Moulin Rouge Review
The third film in Baz Luhrmann's 'Red Curtain' Trilogy and arguably the most talked about non-blockbuster of the year, Moulin Rouge! is a unique cinema experience that will leave a lasting impression whatever your ultimate opinion on the film. Watching it will make you feel that director Baz Luhrmann has finally managed to make a film completely filled with his trademark touches. Strictly Ballroom and Romeo And Juliet suggested that he was already on that road stylistically, but Moulin Rouge! is almost like Luhrmann has reached his destination and doesn't want to leave.
Plot-wise, the film is a basic Orphean storyline transported into a surrealistic turn-of-the-century Bohemian Paris. Young Christian (Ewan McGregor), armed with only a worn typewriter and an obsession for love, travels to the French capital in an effort to become fully integrated with the Bohemian movement that is gathering steam, despite the warnings of his father. Soon after arriving, Christian is almost instantaneously introduced to the anarchic Moulin Rouge, whereby a strange band of characters including the vertically challenged Toulouse-Lautrec (John Leguizamo) convince him to write a new star vehicle for the voluptuous Satine (Nicole Kidman). Soon enough, Christian starts imagining ideas above his station and falls in love with Satine. However, Moulin Rouge owner Harold Zidler (the wonderful Jim Broadbent) is determined to trick a wealthy and evil Duke (Richard Roxburgh) to invest in the new musical in order to finance the Rouge's transformation into a theatre. Zidler's pimping of Satine to the Duke; in order to help the financing along, will come unstuck if Christian is added to the mix. And so Christian and Satine live out their romance in secret, knowing that if they are found out, the theatre will belong to the Duke, and whatever happens, the show must go on.
It's easy to see why Moulin Rouge! has already amassed a legion of adoring fans, as it mercilessly taps into many appealing factors of different age markets. The first twenty-five minutes is where the film gains or loses each member of the audience, and this is slightly unfortunate considering the remainder of the film isn't as stylistically extreme as this opening act. Rather than let the film develop at a consistent pace, Luhrmann throws in too many indulgent touches too early, and if this doesn't impress you then the film has nothing left to show you. This is Moulin Rouge's! main problem, in that it is too inconsistent to ever be tagged a masterpiece. If anything, it is a flawed but fantastic effort at harnessing the almost mystical energy of the great theatrical musicals into two hours of cinema.
It'll be surprising if Moulin Rouge! doesn't sweep the board when it comes to the production categories of the Oscars. The fantastic costumes by Catherine Martin and Angus Strathie sparkle with bohemian life and complement each character's persona wonderfully, whilst still maintaining a good sense of period authenticity. Martin was even in charge of the production design, which played a nice balance between the realistic and fantastical, and the film's world of locations and characters fit together wonderfully. The splendid cinematography by Donald McAlpine is the ultimate in controlled set-ups and dazzling visual sequences, with an almost erotic sense of moody colourings and deep tones. The film has often been criticised for too heavy a reliance on quick-cut editing, and whether you are admire this technical approach or not, you have to admire the seamless technique of Jill Bilcock. She uses her editing almost as if it were a massive factor in the rhythm of the songs, swirling the audience up in the clouds of musical frenzy, almost as if they have been given the front row seat. As for the direction, Baz Luhrmann throws in every cinematic touch he can think of, from sequences played out in fast-forward to the extreme zooming in and out of long-shot Paris. Or how about the inspired use of modern day pop songs to fuel the film's musical numbers, which is typically Luhrmann-esque in its bordering-on-the-farcical style. The seamless visual effects create such a fantastical and unique world that you'd be fooled into thinking it was a triumph of production rather than CGI design. Even so, CGI effects have been put to such imaginative use that it might finally be used as a proper tool by serious filmmakers with regards to acquiring their vision.
You'd be hard pushed to find a film that manages to have numbers based on Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit and Madonna's Like A Virgin, and yet set in the Parisian Bohemian movement. Madonna's song leads nicely into a summary of the cast's performance, in that Jim Broadbent's fantastic performance as Zidler, coupled with his marvellous rendition of Like A Virgin is one of the film's strongest points, and Broadbent has got the Best Supporting Actor Oscar in the bag, for either Moulin Rouge! or Iris. Nicole Kidman oozes sexiness as Satine, and she has such vibrant energy that seems to have been repressed whilst seen as Tom Cruise's hanger-on. Kidman deserves an Oscar and looks likely to win one. Ewan McGregor turns in a very respectable performance as Christian, even if his singing voice, although hitting the right notes, isn't the richest sound in Hollywood (although thousands will disagree). The Elephant Medley sequence is the purest form of cinematic magic in years, producing goose bumps amongst the audience effortlessly. The sequence has fabulous songs such as Up Where We Belong, Pride: In The Name Of love and the McCartney classic Silly Love Songs combined wonderfully with the abundance of screen chemistry between Kidman and McGregor to produce one of cinema's most touching sequences. On a smaller note, the film surely contains the greatest visual 'remix' of a studio's logo ever seen (but that won't be spoilt).
The main problem with the hype surrounding Moulin Rouge! is that may people have branded it to be the greatest film of all time, and argued that the film is perfect, which is wildly inaccurate. Whilst it is a very good effort and suggests promising things for the new wave of auteurs, it deliberately alienates many viewers in the opening act with its pandering to the relentless visual aesthetics that it later tones down. Also, beneath the thick layer of style, there is relatively little substance, although you'll be so worn out by the razzle-dazzle editing and lack of establishing shots that you'll be pleased for a breather without having to worry about the plot. The middle act is the weakest in terms of structure, and contains some songs that drag to such a plodding level you forget to even gaze at the screen for some of it. Also, one cannot help but feel cynical over Luhrmann's use of Nirvana in the opening act, as if he is trying to bribe the teenagers by making them so chuffed that Smells Like Teen Spirit has been included that they'll forgive the film any other misgivings. The fact that Kylie Minogue deliciously portrays the Green Fairy has also not gone unnoticed!
Moulin Rouge! is an extreme film and will spark extreme reactions; you'll simply either love it or hate it. The film certainly contains more pros than cons, but the cons are so irritating it may put a good portion of people off altogether, and don't forget this is ultimately a very good case of style-over-substance. Either way, it doesn't look like The Fellowship Of The Ring will be able to topple its Oscars charge.
Presented in anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen, the transfer is splendid, and slightly better than the Region 1 version, which has more washed-out colours. The film contains very moody colourings and sharp definition, and is almost reference quality were it not subtly grainy in places. Even so, the transfer is excellent and does the film proud.
Although there is no mention on the packaging, the Region 4 is presented in Dolby 5.1 and a DTS mix and both sound very good (with the 5.1 mix being slightly inferior to the DTS mix). Full and extensive use of spatial channelling is evident, and there are times in which the viewer is pitted directly in the middle of proceedings, with audio chaos ensuing around the exterior. The musical numbers are provided for splendidly in terms of multi-tracking, and audibly the film is a wonderful Luhrmann-esque experience. For the blind or visibly impaired, there is also an excellent 2.0 track in which portions of the story are read out by a narrator when sequences would have been hard to follow otherwise.
Menu: An identical menu to the Region 1 version, with a sepia tinted design of an old theatre stage, presented with a glowing presentation. The menu is backed with some good musical numbers from the film and some nice changes of angle once selections are made.
Packaging: Slightly different to the Region 1 packaging, the Region 4 version has a slicker finish and a different picture on the front cover, but is still presented in a cardboard fold-out packaging which holds the two discs. This is then housed in an outer cardboard dust cover. An eight page glossy booklet is included which is packed with production notes, details of the extra features and chapter listings.
Audio Commentary With Writer/Director Baz Luhrmann, Costume Designer Catherine Martin & Director of Photography Don McAlpine: A very interesting commentary with the three participants seemingly being together but only briefly conversing with each other (maybe it's editing trickery). Luhrmann dominates proceedings, talking about the reasons behind some of his strange aesthetic choices, such as the slap-bang approach to the film's opening act. Martin and McAlpine talk about their relative departments, and how they collaborated with Luhrmann to create the unique world of Moulin Rouge!. As commentaries go, this isn't filed with fluid dialogue, but listening to it in its entirety you will provide a fascinating insight into how and why Luhrmann pulled off a near-impossible job in successfully bringing Moulin Rouge! to the screen.
Audio Commentary With Writer/Director Baz Luhrmann & Co-Writer Craig Pearce: This commentary is much more fun to listen to, as Luhrmann and Pearce are clearly more enthusiastic (and in the same room!) and find it easy to converse with one another. Luhrmann repeats much of the same material that he mentioned in the previous commentary, but co-writer Pearce adds a good contribution concerned with some of the plotting aspects. Also mentioned are some of the changes involved in the various drafts of the script, such as a discarded opening in which Christian is dying at the Fields Of Flanders in World War I, and a funny sequence involving Christian and his father incorporating Cat Stevens' Father And Son.
Behind The Red Curtain: An interesting spin-off feature, which if selected will display a green fairy on occasions throughout the film. Selecting the fairy will take the viewer out of the film and deposit them into a brief featurette relative to that part of the film. Eight featurettes are included, and range from explaining the blue-screen processes to featuring some production designs.
The Night-Club Of Your Dreams: The Making Of Moulin Rouge!: A twenty five minute traditional 'making of', with cast and crew interviews intercut with clips from the film and behind the scenes footage. Obviously, it only skims the surface compared to some of the more detailed extras, but as a general overview it is a fine extra.
The Stars: Firstly, A fifty-three second silent roll of Kidman and McGregor outtakes from the film, backed with music from the film. Secondly, five brief interviews with the main actors of the film, combined with a few brief clips of the film. These are valuable in that they present each actor talking separately about their specific characters and their views on the film, as opposed to being intercut with each other.
The Story Is About...: This is split up into smaller extras concerned with the writing process of Moulin Rouge!: Interview With Baz Luhrmann & Craig Pearce: This is a four minute brief featurette containing interviews with Luhrmann and Pearce on how they wrote the film, as well as footage of the two rehearsing the script. Craig Pearce Reads Early Treatment: A two minute interview with Craig Pearce talking about the original idea for Moulin Rouge! and why it was drastically altered. Script Comparisons: Four versions of the script are presented in the form of still images navigated by the user, and are very different and interesting if you want to learn how the film evolved into its final state. The scripts included are Rough First Draft December 1998, December 1998 Intro, April 1999 Intro, June 2000 Intro.
The Cutting Room: A section focusing on the editing processes of the film, split further into sub-extras: Interview With Baz Luhrmann and Editor Jil Bilcock: A four minute interview with Luhrmann and Bilcock explaining their reasons behind the different styles of editing the two focused on for the film. Abandoned Edits: Five alternate, extended or deleted sequences, complete with timecode stamping and inferior picture quality. Some are very good indeed, such as the slower tempo Zidler's Rap or the extended Dance Across The Sky segue-way into Your Song. Director's Mock Previsualisations: A four minute reel of mock insert footage featuring bad impressions of the actors by Baz Luhrmann, designed to save time and money to prevent further set building if reshoots are necessary.
The Dance: Split up into two sections. The first section is Dance - An extensive exploration of the film's dance routines, divided into smaller extras. A Word From Baz: A very brief introduction by Luhrmann mentioning his regret at not being able to include the full sequences of the dance routines. What follows are extended versions of The Tango, Hindi, Can Can & Coup D'Etat, with an excellent option to watch the extended cuts in multi-angle format, with the viewer being able to switch to different camera angles on-the-fly. The menu is also very good, with the poster board changing picture depending on which dance routine is selected. The second main category is Choreograpy, and features some sub-extras: Interview: A worthy six minute interview with the film's choreographer John O'Connell, talking about the creative reasons behind his choreographed decisions, and how he feels they enhance the film. Rehearsals: A very good thirteen minute collection of rehearsal footage of the dancers rehearsing the material, sometimes for the very first time.
The Music: A collection of featurettes designed to inform the viewer regarding the processes involved in selecting the right musical tracks and score for the film. The Musical Journey: A nine minute featurette with composer Craig Armstrong detailing some of the decisions and creative reasons behind the musical touches of the film. Interview With Fatboy Slim: Surprisingly, an interesting and non-pretentious interview with Norman 'Fatboy Slim' Cook dealing with his collaboration with Baz Luhrmann for the film and lasting for four minutes. The Lady Marmalade Phenomenon: Two performances of the Lady Marmalade song - the live MTV awards version and the music video. Come What May: The music video of the original song written by the film, performed by Kidman and McGregor.
The Design!: In a similar vein to the other departments, this concentrates solely on designing the look of the film. Interview With Production Designer / Co-Costume Designer Catherine Martin: This lasts for six minute, and features Martin commenting on the look Luhrmann wanted for the film and some of the artistic processes involved. Set Designs: A huge collection of images provided to showcase the designs of each specific set, separated into categories and equipped with user navigation between the stills. Interview With Co-Costume Designer Angus Strathie: A two minute interview with Strathie commenting further on the reasons behind the choices of costumes. Costume Design: An excellent collection of detailed sketches showcasing the various costumes of the characters that exist in the world of Moulin Rouge!, separated into categories and with user navigation. Graphic Design: A three minute virtual tour of the posters and artwork incorporated into the background of the film. Smoke And Mirrors: Split up into two sections - The Evolution Of The Intro: A four minute featurette into how the sprawling introduction to the film was created. The Green Fairy: An interesting three minute featurette which concentrates on how the visual effects shots of the green fairy were created and how they pondered extensively over which shade of green to use.
Marketing: A collection of marketing materials for the film. International Sizzles Reel: A three minute reel of promotional footage for the film mixed with a few news items. Photo Gallery: An intriguing idea - a set of photo galleries taken by famous fashion photographers such as Ellen Von Unwerth and Douglas Kirkland. The Little Red Book: A series of images designed to present the film as some sort of still-image silent movie, complete with sepia coloured tinting. Poster Gallery: A good selection of the extensive number of posters designed to promote and advertise the film. Trailers: The theatrical trailer and Japanese theatrical trailer, along with a mouth-watering teaser for the 'red Curtain Box Set' and Romeo And Juliet Special Edition DVD release. Music Promo Spot: A thirty-four second promo cut of the Lady Marmalade music video.
Easter Eggs: There are also a few funny Easter eggs scattered over the DVD.
A good and imaginative film that pushes people to either side of the fence (and doesn't live up to its masterpiece tag) has been given excellent picture and sound qualities and tremendous extras, which are much more in depth than they may at first seem. If you love the film, then you will already own this, and if you don't, this package still might tempt you.
Recommended R4 Suppliers include: EzyDVD, FBO.