Moulin Rouge! [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Ethan Stevenson (18th December 2010).
The Film

“The greatest thing you'll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.”

I don’t imagine you’ll be able to handle “Moulin Rouge!” if you didn’t like director Baz Luhrmann’s two previous films – “Romeo + Juliet” (1996) and “Strictly Ballroom” (1992) – because they’re all quite similar. The three films of the unofficial “Red Curtain Trilogy” (in which “Rouge” is the third and final entry) have their share of commonalities, staring with their controversial and polarizing writer/director. Luhrmann and his love for overindulgence isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it fits quite well with a film like “Moulin Rouge!”, as a matter of fact – but if you couldn’t handle his opulent, often frenetic style two times before, you certainly won’t be able to do so here. That’s in part because “Rouge” is even more frantic, more colorful and more brazen than either of his previous works combined. The first twenty minutes alone – an orgy of excess, hurriedly edited, and set to an endless medley of Nirvana, Rodgers and Hammerstein, and a host of the other diametrically opposed songs from modern times – will leave you feeling like you’ve somehow been force fed a cocktail of drugs (or, like the characters in the film, downed a whole bottle of absinthe).

“Moulin Rouge!” was also co-written by Luhrmann’s frequent collaborator Craig Pearce, who penned both “Romeo + Juliet” and “Strictly Ballroom” with the director. And, while each film is definitely its own creation, it’s important to note that they are all basically built upon the same premise: a sugary story about star-crossed couples trying to overcome huge obstacles in the name of L-O-V-E. Did I mention that “Moulin Rouge!” is also a musical? That’s probably important – and in some ways I think it’s the thing that will scare away the most viewers – but, again, if you’ve seen the director’s previous works, both of which feature music extensively, it isn’t unexpected. “Rouge” is not only a musical (and a musical in the truest use of the term; people break out into song for no reason other than to reveal their emotions or progress the plot. You know, like “West Side Story” (1961)), but it’s a musical with a period setting and a soundtrack populated by modern times – just to be extra strange.

“Suddenly an unconscious Argentinean fell through my roof. He was quickly joined by a dwarf dressed as a nun.”

Paris, 1899: Christian (Ewan McGregor), a writer from a well-to-do English family, has come to the bohemian paradise with hopes to write about “love” – a subject, regrettably, that he knows little of in a practical sense. Four-and-a-half-foot-tall Toulouse-Lautrec (John Leguizamo) is in desperate need of a someone who can write the musical that he wishes to pitch to the ginger-headed Harold Zidler (Jim Broadbent), the so-called owner of the Moulin Rouge – France’s most famous cabaret. And the extravagant musical would be the perfect vehicle by which Satine (Nicole Kidman), Harold’s best dancer, could launch a legitimate acting career. And Christian may just get the best deal of all when, in writing the musical that they all hope proves to be the answers to everyone’s problems, he finds true with Satine. Alas, while Satine, Zidler, Toulouse-Lautrec and even Christian all know that they can use each other to get what they want, everyone is out of luck because Zidler’s infatuation with the electric light bulb (thousands of which adorn the interior and exterior of the Moulin Rouge) has left him close to bankrupt. They have the writer, the director, actors, a star, and even a venue, but they have no means by which they can finance the production. That is, until an incredibly dull, doubly rich Duke (Richard Roxburgh) appears to seemingly save the day, fully funding the musical and asking for only one thing in return – that Satine be his.

Soon the dancers and singers of the Moulin Rouge are preparing for their production of “Spectacular, Spectacular” – the name given to Christian’s play about a penniless sitar player who falls in love with a beautiful courtesan, only to have her nearly taken away by an impossibly stupid but rich Maharajah. (A rousing in-joke of a musical that would make even Abed from “Community” (2009-present) blush.) But all is not well. Satine repeatedly falls ill, and is later diagnosed with having Consumption – a disease that will eventually kill her. Zidler, who pays for her doctor, knows of this but Satine doesn’t. Nor does Christian, or the Duke.

Despite it’s reliance on a sudden turn towards melodrama late in the second act, “Moulin Rouge!” doesn’t really take itself too serious, and it’s because of that that I actually like the film. As a musical set in the late 1800's, where it’s main character – supposedly one of the greatest poet’s who ever lived – speaks in song lyrics from the late 20th century, “Rouge” could have been a disaster. An obnoxious, terrible thing that disturbed like nails grating on chalkboard. But it doesn’t because Luhrmann and Pearce have crafted something that is just ridiculous fun. The film is done in a very knowing, “wink-wink” sort of way, that’s not exactly in your face, but defiantly none too subtle either. By infusing contemporary pop music into the story, the audience is in on the joke from the start, and certain scenes, like when Zidler tries to convince the Duke to stay on by promising him that Satine will be his and his alone, it seems only logical that their playful little spat would evolve into a number that begins with an exchange like:

Zidler: She said you make her feel "like a virgin."
The Duke: Virgin?
Zidler: You know, touched for the very first time.


McGregor and Kidman – both of who are talented actors, and surprisingly good comedians – are fine leads. And with the assistance of some post-production trickery, made decent vocalists (without it; perhaps not) able to hold the production together. But, much like “Romeo + Juliet”, it’s the supporting cast that impresses (and faults) the most. First the bad; John Leguizamo’s Toulouse-Lautrec is an annoying fly. He adds absolutely nothing to the film and only distracts when he’s on screen. But Richard Roxburgh and especially Jim Broadbent, as the film’s two buffoonish would-be villains, steal the show. Roxburgh’s Duke is simultaneously too stupid to understand the complexities of Christian’s play (only finally realizing the parallels after he’s told exactly where to look for them) and just smart enough to turn Zidler into a worried madman when he asks for the deed to the Moulin Rouge as collateral for provides the financing for the musical, is a dangerous combination and one that Roxburgh plays well. Broadbent, a powerful comedic genius and a strong dramatic thespian in his own right, puts his talents to the test as Zidler. He’s both a frightful, scheming monster, or a lovable idiot at the drop of a hat. So while he’s often playing the role for comedic effect – dressed up as a goofy Sultan, or spouting off a ridiculous one-liner – Broadbent proves to be a merciless scoundrel who manages to manipulate those around him at but a moments notice.

“Moulin Rouge” isn’t high art. Not in the sense that it deserves mountains of awards, or that it’s a masterpiece of modern filmmaking. But, as a piece of pop entertainment, it’s wonderful. It’s spectacular. It has magnificent cinematography, credible performances and an impressive soundtrack. The film is unbelievably fun and while I don’t think that it “reinvented the movie musical”, sparking a trend in Hollywood as it is often credited of doing (what, after this we got the mildly amusing “Chicago” (2004), and… not much else – hardly a rebirth of the genre), Baz Luhrmann’s third film proves to be a fine way to waste two hours.

Video

The product of an all-new 4K digital restoration from the original camera negatives supervised by director Baz Luhrmann and colorist Jan Jarbola, the 2.40:1 widescreen 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 high definition transfer is simply stunning. Or, if you were so inclined, I guess you could say (taking a line from the film) that the new Blu-ray is “Spectacular, Spectacular!” Don’t let the black and white opening, which is intentionally done up to look like a battered old reel from a turn of the century movie house, fool you. Excepting that prologue, colors are bold – especially those brilliant reds – and contrast is spot on. Blacks are deep and bordering on oppressive (intentionally so; many scenes are supposedly to look as though lit by a lone spotlight), but are retrained enough so that shadow detail is not compromised. The image is crisp with incredible detail even during the expansive panoramic shots – like of the “Spectacular, Spectacular” production in the climax. Satine’s elephantine bedroom is another showstopper; every corner of that set is packed with an abundance of minutiae all of which look positively amazing in high-def. Even the sepia-tinted scenes towards the middle of the film seem to feature incredible depth.

Luhrmann’s stylistic approach to “Moulin Rouge!” was a mashing of vintage and modern. So, although some (fleeting) scenes have a slight dreamlike softness, or a hyperkinetic grain-intense look, this isn’t a fault of the disc. Most moments in the film are incredibly vibrant and have an almost limitless depth of field, but at times the film can shift completely in the opposite direction for short bursts – for instance, a few scenes exhibit a vintage quality via a mild vignette effect. Keep in mind though that the transfer is extremely faithful to the original look of the film – without the use of hideous sharpening tools or useless noise reduction – and I have no doubt that the new Blu-ray represents exactly how the director has always wanted his film to look. The film is, as always has been, an incredibly filmic, colorful, piece of theatrical extravagance – and it’s more so, and better, now with Luhrmann’s slight tweaks through the new restoration. The new transfer is something that really needs to be seen to appreciate. With no actually flaws (like compression artifacts) that jump out at me either, I’ll just say that “Moulin Rouge!” looks marvelous and is a contender for best catalog presentation of the year.

Audio

Fox has included an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround (48kHz/24-bit) surround mix and multi-channel dubs in French, Portuguese and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 (all 48kHz/640 kbps). Subtitles are available in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish. English, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish subtitles are also available on the audio commentary.

Rodgers and Hammerstein, Nirvana, Fatboy Slim, The Beatles, a hopelessly out of tune rendition of “Roxanne” and a delightfully oft-putting duet to “Like A Virgin” between Jim Broadbent and Richard Roxburgh are all in store for viewers (or listeners) of “Moulin Rouge!”, which sounds quite expectantly, fabulous on Blu-ray. The musical delights with wall-to-wall sound; an eclectic mix of modern pop and a traditional score by Craig Armstrong – much like the mix on “Romeo + Juliet”. Short and sweet, this is an auditory treat. Created by the same team who worked with Luhrmann five years earlier on his brush with Shakespeare, the film sounds fantastic: commanding and unrelenting. In fact, save for one small problem – poorly balanced vocal volume during “Zidler’s Rap” and the first medley/duet between Kidman and McGregor – this disc sounds positively outstanding.

Extras

I think exhaustive is the word I’m looking for here. Fox has ported over (nearly) all of the bonus material from the lavish 2-Disc DVD release (which was positively stacked with hours of extra content) including an audio commentary, over 90 minutes of featurettes, 10 webisodes, 3 music videos and 2 theatrical trailers. Not content with stopping there, they’ve also taken the time to create a new picture-in-picture video and graphics track, compile another hours worth of featurettes, and seen fit to grant the disc a couple of internet connected supplements via BD-LIVE.

Frustratingly, as they did with the concurrently released “Romeo + Juliet” (1996), Fox has taken the unusual route of encoding all of the standard definition material inside of an ornate 1.78:1 1080p high definition picture frame. This means that the old SD content is shrunken down into a small 4x3 square in the center of your display surrounded by a detailed boarder on all four sides. I imagine that the effect is pretty irritating on smaller screens – the video supplements end up looking like a postage stamp. Any supplements presented this way will be denoted as (480p) in my review. Any content that is denoted as either (1080i) or (1080p) is true high definition.

An audio commentary by co-screenwriter/director Baz Luhrmann, production designer Catherine Martin, director of photography Donald M. McAlpine and co-screenwriter Craig Pearce headlines the supplemental package. Recorded in 2002 for the 2-Disc DVD release, this commentary, much like their talk-track on “Romeo + Juliet” this is an impressive discussion with gobs of information laid out for listeners to devour. Thanks to a new Blu-ray exclusive feature discussed below this already excellent commentary suddenly becomes extraordinary.

“Spectacular, Spectacular” is an extension of the audio commentary outlined above, adding an all-new picture-in-picture video and graphics track to the mix. While Luhrmann, Martin, McAlpine and Pearce offer their thoughts on the film via the commentary, photos, concept art, behind-the-scenes footage, pop up trivia and a even the occasional note on the piece of music that’s playing in the soundtrack at the time populate the screen. Occasionally options to view branching video pods will also present themselves, and, if you wish, the disc will pause the film and divert into a short interview or featurette, then resume the film when the segment has been exhausted. This feature is incredibly well put together, with all of the material on screen – and in the optional branching segments – perfectly timed with what’s being covered in the commentary. Most of the video that appears in this section is pulled elsewhere, from the rest of the disc, although some of it does seem to be unique to the “Spectacular, Spectacular” experience. It should be noted that this picture-in-picture feature requires the viewer to have a Profile 1.1 BonusView enabled Blu-ray player to access it.

Exclusive to the Blu-ray format is an introduction by Baz Luhrmann titled “A Word from Baz” (1080p, 1 minute 58 seconds) which gives the director a chance to talk about the all-new Blu-ray disc, it’s gorgeously restored transfer and some of the new extras that we can expect to find within.

“A Creative Adventure” (1080p, 11 minutes 4 seconds) is a featurette with Luhrmann and frequent collaborator Catherine Martin looking at the continuity of Luhrmann’s visual style seen in his – so far – 4 films. The director and his wife/designer talk about their working relationship, how they met, and what each brought to the productions of “Romeo + Juliet” (1996), “Moulin Rouge!” and “Australia” (2008).

“The House of Iona” (480p, 7 minutes 11 seconds) is another featurette. George Lucas has Skywalker Ranch; Baz Luhrmann has The House of Iona. The director gives a BBC camera crew a tour of the premises and than talks about the work that he and his creative team have accomplished within its walls.

“The Making of Moulin Rouge” (480p, 25 minutes 55 seconds) is an old HBO First Look documentary. A port from the DVD, unlike most of the extended commercial-esque mini-docs that the Home Box Office usually sandwiches in between movies, this clip isn’t completely terrible. In fact, it’s actually halfway decent. Sure you’ll learn most of the information discussed here in greater detail via the superior audio commentary, but this isn’t a bad alternative for those that only have half an hour to learn more about the making of the film.

“From the Bazmark Vault” includes 15 featurettes that have never been released anywhere else. These new extras include rare behind-the-scenes footage and previously unseen deleted sequences, some of which are inter-cut with newly recorded interviews with Baz Luhrmann:

- “Father and Son” (1080p, 6 minutes 22 seconds) is a featurette where the director talks about an abandoned alternate opening set to Cat Stevens’ “Father and Son”. At the time, Stevens objected to the use of his music in something like “Moulin Rouge!”, but has since changed his mind, thus allowing Luhrmann to reveal unused footage from the deleted opening.

- “Early Cut of Zidler's Rap” (480p, 3 minutes) is a featurette showing just that. Footage of Baz directing the number segues into a the, eventually recut, final product in it’s entirety.

- In another featurette called “Baz Unleashes Unbridled Lust” (480p, 5 minutes 16 seconds) we’re privy to scenes of the director directing the Can-Can Girls.

- “A Kiss, a Touch or a Pat” (480p, 1 minute 51 seconds) is a featurette with the director delivering direction to a sea of top-hatted actors.

- Next, “Nicole & Jim Rehearse at Iona” (480p, 1 minute 25 seconds) is a featurette which features Kidman and Broadbent rehearsing on of their dance numbers at the Bazmark Production offices.

- “Ewan & Nicole's First Dance” (480p, 2 minutes 29 seconds) is a featurette that offers a look at an “Actor’s Workshop” inside the House of Iona, where the two leads rehearse a dance together for the first time.

- “Zidler's Jig” (42 seconds) is a brief featurette with Baz coaching Jim Broadbent through a series of jigs.

- “Directing Man in the Moon and Deleted Cut” (480p, 3 minutes 34 seconds) Luhrmann directs a moon-faced actor for a sequence that was heavily cut later. The deletions are included at the end of this featurette.

- “Directing Like a Virgin” (480p, 2 minutes 1 second) in this featurette Luhrmann directs Richard Roxburgh and Jim Broadbent in their Like a Virgin number.

- “The Duke's Happy Ending” (480p, 1 minutes 2 seconds) is a featurette, which includes a blooper from a botched scene that ends with Nicole Kidman on her knees at the feet of Richard Roxburgh.

- In the next featurette titled “Jealousy Tango – The Early Tests” (480p, 2 minutes 37 seconds) we see lighting and syncing tests for the tango number.

- Similarly, a featurette called “Rehearsal Footage – Jealousy Tango” (480p, 3 minutes 31 seconds) focuses on the tango number looking at the staging and rehearsal of the scene.

- “Rehearsing Ravishment” (480p, 3 minutes 45 seconds) is another montage of behind-the-scenes footage without any sort of narration or context. This featurette looks at the rehearsal, staging and choreography of the number.

- “On-Set with Toulouse Tonight” (480p, 1 minute 5 seconds) in a gag featurette that ties in with the “Toulouse Tonight” web series also included on this disc, Baz turns an interview with John Leguizamo’s character around on the actor/character.

- The last new featurette, titled “Nicole Kidman's First Vocal Test – ‘Sad Diamonds’” (480p, 1 minutes 38 seconds), is exactly that – a test of Kidman’s vocals for the Hindi song.

“The Stars” (480p) sub-menu contains 5 featurettes highlighting actor interviews from the film’s original Electronic Press Kit. These include:

- Nicole Kidman as Satine (3 minutes 44 seconds).
- Ewan McGregor as Christian (3 minutes 23 seconds).
- John Leguizamo as Toulouse (2 minutes 31 seconds).
- Jim Broadbent as Zidler (2 minutes 29 seconds).
- Richard Roxburgh as the Duke (2 minutes 44 seconds).

“The Writers” holds just 2 featurettes, both of which look at the script for the film and the men who wrote it. These include:

- “Interview with Writers Baz Luhrmann & Craig Pearce” (480p, 4 minutes 9 seconds) has the two writing partners talking about their craft, their style, their working relationship, and their near lifelong friendship. This featurette contains some interesting footage of the duo acting out scenes from both the “Romeo + Juliet” (1996) and “Moulin Rouge!” scripts as they write them.

- “Craig Pearce Reads Early Treatment” (480p, 2 minutes 29 seconds) is a featurette in which the “Moulin Rouge!” writer talks about the Duke’s character in an earlier draft of the screenplay.

“The Design” sub-menu includes 9 production featurettes that are focused on the look of “Moulin Rouge!”. Unfortunately, like the rest of these sub-headings no “play all” option is offered, which is a shame because it makes navigating the larger collections like “Design” needlessly difficult. The featurettes include:

- “Interview with Production Designer Catherine Martin” (480p, 6 minutes 49 seconds) is a featurette with Martin, where she discusses her design philosophy – which she shares with Luhrmann – noting that a design must always serve the story.

- Likewise, the featurette labeled “Interview with co-costume designer Angus Strathie” (480p, 2 minutes 22 seconds) allows Strathie the opportunity to discuss his ideas about style in costuming for characters.

The next 7 featurettes each take a look at the designing and contraction of certain sets and/or sequences featured in the film. These include:

- “The Evolution of the Intro” (480p, 4 minutes 38 seconds).
- “The Green Fairy” (480p, 3 minutes 57 seconds).
- “The Windmill” (480p, 2 minutes 12 seconds).
- “Christian's Garret” (480p, 2 minutes 35 seconds).
- “The Main Hall” (480p, 2 minutes 56 seconds).
- “The Garden of Early Delights” (480p, 3 minutes 4 seconds).
- “Gothic Tower” (480p, 1 minutes 44 seconds).

“The Dances” includes 5 featurettes. The first 4 of these provide extended deconstructions of each dance style and corresponding music number. The dance deconstruction featurettes include:

- “Extended Can-Can” (4 minutes 49 seconds).
- “Extended Tango” (480p, 5 minutes 58 seconds).
- “Extended Hindi” (480p, 3 minutes 39 seconds).
- “Extended Coup D'état” (480p, 57 seconds).

Finally, “Interview with Choreographer John “Cha-Cha” O'Connell” (480p, 6 minutes 14 seconds) is a featurette in which the choreographer talks about working with Baz Luhrmann, their collaborations in film, and the hard work that he put into designing the extravagant numbers seen in “Moulin Rouge!”.

“The Music” is obviously focused on the sound and music of the film, and contains 3 featurettes and 3 music videos. These include:

- “The Music Journey” (480p, 9 minutes 54 seconds) is a featurette in which Baz, composers Marius de Vries and Craig Armstrong and others discuss the juxtaposition of modern pop with period filmmaking, and how, in much the same way it did “Romeo + Juliet”, the strange musical style of “Moulin Rouge!” weirdly works.

- “The Love Medley Music” (480p, 4 minutes 28 seconds) is a featurette with composer Craig Armstrong where he discusses the origins and purpose of the film’s Love Theme.

- “Interview with Fatboy Slim” (480p, 3 minutes 56 seconds) is a featurette in which the artist talks about what it was like collaborating with Luhrmann, de Vries, Armstrong and others on the film, and his song “Because We Can” which is featured in the film.

The 3 music videos (480p) included in this section are:

- “Lady Marmalade” by Christina Aguilera, Lil' Kim and Pink (4 minutes 33 seconds).
- “Come What May” by Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman (4 minutes 15 seconds).
- “One Day I'll Fly Away” by Nicole Kidman (3 minutes 57 seconds).

"The Cutting Room" includes just 2 brief featurettes, both dealing with the film’s editing. These include:

- “Interview with Editor Jill Bilcock and Baz Luhrmann” (480p, 3 minutes 46 seconds) is a featurette in which director converses with his editor about the editing process and why it is so important in defining the very soul of a film.

- The second featurette, titled “Director's Mock Pre-visualizations” (480p, 4 minutes 40 seconds) looks at the pre-planning stages of the director’s shots, and how they compare to the final product.

Moving on we find “Toulouse Tonight” (480p), a 10-part web series from the “Moulin Rouge!” marketing campaign. John Leguizamo – in full character – “hosts” a collection of “Entertainment Tonight” like webisodes that originally took site subscribers inside the set of “Moulin Rouge!” giving them a sneak peek of the film to come. It’s all a bit redundant now, and Leguizamo is as annoying as he is in the film, but it’s still nice of Fox to have included these segments for posterity. The 10 webisodes include:

- “Intro” (57 seconds).
- “The Can-Can” (2 minutes 5 seconds).
- “The Bohos” (2 minutes 6 seconds).
- “The Duke” (2 minutes 8 seconds).
- “Christian” (2 minutes 29 seconds).
- “The Extras” (2 minutes 9 seconds).
- “Satine” (2 minutes 15 seconds).
- “The Crew” (2 minutes 21 seconds).
- “A Day with Toulouse” (2 minutes 37 seconds).
- “The End” (2 minutes 28 seconds).

The “Marketing” section includes a short EPK featurette titled “Around the World with the Moulin Rouge” (480p, 2 minutes 10 seconds) and two theatrical trailers for the film – the original theatrical trailer (480p, 2 minutes 26 seconds) and a Japanese theatrical trailer (480p, 1 minutes 51 seconds).

Finally, “Moulin Rouge!” is BD-LIVE enabled, allowing users to access Fox’s “Live Lookup” feature, which works with IMDB, streaming information such as actor’s filmographies as well as trivia about the production. “Live Look Up” runs in conjunction with the film like a trivia track. A “What’s New” tab also houses a few trailers for other 20th Century Fox Blu-ray discs.

Packaging

The film arrives on a single BD-50 disc from 20th Century Fox and is packaged inside an atrocious eco-case. Early pressings also come with a cardboard slipcover that replicates the actual case artwork; how long the slip will be in print I don’t know, but I’ve already seen slip-less copies of “Moulin Rouge!” on the shelves of local retailers. Despite a logo in the rear specs box stating otherwise the Blu-ray is confirmed to be Region Free.

Overall

Look, I’ll be honest, not everyone is going to be able to sit through “Moulin Rouge!” If you hated his take on Shakespeare, I doubt you’ll be able to tolerate a single second of Baz Luhrmann’s period-musical-comedy mash-up. Well, you might, but probably not. However, if you didn’t want to immediately rise your eyes out with bleach after sitting through two-hours of “Romeo + Juliet” I suggest you give this one a try. It’s a fun movie that, despite an exceedingly over-dramatic plot, really doesn’t take itself too seriously. Regardless of the quality of the film, Fox’s new Blu-ray is very nice indeed. With beautiful video, pretty solid audio and a ton of extras it should easily find it’s way into many format enthusiasts collections. Highly Recommended.

The Film: B Video: A+ Audio: A Extras: A- Overall: A-

 


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