Looking at Queen now, a couple of aged rockers trying desperately to recapture their glory days with abysmal jukebox musicals, engaging in an endless parade of shows with guest singers, it's difficult to remember why they were such a phenomenon in rock music. It's hard to imagine that this is the same group who sold over 300 million albums worldwide, and scored eighteen number one hit albums and singles. And that's because the group that now calls itself Queen is anything but. And watching 'Hungarian Rhapsody: Queen Live in Budapest '86', it's easy to see what's missing: Freddie Mercury.
Yes, it's true that all four members of Queen made equal contributions to the band's sound and success. Brian May's custom-built guitars made Queen's music unmistakable, while the rhythm section of John Deacon and Roger Taylor grounded the songs. And many of the band's biggest hits were written by those three. Deacon is responsible for "Another One Bites The Dust," while May can lay claim to "We Will Rock You" (among many others). But without Freddie Mercury, none of that would have mattered. Mercury undeniably had one of the greatest voices in all of rock history, and many would argue that his was the greatest. Not only that, but he had an incomparable stage presence, and a theatricality only matched by a select few.
All of which is on display in 'Hungarian Rhapsody'. Documenting the band on the same tour for 'A Kind of Magic' that produced the 'Queen at Wembley' concert releases, 'Hungarian Rhapsody' captured Queen at the height of their powers, and on their last tour with Mercury. Fresh off their historic performance at Live Aid, the band isn't just electric; they're overwhelming. May looks like he was born to play his guitar, pounding out the opening riff to "One Vision," while Taylor pounds away on the drum skins and Deacon looked slightly bemused by the whole thing. The music thunders through the arena, and finally—finally!—Freddie Mercury opens his mouth, "One man, one goal, ha! One mission!" Mercury might as well be singing about himself, stalking the stage like a tiger, pumping up the crowd and blowing them away at the same time.
The band run through songs from their entire career, from obvious hits like "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" to deep cuts like "In The Lap of the Gods…Revisited" and "Love of My Life". Much of the show feels like a revue, with the band cutting songs short, medley-style, and jumping around from time period to time period, even taking time to indulge in a cover of "Tutti Frutti" that might have been best left on the cutting room floor. The band's clothes look ridiculous, the height of 80's fashion foolishness, but the performances have lost none of their power.
The film does take breaks every so often, showing us archival footage of the band's time in Budapest (and possibly other stops on their world 1986 world tour). These interludes can offer some interesting looks into the band members in their off time, but in general they break up the rhythm of the concert, distracting from a show that is too good to cut away from for just anything. Seeing Roger Taylor race go-carts may give some insight into his personal hobbies, but offers nothing of interest to the audience. On the other hand, footage of Freddie Mercury testing the empty venue for acoustics, only to be answered by the not-yet present audience, and then cutting into the same routine during the show proper is mesmerizing. If the rest of the cutaways were that artfully crafted, they would have enhanced the proceedings. But watching Brian May look bored at a social event does nothing to help the film.
Luckily, most of the documentary is of the concert itself, and "Tutti Frutti" aside, the band is fantastic. Mercury moves like a man possessed, wrapping the audience around his finger. His voice, already legendary, continues to impress, filling up the vast space with ease. You can't help but get swept up with the energy of the audience, who are clearly thrilled by what they're seeing and hearing. In a touching moment, Mercury leads the crowd in a sing-along of a traditional Jewish-Hungarian folk song, "Tavaszi Szel Vizet Araszt". The band, who received no money for this show, did it for the love of their fans, and the sing-along proves that the love was mutual.
Watching this concert, it's tough to imagine what Queen would degenerate into after Freddie Mercury's death. Unfortunately, that's the Queen we have now. But here, with this film, we can get a fleeting glimpse of what it must have been like to see the band at the height of their power, when all of the pieces for worldwide success were firmly in place.
Eagle Vision presents 'Hungarian Rhapsody: Queen Live In Budapest '86' in a 1.78:1, AVC-encoded 1080p transfer. The source for this transfer was an interpositive, not the original negatives. The image has a very film-like look, aided by a thick layer of grain. The amount of grain was likely increased as a result of the source, but instead of detracting from the image, it gives it a classic feel that befits the material. Close-up shots reveal exceptional detail. You can see beads of sweat drip down Mercury's face, and practically drink the beers left pell-mell on the piano for the band's refreshment.
Blacks are deep. The audience seems to disappear into a sea of darkness, and when the spotlight is on the band, it's all you see. And the colors absolutely pop. While the clothing may be garish, it's certainly colorful, and every one of those hues is brilliantly rendered. In the daylight scenes, the overall image is more muted, which isn't surprising given that they aren't being lit by the harsh glare of stage lights.
Trouble pops up in the medium and long shots. Medium shots become indistinct, and long shots are nothing but dabs of blurry color with no definition at all. Additionally, it seems that some of the cameras were less optimally placed than others, because sometimes even closer shots look to be of lower quality. Overall however, this transfer impresses despite its few issues.
Eagle Vision offers two sound mixes, a 5.1 DTS-HD High Resolution 96/24 mix, and an uncompressed LPCM 2.0 mix. While not lossless, the DTS mix is very aggressive, at times seeming to stretch the dynamic range right to its limit. Despite this, I didn't notice any actual distortion. Balance on the DTS mix gives equal weight to all elements of the band, while the LPCM sounds more upfront. The rears carry the sound of the audience, who are almost always active. The soundstage is quite expansive, effectively conveying the sense of being in a massive stadium. The LFE could have been a little more powerful, because John Deacon is such a great bassist that he's worth highlighting, but other than that both mixes on 'Hungarian Rhapsody' will pull you in.
The deluxe edition of the Blu-ray comes with the full concert on two CDs, including a performance of the chart-topping hit "Another One Bites The Dust" that isn't available on the Blu-ray itself. Not a typical supplement, but a most welcome one, as you can now hear the concert when you're not near your Blu-ray player, without going to the trouble of buying a separate product. The set also contains a booklet that covers the details of the concert, including how every 35mm camera in the country was corralled to record the show.
Queen was one of the biggest bands in rock history, and 'Hungarian Rhapsody: Queen Live In Budapest '86' proves exactly why. The band, the first major Western act to play behind the Iron Curtain, absolutely kills in this stunning performance. The image, culled from a 35mm interpositive, is generally sharp and strong, but suffers in long shots. The DTS-HD audio isn't lossless but still packs a major punch. The vintage documentary included on the disc is promotional but feels informational, and the best part is that the deluxe set comes with the whole concert on two CDs. If you have even a passing interest in Queen, you need to check this concert out. Recommended.