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Moulin Rouge: Special Edition

20th Century Fox Home Video

Starring Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman

Written by Baz Luhrmann and Craig Pearce
Directed by Baz Luhrmann


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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:


Disc One



Disc Two


— Dawn Taylor



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