(movie review done for theatrical release.)
Director Baz Luhrmann occasionally used rapid-fire imagery to liven up his energetic and mostly successful 1996 remake of "Romeo and Juliet". As speedy and visual as that film sometimes was, Luhrmann's new film "Moulin Rouge" is in a different catagory altogether, with a first 30 minutes that charges at you with such force you think the film's going to have a heart attack. The film opens introducing us to Christian (Ewan McGregor), a young writer who has just struck out on his own in Paris, but isn't having a great deal of success. In (literally) drops Toulouse-Lautrec(John Leguizamo) and crew, who are preparing their new musical "Spectacular Spectacular" for the Moulin Rouge nightclub. They're having some trouble and adopt the young writer, who seems to have some good ideas up his sleeve.
And then, we're introduced to the nightclub in a dizzying sequence that spins insanely around the room (the visual equivalent of placing a camera on a merry-go-round and giving it a powerful spin). I'm as much a fan of striking visuals as anyone (and I quite like the work of cinematographer Donald McAlpine, who also did Luhrmann's "Romeo" remake), but these opening moments push the limits. Finally, in drops (literally) Satine (Nicole Kidman) one of the most famous entertainers and courtesans of the nightclub, who sings "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend". Kidman looks stunning, sings beautifully and in early scenes like this, provides an amazingly engaging performance. Although I was never a real big fan of her work, in both "Eyes Wide Shut" and "Moulin Rouge" she has really advanced her talents, offering warmer, richer and more open performances.
After a bit of a mix-up meeting, Christian finds himself falling in love with Satine, but he's got some competition (there wouldn't be much of a movie if he didn't) in the Duke (Richard Roxburgh, playing a stereotypically old-school villian), who is the one providing the backing for the club. When it becomes apparent that the two have fallen in love with one another, not only is the Duke furious, but Zidler(Jim Broadbent), who owns the club, voices his dissaproval, as well. While all of this is going on, Satine is sick and getting more ill as the days pass. Yes, there's not a great deal of story or is the plot terribly original, but I felt that the love story was genuine emotionally and since it's a musical, songs often take up the time. The film does use 20th century songs throughout and although a choice that doesn't quite always work in the case of a few of the songs, I enjoyed it more often than not.
And yet, not all is exactly right in "Moulin Rouge". Again, the heavy, fast editing and rapid camera movement in some sequences (especially the begining) actually worked against the movie, in my opinion. The film worked best when it actually calmed down for a moment between the two leads, who have very good chemistry together. When the camera wasn't moving busily, I also had time to admire the downright incredible production design by Catherine Martin, who also happens to be director Luhrmann's wife. Also, set decoration by Brigitte Broch, who also worked on "Romeo and Juliet" is impressive. Exceptional as well is costume design, again by Martin as well as Angus Strathie. These three departments deserve recognition come awards time.
As good as McGregor's performance sometimes is during the course of the film, I found myself more impressed with Kidman's soulful performance as Satine. I just wished at times that the movie would calm down a bit and let the two actually do more rather than being as exhausting and excessive as it occasionally becomes. On the other hand, a movie like this in the hands of a different director could have simply been horrendous. Luhrmann's movie didn't always hold me under its spell, but when it's at its best it certainly is magical.
VIDEO: The film is presented by 20th Century Fox in 2.40:1 (1080p/AVC.) This is a remastered presentation by 20th Century Fox, delivering a new, director approved transfer. The result is a presentation that is brighter, richer and bolder than the DVD presentation. Furthermore, the presentation boasts impressive clarity, with finer details of costumes and other elements appearing noticeably cleaner and smoother this time around. A few light traces of edge enhancement are seen, but the picture is otherwise pristine, looking precise and clean. Colors are punchy and vivid, with terrific saturation and no smearing or other concerns. Overall, this is a tremendously enjoyable presentation that fans will likely find thrilling.
SOUND: "Moulin Rouge" is presented in DTS-HD 5.1. While I was thrilled with the Blu-Ray's image quality, I didn't find the sound quality quite as exciting. Certainly not because of any quality issues: the film's sound came through warmly and clearly. Dialogue comes through clearly and the music sounds rich and bassy. It's just that the soundtrack didn't seem quite as enveloping as I thought it could be. Surrounds do kick in nicely for some effects and to re-inforce the music, but their use seems subtler than I'd expected and the film's audio remains rooted in the front more often than not. I certainly wasn't dissapointed by the film's audio, but I thought the music could have been a bit more immersive and enveloping at times. The Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks both offer strong audio and it's wonderful to have the option of DTS, but the differences between the soundtracks are slight. The DTS soundtrack seemed to have stronger clarity and a bit bolder bass. Fox has also included a "narration" track for those visually impared, which is a terrific additional option to have available. NOTE: Although I did not have this problem, some users are reporting lip sync issues with the DTS track on their player.
EXTRAS: New to this edition is a picture-in-picture mode that pairs the original audio commentary with director Luhrmann and crew with on-screen material, as well as a new introduction and "Creative Adventure" featurette.
The Making Of "Moulin Rouge": A nicely produced, fairly detailed and enjoyable 26-minute documentary, this is a mixture of the history of the "Moulin Rouge" and the production of the film itself. Interviews with director Luhrmann, Kidman, McGregor and others are offered, while there are also some very enjoyable behind-the-scenes clips and featured sections on costume design and other elements. A bit of "this is the story" promotion is included here and there, but more often than not, fans of the film should find some interesting details about how the picture was made.
The Stars: This section opens with a little clip of McGregor and Kidman, then offers a menu of 5 of the different stars: McGregor, Leguizamo, Kidman, Roxburgh, and Jim Broadbent. Clicking on one offers an interview piece that lasts a few minutes each. These are nice and not just "oh, this is the character I play and this is what happens to her/him", it's a more interesting discussion of character and that actor/actresses feelings about working on the picture.
The Story Is About...: This is an interesting section that focuses on the development of the screenplay. The sections are discussed below:
An interview with Luhrmann and Pierce This is an interview with co-writers Luhrmann and Pierce, who discuss their thoughts about developing the story and tinkering with the characters and presentation. There's even a few funny moments where the two read the script and try to perform the characters. Having been friends for years - according to the commentary and this documentary - the two are quite funny and their good friendship is apparent. Unfortunately, this featurette only lasts a little under 4 minutes.
Pierce Reads Early Draft: Co-writer Pierce offers some discussion of what the earlier "Rouge" was like, which is a bit darker in nature.
Script Comparisons: This section includes different versions of the introduction as well as an early treatment of the script.
The Cutting Room: This section is made up of a few different pieces; the first of which is an interview with director Luhrmann and editor Jill Bilcock. Both discuss their thoughts in general on editing a picture as well as specific throughts on the rhythm of "Moulin Rouge". The next section offers deleted cuts from the film, including: "Come What May" (from preview screening 2), "Dance Across the Sky" (Preview Screening 1), "Zidler's Rap" (first assembly), "Outside it May Be Raining" (first assembly), "Father and Son" and "Green Fairy Previsualization". Finally, the last section includes Luhrmann's early pre-visualizations of a couple of scenes.
The Dance: Certainly the most interactive of the special features, this interesting section offers extended versions of some of the dance routines that had to be reduced for running time and to focus more on the story. Complete with an intro by the director, we get to see the full versions of "Tango", "Hindi", "Can Can" and "Coup De Etat". The only one that doesn't have additional multi-angle capability is "Hindi". There are four different "angles" for the "multi-angle" sequences and the viewer presses the number on the remote (1,2,3,4) for the particular angle they want to view, while the other 3 play in boxes below. All of these are presented in Dolby Digital 5.1.
The Music: "A Musical Journey" is the first stop in this section and it offers a look at composer Craig Armstrong's work, as well as some general thoughts and clips about the stars working to sing live during the picture. An interview with Fatboy Slim is up next and both Slim and Luhrmann offer their thoughts on their collaboration for the scene in the film. Last, but not least, is "Lady Marmalade Phenomenon". This section offers a behind-the-scenes clip of "Lady Marmalade" as well as the performance from the MTV music awards with Pink, Christina Aguilera, Lil' Kim and Mya.
The Design: The first featurette is an interview with production and costume designer Catherine Martin, who discusses the research that she had to do for the feature and how to spin that reality into something new and exciting for the movie. Some early tests and early concept art for the look of the two main characters are also shown. The next part is "Set Design", which offers major still galleries for "The Street", "The Gothic Tower", "The Interior", "Spectacular Spectacular", "The Garden", "The Elephant", "The Elephant Red Room", "Toulouse's Studio" and "Christian's Garret".
Co-costume designer Angus Strathie quickly sums up his thoughts about the massive challenges that he faced in a very short interview featurette. "Costume Design" reveals another set of still galleries, including: "A Courtesan's Nightmare", "The Can Can Girls", "The Bohemians" and "Tango Underwear".
"Smoke And Mirrors" provides short featurettes about the "Evolution of the Intro" and "The Green Fairy". Lastly, "Graphic Design" takes us on a very cool animated tour of some of the film's posters, etc.
Marketing: Starting off with an "International Sizzle Reel" promo, this section also includes a photo gallery, poster gallery, a "little red book" section (more promotional material), trailers (the theatrical trailer, a Japanese theatrical trailer and a trailer for an upcoming Luhrmann box set. Disc credits are also located here) and a music video promo spot.
Final Thoughts: "Moulin Rouge" remains a delight, with striking visuals and strong performances from the leads. The Blu-Ray offers improved video quality and delightful audio quality, as well as extras both old and (in some cases) new. Recommended.
The Film A-