I have to admit, I start watching some films Im reviewing thinking I probably will not like it. Sometimes I am pleasantly surprised. Such was the case with Moulin Rouge. I though, just another extended music video. Well, in a way it was but there was a difference, it was entertaining. Right from the start the film is presented in a novel manner that carries you into another world. Now a day, is that such a bad thing? Now the film is a musical. While the hey day of this genre is past its prime by some fifty years the film mixes the standards of the old with the music of recent times. There are elaborate dance numbers utilizing a large cast of background dances. The only way to describe the production is elaborate. There is little in the way of story but here it seems all right. Young English writer Christian (Ewan McGregor) has moved to Paris to join the Bohemian revolution. No sooner than he sets up in his dank little apartment than a new set of friends literally crashes into his live. Among them is Toulouse-Lautrec (John Leguizamo) a dwarf painter and ersatz leader of the group of artists. When the writer working on their production fails to come up with a line describing a hillside, Christian comes up with The hills are alive with the sound of music, wit a song they have sung for a thousand years. It is these little inside jokes that add so much to the campy fun this production provides. The plan is to get Christian an audition with Zidler (Jim Broadbent), the owner of the Moulin Rouge, a notorious nightclub/brothel popular with the city. To get to him Christian must first be approved by the leading courtesan Satine (Nicole Kidman). Through a typical musical comedy case of mistaken identity, both Zidler and Satine think Christian is The Duke (Richard Roxburgh) a rich potential investor. Of course, there is a tragic secret to the beautiful Satine, although she feels the Duke is her passage into becoming a legitimate actress, she is dying of tuberculosis. This provides just the right amount of melodrama to balance the exuberant nature of this film. This movie has such a high degree of energy that its faults are readily overlooked. You will be swept away by the sheer kinetic force of this production.
The cast assembled here is picture perfect. I say that in a literal sense. Kidman poses more than actually acts. Each scene is like a painting from that time period with Kidman as the focus. She has a scene of humor that comes through and can hold the songs well but her physical beauty carries her role. There is no imagination required to picture her as Satine, the object of all desires. Kidman commands the screen just as Satine owns the Moulin Rouge. McGregor is a long way from his typical roles. While his voice is not the best around he does the job. It was a bit difficult to see him as native as Christian was supposed to be. Still, he plays well opposite not only Kidman but with Leguizamo as well. After all, this is all that is required for a musical. When I think of the great musicals of my youth I dont remember the acting but the ability to suspend reality and draw you into another world. Speaking of Leguizamo kudos have to be given to this extremely talented young man. Roles like Summer of Sam demonstrated he could act. His HBO specials showcased his talent as a stand up comedian. Here, he takes on a physically demanding role of Toulouse-Lautrec. Having to perform entirely in prosthetic legs to cut his height down to that of the real Lautrec, the role was painful for him but he carried on. A special mention has to go to Kylie Minogue, who plays the Absinth hallucination induced Green Fairy. She is the angel and devil of the film. She is the muse that inspires the motley group of artists. She floats around and adds to the general whimsy of the film. This film takes the audience away from the CNN intensive world we live in to another place full of music and magic. Consider the recent events of the year this is a perfect way to get away.
In charge of this madhouse is Baz Luhrmann. I do not envy this task. Almost every scene is full to the brim with swirling colors, pounding music and more energy than a nuclear weapon. He has to direct a huge cast of singing and dancing extras, elaborate sets and a myriad of camera angles to contend with. It was tough enough to revive the long dead musical but to do it with actors not know for musical abilities is a daunting task. Lurmann rose to the occasion with talent and ability. There is a great deal of imagination shown in how he approached this project. Right from the start the film is novel. It opens with the usual Fox theme, but here we see the curtain of an old theater. A conductor takes the stage and in an animated almost spastic manner conducts the movies opening credits. The film starts in black and white, complete with the scratches and flaws that are so common in old films. A pseudo mise en scene takes us rapidly through the narrow, dirty streets of Paris to the window of young Christian. There the color is slowly brought up. In the first minute of this film Luhrmann entices us into this surreal world of his creation and we follow along willingly. His cuts are extremely fast paced. You will feel like you are being swept away on an irresistible current of sight and sound. One objection many have about musicals is people just bursting out in song. In this fanciful world of Luhrmann where gravity and physics hold no meaning it just pulls together. Speed changes without warning, people defy gravity and sound effects are exaggerated, all of this defines a world removed from reality and helps to transport the audience to the surreal vision of this director. Luhrmann seamlessly blends CGI, mattes and live action. In one scene there is a close up on Satine and Christian that pulls back to a long shot and then focuses on another close up of the two. Luhrmann incorporates a variety of visually inventive means to keep the pace and the interest of the viewers. Like the time period he is working on the medium is the message.
The disc is among the best-produced DVDs ever. The sound is presented in both pounding Dolby 5.1 and all encompassing DTS. The THX approved sound fills the room, all six speakers boom into your room creating a sound field that will shake you. Even the over the top Foley Effects pop out at you. You living room will fill with sound and literally become the Moulin Rouge. The anamorphic video is brilliant, displaying every little detail. The extras will keep you busy for many, many hours. There is a commentary form director and production heads, a special Behind the Red Curtain version that provides extras at several key points in the film. Music videos include both the staged and live versions of Lady Marmalade featuring four of the hottest young women in music. I have counted 15 hidden easter eggs so far and Im uncertain that I have them all. This two-disc set is at the top of the media. Forget the problems you see on CNN, take a vacation from reality and get this film.