NOTE: This review of “Muse – Simulation Theory” contains spoilers. Read with caution.
Muse are known for elaborate narratives and out-of-this-world concert experiences, which have consistently grown more theatrical with each album release. So, it’s no surprise that their latest concert film, Simulation Theory, goes above and beyond to tell the correlating album’s story in a surprising way.
Directed by Lance Drake (who also directed the 2018 music videos leading up to the album’s release), Simulation Theory adds dramatic scenes to Muse’s larger than life performances, blending the line between cinematic film and concert footage.
With the Simulation Theory music videos acting as a launching pad for the story, Drake takes it a step further and makes it darker. We see men in hazmat suits trying to save their friend, Murph, after he is infected by the virus spreading across the globe. At one point, the Simulation changes how the news is being broadcast. Even as they stand in front of quarantine areas with patients in agony behind them, TV reporters’ words are manipulated so they incorrectly tell viewers that There Is No Virus.
Of course, the story of a virus with no cure infecting the population at rapid speed hits a little different in 2020 than it did in 2018, when Simulation Theory the album came out and most of the film was conceptualized.
Several times I wondered: Did Muse predict the future?
Singer songwriter Matt Bellamy revealed in an interview with Zane Lowe back in May of 2020 that the film for Simulation Theory was put together before COVID-19.
“I have to emphasize, my manager told me we have to emphasize, that the film was partly made before what’s going on because obviously we didn’t know it, but it has this whole thing about a virus and blah blah blah. Yeah, we didn’t know that when we made the film. But it’ll be interesting because it’s pretty much in a fictional world. It’s kind of a bit of fun.”— Matt Bellamy
Whether Bellamy predicted the future or it’s just uncanny coincidence, Simulation Theory is a mirror of our 2020 reality.
Combining a theatrical movie experience with a filmed concert is an interesting creative choice that doesn’t go unnoticed. While some parts feel clunky (Matt Bellamy’s iconic glasses floating on the screen throughout the performance of “Madness,” for example), you are drawn into the story and become invested in what happens.
To better tell the narrative that Bellamy was going for, Drake took advantage of the fact that Simulation Theory is Muse’s fourth or fifth concert film (at least). Instead of showing the concert footage from beginning to end as it was performed on tour, the setlist is rearranged to better support the story. Several classic songs that appeared on other concert films – most notably “Hysteria,” “Plug In Baby,” and “Knights of Cydonia” — were taken out.
Blending cinematic scenes with concert footage might work well for rock operas like Green Day’s American Idiot, allowing the band to showcase their stage presence while telling the album’s narrative in an impactful way. What makes it work with Muse is their other-worldly concert experience. The Simulation Theory tour included acrobats, dancers, and a large animatronic robot named Murph that loomed over the band as they played. Truly, Muse’s live performances don’t take a backseat with the new format. Instead, it feels all the more grandiose, all the more intense, and truly takes your breath away.
But most importantly, it forces you to stop and think about what their songs mean. Paired with scenes that tug at heart strings and feed into paranoia, it causes you to pause and question: Are we safe from COVID-19 and can we really trust the people in charge to keep us safe?
The concepts behind most of Muse’s work– of disinformation being pushed by a corrupt government, and people needing to unite against their oppressors – resonate deeply with a 2020 audience. Simulation Theory pieces these concepts together in a crystal clear, vivid way using Muse’s stunning stage presence to help drive the point home. With help from Lance Drake, Muse have created a concert-film made for 2020.
The Simulation Theory film is out now. Click here to learn where you can buy/rent the film and to pre-order the box set now.