"A story about love." - Christian
'Moulin Rouge!', the final installment in Baz Luhrmann's Red Curtain trilogy, a trio of films connected by filmmaking techniques and thematic ideas rather than by characters and stories, is an extravaganza. The creative team, with emphasis on "creative", delivers a marvelous display of imaginative visuals and sounds that helped revive the live-action musical genre upon its release in 2001.
Luhrmann and his co-writer Craig Pearce aren't so much concerned about the story as they are its execution, which they demonstrate in the opening scene by having the narrator Christian (Ewan McGregor), alone in a dingy Parisian apartment in 1900, reveal how it all ended tragically. The story flashes back a year to 1899 when he, against the wishes of his father, arrives in the colorful Montmartre district. Christian brings with him little more than dreams of being a writer and an idealistic view of love, which he has never personally experienced it.
But it's not entirely 1899 as viewers know it based on Luhrmann's musical choices. Christian meets up with a group of bohemian artists, led by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (John Leguizamo), who are working on a cabaret show. When the opportunity presents itself for Christian to demonstrate his musical talents, he sings out a line from 'The Sound of Music,' 60 years before the musical played Broadway, which the bohemians think is genius. He is not alone in being able to access 20th century music. At the Moulin Rogue, described as "a nightclub, dance hall, and a bordello," Zidler and his dancers, known as the Diamond Dogs, one of many David Bowie references, dance a can-can to a mash-up of Labelle's "Lady Marmalade" and Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," which is shot and edited at a music-video pace.
Toulouse sets up a meeting between Christian and the Moulin Rouge star, the gorgeous Satine (Nicole Kidman), to pitch her their show. Zidler has arranged a second and more important meeting with The Duke of Monroth (Richard Roxburgh, who delivers a wonderfully villainous performance). In exchange for an evening spent with her, the Duke will make a sizable investment in the Moulin Rouge. Naturally, there's a mix-up and Satine confuses Christian for the Duke and becomes taken with him. This causes her great conflict because she's never been with a man who hasn’t paid her, has never experienced real love, but appreciates the value that money and security provide.
'Moulin Rouge!' is a simple, familiar story given a fresh twist. While neither the characters nor the love affair have a great deal of depth or uniqueness, Luhrmann infuses the entire endeavor with a great deal of fun and imagination, even bringing to mind director Terry Gilliam with some of his choices, like the shots of the Paris at night with the Moulin Rouge in the distance. The cast gives it their all, fully investing in and wringing out all the seriousness and humor the story offers. The artistry on display, from the Academy Award-winning Art Direction-Set Decoration led by Catherine Martin & Brigitte Broch and Academy Award-winning Costume Design by Catherine Martin & Angus Strathie, would make an exquisite coffee table book.
Most importantly, the musical numbers are engaging and fun whether original numbers like the lovers' secret song and theme from the movie, "Come What May", or covering work from popular artists, such as Paul McCartney, Elton John, and Madonna. The latter use should help bring in people to the film who have an aversion to musicals. Plus, Zidler and the Duke singing "Like A Virgin" has to be considered on any list of funniest sequences from movie musicals.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Presented by 20th Century Fox, 'Moulin Rouge!' is a 50GB Blu-ray disc accessible to Region A and B comes in a ecocase. The Green Fairy leads user right to the menu without any promotional advertisements.
The video has been given a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encoded transfer displayed at 2.40:1 that has been approved by Luhrmann. What they get right looks outstanding and what falls short are minor quibbles that shouldn't diminish the overall experience.
The colors are phenomenal and vibrant throughout, particularly during the Moulin Rouge shows and in Satine's room. Blacks are inky and have great separation as can be seen during the first sequence in the club with so many of the men dressed in black top hats and tails. Fleshtones remain consistent even though cinematographer Donald McAlpine makes frequent use of colored light and shadows. The delineation in the latter is quite clear. There are great details on display in the costumes and sets, making clear why the work is so highly regarded.
There are some minor issues. The sharpness gets lost on occasion as the frenetic camera flies around and also during slow-mo shots, which appear as though they may have been done in post. The high definition format causes some of the digital effects to lose their believability. The outdoor scenes are obviously shot with green screen and the opening black and white footage has phony marks to give it a sense of age. When Satine sings "One Day I'll Fly Away" on the roof of her room, the grain against the blue night sky shows some minute artifacting.
The audio is offered in a robust DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that immerses the viewer. Of utmost importance is the music, which comes through with great power and clarity. The vocals and the dialogue are clear in the mix as they come out the front center channel. The subwoofer completes the songs, giving them oomph free of distortion. Great bass kicks can be heard during "Lady Marmalade".
The dynamic range is expansive. The evocative vocals by Christian and Satine, sung as if their lives depended on it, are as clear as the little whispers between the lovers. The sound design is playful, filled with a variety of effects at different volumes to punctuate action and humor, which are usually for cartoons. The sweeping of the windmill arm can be heard moving through the soundspace.
These supplements were previously available on the DVD releases. An HD picture frame of various sizes surrounds standard definition footage.
Moulin Rouge! is a very enjoyable musical made by a very talented team led by director Baz Luhrmann. This isn’t your grandparents' musical and stands as one of the best of this century. For the most part, the craftsmanship on display transfers well to high definition and is well worth the upgrade for those who own the DVD. Highly recommend, even for those who don't normally like musicals.