There are some gems to be found in Under Review; but not a glimmer of magic to be had in Magic Moments.
A “box set” should be judged on not only the DVD’s contained within, but also the cohesiveness of the full product. Whereas most box sets obviate this criterion by containing an entire series or season and thus being automatically as cohesive as they can be, box sets of films made under different production must always be aware of the box set vis-à-vis its totality. If a box set fails in this regard, then the package is essentially just a reduced price on assorted goods.
Unfortunately, the Queen DVD Collector’s Box makes no attempt to link the two films it contains, making the end result more sundry than set. This is made readily apparent by the fact that one of the films, Queen: Under Review 1973-1980, which comprise this documentary dyad, is part of its own set with another film, Queen: Under Review 1980-1991.
I cannot even begin to posture towards an explanation of why this film would be separated from its complement. Furthermore, one would expect in such a “collection” that one DVD would fill in the gaps of the other, painting a full picture of the band. In truth, Under Review serves as an in-depth analysis of Queen's music with spatterings of notes about their private lives, while Magic Moments, the other DVD in this set, serves us very little. However, I feel the holistic aspect of the review should now cede prominence to an analysis of each DVD individually.
Magic Moments is almost un-reviewable it is such a laughably poor production. I take no pleasure in trashing what I know to be the product of many hard hours of work and, thus, it always breaks my heart to watch a film for review that I know I can just say nothing positive about. Magic Moments purports to be “unauthorized”. What viewers will quickly learn is that this label is little more than a euphemism for “we couldn’t secure rights to Queen’s discography so you will hear no Queen music whatsoever.”
A documentary about a band’s music that cannot actually play any of its songs – now there’s a deep hole out of which to dig oneself. Set to what sounds like a messy conflation of Garage Band rock loops and Enya, Magic Moments features extended face time with Freddy Mercury’s “friends”, who ceaselessly ramble in an attempt, it seems, to justify their connection to the iconic frontman.
The documentary is vaguely arranged into segments but, try as I might, I could not discern the content of one from that of the other. All of this exceedingly poor content is rendered through dismal production value. I seriously question the credentials of this film’s Director of Photography who allowed highlights to frequently blow out into undetailed blobs of white. Thus, Magic Moments is not only exceedingly vapid, it's also quite taxing on even the everyman’s aesthetic sensibility.
Fortunately, Under Review is so unconventional and well executed, the cinematic detritus that is (not so) Magic Moments is somewhat neutralized. Rather than fall into the quotidian documentary mold of experts and related individuals narrating the band’s history, Under Review deconstructs Queen’s music to the note and builds the band’s history sonically. The keystone of this piece is Simon Bradley, whose guitar and amp accompanies him in his interviews. With these tools he recreates Brian May’s signature riffs and leads, illustrating both why May’s sound is so distinctive and how his craft progresses through Queen’s career.
Putting Queen’s music under the microscope in this way allows viewers to appreciate Queen for their remarkable musical construction unobscured by the spotlight-thieving antics of flamboyant Freddie Mercury. Furthermore, the attention paid to minutiae such as the construction of May’s guitar and amp and the method with which he plucked his strings begins to answer the question: Why is Queen’s music so unique and recognizable? The answer to this question begins to make headway into the all-enveloping query: Why is Queen’s music so immortal?
The other interviewees are similarly on top of their game, all “Queen experts” in their fields of study (culture, record production, musicianship). This DVD is so comprehensive that, having watched this one first, I almost did not want to even view Magic Moments, knowing that the film could do little but recapitulate or offer trite personal anecdotes.
The special features for these to films are about as special as Magic Moments is magical. Both DVDs feature a Queen quiz and discography. The former could not possibly be enjoyable for anyone shy of the biggest Queen pedant and the latter, while adequately useful, is not glamorous. When all is said and done -- hopefully, this is already quite clear -- you do not need this box set. Instead, save money and purchase Under Review by itself. If you do not abide this advice, chances are you will not only severely dislike the inane talking heads of Magic Moments you will dislike yourself, as well, for not having instead purchased Under Review.