Over the last couple of years in particular, there’s been an overwhelming wave of good music films that go beyond traditional concert footage. Shut Up And Play The Hits was an analysis into James Murphy’s decision to stop what could have been a global juggernaut in LCD Soundsystem, whilst Mistaken For Strangers is a case study in brotherly love featuring Matt Berninger from The National. Heck, even Metallica‘s recent Through The Never was, as bizarre as it seemed on paper, an intriguing mix of original story and footage of the band doing their thing.
So when it was time for Muse to ready their fourth (!) live film, there must have been numerous discussions on how to give it a bit of an edge; how could they take the genre and give it a mini-reinvention? Could they find a new angle? The Teignmouth trio have not really answered any of these questions. Instead, they’ve provided something that’s bloody big and loud.
Muse – Live At Rome Olympic Stadium was captured on their recent summer stadium jaunt in (you guessed it) Italy and the opening couple of minutes serves as a useful indicator of what to expect. A newsreader spouts economical gloom, a robotic overlord wails “unsustainable”, flames rise up dramatically from the stage and then the band emerge ready to do battle, launching into Supremacy. This is harking back to an age where massive, expensive and downright ludicrous rock shows were seen as spectacular artistry rather than overbloated nonsense – though some would argue the latter was always the case.
Of course, this kind of visual feast is just a normal day at the office for Muse, so what makes it different? Well, if it’s not breaking ground in the narrative sense, it certainly is in a technical one. This is the first concert movie to be shot in 4K, known as Ultra High Definition – aka HD, but turned up to 11 – and the aim is to make the shots look more detailed.
To make use of the technology, there are a shedload of crowd shots and, to the movie’s credit, most of them are well executed. The amount of detail that can be picked out is pretty impressive, and the use of a special zipwire camera running through the middle of the stadium means that it can chase Matt Bellamy down the runway during Plug In Baby to exhilarating effect. For fans who’ve have stuck with Muse since the days of Hullabaloo – days of which seem like ancient history – it’s quite the leap in quality.
The sound quality is also impeccable; watching this on your best home surround sound system won’t come close to hearing it in a cinema. This is a film tasked with the job of recreating the atmosphere of a stadium show and they achieve it as much as it’s possible to; though even with a proper sound mix, trying to figure out what the hell Bellamy is saying in between songs is like trying to solve a conundrum that’s been bugging you and will keep bugging you for months.
But what of the show itself? Well, it’s unlikely to change perceptions of the band. If you’re already in love with their operatic grandeur, this will be at least satisfactory. If you can’t stand what Charlie Brooker termed as ‘Queendiohead’, you will not be won over.
Unlike other live showcases, Muse – Live At Rome Olympic Stadium finds a band that are more intent on creating a unifying experience between them and their fans. In the past, as sonically and dazzlingly thrilling as they were, interaction was kept to a minimum. Nowadays they’re throwing themselves at their adoring faithful at nearly every opportunity; Bellamy mingles with the fans during Undisclosed Desires, encourages more singing and clapping and even ditches both guitar and piano to take on what is technically called the Bono Role. It’s easy to be sniffy, but watching him visibly enjoy every word of Starlight is heart-warming.
All of this makes their usual theatrics feel a little jarring by way of comparison – not massively helped by a rather unnecessary monochrome visual effect that makes it look more serious than it actually is. During Animals, an evil banker throws money into the crowd before having a heart attack and an office worker, who weirdly uses a computer that looks like it was built by Amstrad, drowns herself to death with the help of a gas pump. Of course, these are both actors and the unintentional funniness of it all is rather distracting. The only time these elements come together is during the otherwise dreary Guiding Light; a ballerina emerges from a floating lightbulb just in time for the thirtieth guitar solo of the night.
Thankfully, the setlist is a good enough mix of old and new to make this forgivable. Yes, Stockholm Syndrome and Map Of The Problematique are absent but we do get the pomp of Hysteria, the glam stomp of Uprising, the paranoid fun of Time Is Running Out and the downright silliness of Panic Station, complete with a cartoon Pope showing off some mad dancing skills.
Muse – Live At Rome Olympic Stadium won’t change the way that live films are made. Sometimes though, it’s nice to watch a well executed reminder of how fun, big, dumb and explosive stadium gigs can be if done properly. This isn’t Muse’s career-defining performance (that was Glastonbury 2004) but it’s hard not to get swept up by its joyful and playful mood. Like a solid summer blockbuster, it’s best to leave your brain at the door and enjoy the ride.
Pictures by Hans-Peter van Velthoven, used with permission.
Muse – Live At Rome Olympic Stadium has a UK theatrical release on 7 November 2013 for one night only, preceded by screenings in 20 cities worldwide, including London, on 5 November. For a full list of cinemas with links to buy tickets, see film.muse.mu