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MOULIN ROUGE
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor, Jim Broadbent, Richard Roxburgh, John Leguizamo
Director:  Baz Luhrmann
Audio:  DTS HD 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio:  20th Century Fox
Features:  See Review
Length:  127 Minutes
Release Date:  October 19, 2010

“The show will be a magnificent opulent tremendous stupendous gargantuan bedazzlement, a sensual ravishment!”

Film ***1/2

Baz Luhrmann is a director with seemingly no inhibitions…he rolls the dice and goes for broke film after film.  The results aren’t always enchanting…in fact, I found his William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet to be one of the most headache-inducing films of its year…but I still admired his chutzpah and bravado to do what he did with it, even if the overall results were less than enthralling.

With Moulin Rouge, the third film in his so-called “Red Curtain” series, he has just the material to suit his flamboyant go-for-broke style.  His approach is just as bold, setting a fantastic, colorful story in a real and legendary Paris nightclub in 1900, using modern songs in bombastic Andrew Lloyd Webber overtones, and taking what is essentially trite melodrama and milking it for all of its comic and tragic possibilities.  The finished film is a visual and sonic wonderwork, accented by two wonderful lead performances and a strong supporting cast, but made vivid by Luhrmann’s own imaginative eye.  It is an experience in pure cinema.

The story itself is hardly original…more than once, I found myself thinking about Shakespeare in Love, for example.  Both movies revolve around a writer creating a story for the stage out of his own romantic interlude, and both featured real historic figures as characters.  In Moulin Rouge, we even have the likes of Erik Satie and Toulouse-Lautrec (Leguizamo).

It is into these artists’ Bohemian world that our leading man Christian (McGregor) arrives.  He is an aspiring writer and poet from England who has come to Paris to indulge his artistic passions.  Fate lands him the role of scripting a new play for the Moulin Rouge, a decadent, bawdy nightclub whose owner Zidler (Broadbent) dreams of turning into a legitimate theatre.

A simple misunderstanding has Christian meeting up with the club’s star courtesan, Satine (Kidman)…he believes he is to audition himself as a poet to her, while she mistakes him for the rich Duke (Roxburgh) she has been ordered to placate in order to get the show the financing it needs!

A love triangle ensues.  The normally professional Satine and the sweet but naïve Christian find themselves falling in love.  The Duke also loves Satine, and his jealous plotting is fueled by the monetary grip he has over the Moulin Rouge.  How will it all end?

Well, the story is told somewhat in flashback form with Christian writing his and Satine’s story, and there are other revelations made early on…you’ll see where it’s all going long before the main characters even do.  But knowing how the story ends is no dramatic flaw here…in fact, the plot is nothing more or less than the type of melodrama that used to flicker across the screen in the silent film era.  There is a real love story here, and we buy into it.  We care about the characters, no matter how many times we’ve seen their sort before.  And we love the heightened world of the Moulin Rouge, which plays more like a memory that has “improved” with time rather than an unflappable photograph…all of these elements combine to elevate the material beautifully.

If Luhrmann has one artistic flaw, it is his incessant penchant for rapid fire MTV editing.  Those responsible for cutting his movies probably earn serious overtime…if they can ever talk him into getting paid by the cut, their careers would turn lucrative overnight.  There’s a time and place for everything, and Luhrmann sadly disrupts magnificent choreography (see the uncut dance sequences on Disc Two) by hacking them into short staccato bits that takes away from its splendor. 

But his use of modern music is brilliant…sometimes the effect is warmly comical (wait until you see Broadbent singing “Like a Virgin”), at other times, lovely and romantic.  Elton John’s “Your Song” takes on an entirely new meaning here, and the medley in which Satine and Christian come together is arguably the year’s most joyful movie moment.  You’d think that people would have had enough of silly love songs, but Luhrmann hasn’t, and he uses them to capture and enhance the spirit of his picture.  Most rewarding of all, however, is the knowledge that both McGregor and Kidman do their own singing in the movie.  Both have very nice voices…Ms. Kidman’s, in fact, may just leave you stunned and agape.

All things considered, Moulin Rouge is definitely a movie that takes risks that seem reckless, but are definitely carefully calculated.  Luhrmann probably knew that his film wasn’t going to please everybody.  I’m guessing the studio must have, too, but the amount of money they probably spent on this lavish production was a great showing of faith.  I hope it won’t be the last.  Moulin Rouge is, overall, indicative of the kind of picture we need more of.

P.S. - Is there any religious significance to the names Christian and Satine?  Inquiring minds want to know...

Video ***1/2

This is quite a heavenly vision...a colorful cornucopia of images that ring out like pure joy in high definition.  Yes, if you want to know how well colors can be processed, mixed and contrasted, look no further than this wonderful Blu-ray.  The art design is simply gorgeous, and if it weren't for a few minor instances of noticeable grain in lower light settings, this would be complete perfection...but in any case, it's still DARN close.

Audio ****

The DTS HD 5.1 really brings the music to dynamic life...the song score really opens up and envelops the listener while it plays.  There is plenty of bass and the surround tracks open up the ambience for nice live sounding effects.  Dialogue is well balanced against the bigger scenes.  Everything comes through like a concert...an excellent experience.

Features ****

So much to choose from!  You get two commentary tracks, the first featuring Luhrmann with production designer Catherine Martin and cinematographer Don McAlpine, while the second features co-writers Luhrmann and Craig Pearce.  Take your pick; both are extremely informative listens.  Both run with terrific picture in picture extras; you’ll see a multitude of vignettes detailing the making of certain scenes, including in-depth looks at production designs and camera effects.  Before you used to have to choose to switch back and forth...but with Blu-ray, you get it ALL!

There is an introduction from Lurhman and a brand new featurette "A Creative Adventure"...aptly titled.  There is also an HBO behind-the-scenes documentary featuring cast and crew interviews.  If that’s not enough, Kidman, McGregor, Leguizamo, Broadbent and Roxburgh all appear for additional cast interviews as a bonus.  There is a featurette with Luhrmann and Craig Pierce on the writing of the film, a marketing gallery that includes trailers, TV spots, production photo essays, poster concepts and more.  There are is also a deleted scenes segment with editor Jill Bilcock, a multi-angle capable look at the full dance numbers featuring an interview with choreographer John O’Connell, three music videos including both the video and live performance of the hit “Lady Marmalade”, and an art design segment with Catherine Martin featuring concept to film comparisons of sets and costumes, and more. 

Rounding out is a gag reel, behind-the-scenes with John Leguizamo, and "Live Lookup" for those with BD Live enabled players.  A tremendous package all around.

Summary:

Moulin Rouge isn’t going to please everybody, but the adventurous will be rewarded by an audacious director who infuses common material with an ambitious visual style, a daring use of music, and great casting that brings to life a Paris that never really was except in our own romantic imaginations.  It’s not a perfect film, but still wonderful enough to stand as one of the year’s best achievements in filmmaking.

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