Moulin Rouge: Special Edition
20th Century Fox Home Video
Starring Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman
Written by Baz Luhrmann and Craig Pearce
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Review by Dawn Taylor
An unapologetically romantic, all-stops-out, razzle-dazzle bombast of a movie, Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge hits the ground running and doesn't pause for breath for two hours. Rabidly loved by some for its lavish costumes and heart-throbbing grand opera sensibility, and just as rabidly loathed by others for Luhrmann's frenetic, dizzying pacing, one thing is certain Moulin Rouge is a remarkable achievement, a very personal work that's staggering in the sheer amount of energy that's on the screen.
Set in 1899 "the summer of love" Moulin Rouge tells the tale of Christian, (Ewan McGregor), a young English writer who arrives in Paris with stars in his eyes and a glorified ideal of Love. In his seedy Montmarte boarding house he meets a group of bohemian artists, led by Henri Toulouse-Lautrec (John Leguizamo), and is quickly drawn into their latest project a musical entertainment to be titled "Spectacular Spectacular." In an effort to get the play produced at the Moulin Rouge, Christian is set up to meet with the courtesan/performer Satine (Nicole Kidman), the show's star attraction. Naturally, he falls in love with her at first sight and complications ensue: In order to save the Moulin Rouge from financial ruin, Satine's favors have been promised to a wealthy Duke (Richard Roxburgh, who played a different sort of baddie in Mission: Impossible 2), and besides, she's suffering from consumption and passes out a lot. But they carry on a clandestine affair anyway, courting disaster, until the play is finally presented and the melodrama reaches its expected conclusion.
Of course, the above description doesn't really describe the film at all. As the third in his "red curtain" films (beginning with Strictly Ballroom and then Romeo + Juliet), Luhrmann opens Moulin Rouge with a conductor leading an orchestra through the 20th Century Fox fanfare as lead-in to a short overture, followed by sepia images evoking French films of the 30's as the camera travels through an obviously artificial Parisian cityscape. From the very start we're made aware that this is going to be a highly theatrical production and thus should abandon all expectations of realism. What follows is hammy, exhilarating, sometimes annoying, at times positively vaudevillian... yet often engrossing. Luhrmann draws from an insanely diverse range of influences, including Gilbert and Sullivan, MGM musicals, the myth of Orpheus, '80s pop music, and Bollywood extravaganzas, and the result is jaw-dropping in its surreal frenzy of colors and sounds. Dropping from the ceiling on a trapeze, Kidman sings "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend," with a quick nod of the top hat to Madonna's "Material Girl"; dancer-prostitutes strut to Patti LaBelle's "Lady Marmalade" while white-tie-and-tails customers reference Nirvana as they sing "here we are now, entertain us"; lover's jealousy is illustrated by an intense tango to "Roxanne"; and Christian woos Satine with a medley of pop standards including "All You Need Is Love," "Up Where We Belong," "Silly Love Songs," "Don't Leave Me This Way," and David Bowie's "Heroes." These anachronisms are startling, each and every one, but it feels deliberate; Luhrmann seems to be making a point about how awkward and trite popular music is, while at the same time how uplifting and transformative it can be (this is especially pointed when Christian recites the words to Elton John's "Our Song" and sounds like a buffoon until he sings it, at which point the same words are, indeed, magical.)
However, four years in the making, Moulin Rouge suffers greatly from too much attention to detail. Paced as if it were edited by someone with ADD, everything passes by much too quickly, giving lightning-fast glimpses of costumes, sets, dance numbers, faces. Even the songs are truncated, with most being just a verse or two before the film speeds off to the next scene it's like Luhrmann's scared the audience will get bored if the camera sits in one place for too long. The unfortunate result is that elaborate dance numbers, reduced to successions of three-second visuals, become just so much background color. The snippets of songs often play like gimmicks rather than homages. And then, strangely, some scenes are far too long when Satine mistakes Christian for the Duke and then the real Duke shows up, the resultant bedroom farce as Satine attempts to distract the Duke while Christian hides just goes on and on and on, well beyond the point of being funny.
But the delights Moulin Rouge has to offer transcend these quibbles. McGregor is a surprisingly good song-and-dance man (although his unfortunate habit of going up an octave and practically shouting lyrics in a couple of his songs has more than a little whiff of "Star Search" about it), and he plays his role with such sincerity and conviction that it's impossible to not be swept up in his dewy-eyed fervor. Kidman is very much the movie star here, her flawless hair and make-up almost upstaging her in her own scenes. Okay, so she seems far too robust to be dying of consumption, but the chemistry between her and McGregor is palpable and, like everyone else in Moulin Rouge, she throws herself into the spirit of the proceedings without a trace of irony or cynicism. And she looks incredible in the costumes. Which is really what it's all about at the end of the day: Moulin Rouge is primarily a visual feast. That it has a heart is a bonus but this campy, goofy, utterly romantic carnival ride is a whirlwind of color and adrenaline-pumping dazzle. If you can keep up without needing to reach for the Dramamine, you may find that you love it.
* * *
With the same obsessive attention to detail that made Moulin Rouge an over-the-top feast, Baz Luhrmann himself created, directed, and produced the 20th Century Fox DVD, cramming it with more than six hours of extras. With a sparkling, beautiful anamorphic transfer (1:85:1), the film may still suffer on smaller TV screens simply because many scenes are so very, very busy with visual details. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio presents the many-layered soundtrack to full advantage. And, as mentioned before, there's the outrageous number of extras, presented within a labyrinth of branching menus plus Easter eggs that offer odd little snippets of somebody's private, behind-the-scenes video scattered throughout, ten in all:
- Two commentary tracks featuring Baz Luhrmann, Catherine Martin, Don McAlpine, and Craig Pearce: All offer detailed, cheerful anecdotes about the making of the film. With several years of production and hundreds of special effects devoted to the film, they naturally have a lot of (detailed) tech gossip. Most striking, however, is the immense pride they obviously take in the film Moulin Rouge was a labor of love, it turns out, for pretty much everyone involved in the production.
- "Behind The Red Velvet Curtain": An interactive version of the film where the viewer can click on the "Green Fairy" when she appears on-screen to see scene-specific featurettes on minutia like set design, blue screen effects, and the planning behind the love-song montage.
- Audio for the visually impaired: Not an unusual feature, but especially interesting to run during Moulin Rouge. A cultured male voice describes the action on-screen as the film runs this is particularly amusing during the frenetic Can-Can sequence, as the gentleman calmly narrates, "A man stands on his hands and waves his legs in the air. Dancers kick and wave their skirts. A woman falls to her knees and puts her face near a man's crotch."
- The Making of Moulin Rouge: A 25-minute promotional film first shown as an "HBO: First Look" special, offering interviews with cast and crew members and an overview on the costumes, set design and choreography. (Luhrmann compares the Moulin Rouge nightclub both with a rave and with Studio 54. for what it's worth.)
- The Stars: Interviews with Kidman, McGregor, Leguizamo, Richard Roxborough, and Jim Broadbent where they discuss their characters, much of the footage being recycled from the HBO feature. There's not much to learn here, with everyone pretty much mouthing the usual "Gee, it was so great to work on this movie and everyone was so fabulous" platitudes.
- The Cutting Room: The menu here offers interviews with Luhrmann and editor Jill Bilcock, a selection of unexceptional "Abandoned Edits" (outtakes and alternate edits), and "Director Mock Pre-Visualizations." The latter feature is a fascinating look at what Luhrmann calls "maquettes" stills or existing clips of actors edited together to create a sort of storyboard-on-film, with Luhrmann hilariously dubbing the new dialogue in his version of the actors' voices, including accents and kissy noises.
- The Dance: This much-appreciated feature presents full versions of the dances all on their own, giving viewers a chance to see the Can-Can, Tango, Hindi and Coup d'Etat numbers without all the hyperactive editing and cutaways. Some are offered with the multi-angle feature, allowing the viewer to choose from a variety of camera positions. But best of all, you can watch the "Roxanne" tango as the beautiful, stand-alone set piece that it is. This area also offers two "Choreography" features an interview with the choreographer, John "Cha Cha" O'Connell with clips of him at work, and video of the rehearsals, including the first presentations of the completed dances for the assembled cast and crew (the joyful energy of the dancers, who are shown wearing T-shirts, dance pants and makeshift skirts, is infectious).
- The Music: A sort of "making of the music" feature titled The Musical Journey shows the creative process behind the score; an interview with Fat Boy Slim and a look at his records and his software; "The Lady Marmalade Phenomenon," with the music video and a clip of the performance at the MTV Music Video Awards by Christina Aguilera, L'il Kim, Mya and Pink; and a music video of the song "Come What May."
- The Design:This section features interviews with production designer Catherine Martin and costume designer Angus Strathe; "Set Design," with still galleries devoted to the designs for the Montmarte street, the interiors, the garden, the elephant, Toulouse's studio and Christian's garret; "Costume Design," stills of the various costumes; "Graphic Design," a gallery of the various posters, labels, signs and such created for the film; "Smoke and Mirrors," on the collage of techniques used to create the photo-montage opening effect, including the computer modeling of the sweep though Paris; and "The Green Fairy," which illustrates how the idea of an absinthe hallucination evolved from an "evil Iggy Pop rocker fairy" to singer Kylie Minogue.
- Marketing: A variety of publicity materials, including a photo gallery with stills taken by world-class photographers like Mary Ellen Mark and Douglas Kirkland; "The Little Red Book," an ad for the upcoming Luhrmann boxed set containing his three "red curtain" films; a poster gallery; and trailers, including the "International Sizzle Spot" teaser and the Japanese theatrical trailer, which focuses mostly on the tragic, doomed love angle of the film.
- Anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1)
- Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (SS-DL)
- Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), DTS 5.1 (English), Dolby 2.0 Surround (Spanish)
- Audio for the visually impaired
- Two commentary tracks featuring Baz Luhrmann, Catherine Martin, Don McAlpine, and Craig Pierce
- "Behind the Red Velvet Curtain" interactive feature
- Featurette: "The Making of Moulin Rouge"
- Cast-and-crew interviews
- Outtakes and alternate edits
- "Director Mock Pre-Visualizations" storyboard feature
- Full versions of four dance numbers, with multi-cam feature
- Featurette: "The Musical Journey"
- Music videos and live performances of "Lady Marmalade"
- Still galleries on set design, costume design, graphic design, and special effects
- Easter eggs
- Dual-DVD digipak in paperboard slipcase
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