxing on about what a great song "Rocket Man" is, don't you think it would be nice to hear a little bit of the song playing in the background? Instead, we get really lousy background music. I work at a radio station, and at the station, we keep a large library of music that we use for commercials. The music library has rather limp imitations of all kinds of popular songs, artists, and genres, and it sounds like that's what they used here. Someone must have said, "pull a few of those Elton John-esque cues out of the library and repeat them endlessly in the background."
The DVD packaging claims that the feature is 98 minutes long, but that isn't the case. It's only 73 minutes long, they must have added in the twenty-five minutes of assorted bonus features. Speaking of those, the features are quite possibly more interesting than the main feature, even though they're pretty dull. "The Goon Show Scripts" briefly show Elton purchasing scripts for The Goon Show, while "Elton on the Elton John AIDS Foundation" has a brief blurb from the Rocket Man on his noble charity work. "Carnaby Street Newsreel" shows Long John Baldry (lead singer for Bluesology, Elton's first band) performing at an event in the 60's. The "Discography" is a slide show of all of Elton's albums, with that crummy music as background accompaniment. Finally, the "Extended Interviews" offer a few more minutes of bizarrely terrible critical opinions from the biographers and critics. Picture quality on a lot of the source material and old footage is pretty rough, but the main feature looks perfectly fine for a talking heads piece. Audio is perfectly adequate, but who really cares about such things on a DVD like this?
Since I can't recommend Elton John: Someone Like Me to you Elton John fans out there, let me offer you an alternative. Pay me $20, and I'll sit with you for 75 minutes and give you my opinions on Elton John music. It may not be terribly informative or authoritative, but I guarantee you that you'll learn a lot more from it than you will from this pointless documentary. Heck, I'll even grab a few of my Elton John albums and play them in the background, just to guarantee that it will be better than this. Or better yet, just go out to the store and pick up an Elton John album (I personally recommend the brilliant "Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy"). Then you'll realize that one of the greatest things about rock and roll is that someone like Elton John is a part of it.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Eagle Rock Entertainment
• Extended Interviews
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