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A view on Blu-ray and DVD video by Leonard Norwitz

Moulin Rouge! (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment) [Blu-ray]

 

(Baz Lurmann, 2001)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review by Leonard Norwitz

 

Production:

Theatrical: Bazmark Pty Ltd. (Australia)

Blu-ray: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

 

Disc:

Region: FREE!

Runtime: 2:07:47.910

Disc Size: 45,040,834,776 bytes

Feature Size: 30,220,793,856 bytes

Video Bitrate: 21.01 Mbps

Chapters: 36

Case: Amaray Blu-ray Case

Release date: October 19th, 2010

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 2.40:1

Resolution: 1080P / 23.976 fps

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

 

 

Audio:

DTS-HD Master Audio English 4122 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 4122 kbps / 24-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps /
24-bit)
Dolby Digital Audio English 448 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 448 kbps / DN -4dB
Dolby Digital Audio French 448 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 448 kbps / DN -4dB
Dolby Digital Audio Portuguese 448 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 448 kbps / DN -4dB
Dolby Digital Audio Spanish 448 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 448 kbps / DN -4dB
Dolby Digital Audio English 224 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 224 kbps / DN -4dB

 

Subtitles: English SDH, English (for the Commentary), Danish, Danish (Commentary), Finnish, Finnish (Commentary), Norwegian, Norwegian (Commentary), Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish, Swedish (Commentary), none

 

Extras:

• Spectacular, Spectacular Picture-in-Picture Mode with Audio Commentary by Baz Luhrmann, Catherine Martin, Donald M. McAlpine and Craig Pearce

• Audio Commentary by Baz Luhrmann, Catherine Martin, Donald M. McAlpine and Craig Pearce

• An Introductory Word from Baz – in HD (1:58)

• A Creative Adventure – in HD (11:04)

• Uncut Footage from the Bazmark Vault:

• Father & Son – A Look at an Alternate Opening

• Nicole Kidman’s First Vocal Test

• Production Featurettes and Interviews: The Stars, The Writers, The Design, The Dance, The Music and The Cutting Room

• The Making of Moulin Rouge (25:55)

• BD-LIVE: Live Lookup

 

 

Introduction:
When High Definition video became a reality in this country at long last, Moulin Rouge! was one of the first titles I thought of that should benefit from the upgrade. No, that’s not quite it. Moulin Rouge! requires high definition to make it work.

Baz Lurhmann’s Spectacular Spectacular “Moulin Rouge!” rarely engenders lukewarm responses. Qualified, perhaps, but for the most part, people either love it or hate it. The movie won Oscars for Costumes and Art Direction, Golden Globes for Musical, Actress, Original Score, BAFTA’s for Supporting Actor, Film Music and Sound. The movie barely made back its costs on U.S. screens after an initial run of ten months, but did very well internationally with a total gross over three times its cost. In any case, I’m in the former camp. I think Moulin Rouge! is brilliant: by turns cacophonous, charming, ludicrous, hypnotic and romantic. I watched it three times during its initial theatrical run, the first and second times on successive days just to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating. I’m still not sure.

It was the year before Chicago won the Oscar for Best Picture. Imagine, after decades: two remarkable musicals from mainstream sources only seven months apart! and they couldn’t have been more different. Chicago: Cool, smart, sassy, always in control of itself, with hardly a single character whose fate we give a fig about. Moulin Rouge! Hot, out of control, absurd, erotic, in love with itself at every level.

Moulin Rouge! is the final installment of what Baz Luhrmnn calls his Red Curtain trilogy - the first two being Strictly Ballroom (1992) and Romeo Juliet (1996). They celebrate, in turn: dance, word, and song in what Baz calls “heightened cinema.” We see what he means. There is nothing subtle about his movies. If you can stand the pressure and the demand, he sucks you in and clobbers the hell out of you with color, movement and music, comedy, pathos and ecstasy, romance and division. Baz’s Red Curtain movies are all love stories – you may have noticed the big “L’Amour” sign placed prominently in these films and for his stage version of “La Boheme.” Baz’s textures may be complex, but his stories aren’t. Repeated viewings are not likely to reveal new truths or delicate shadings of character or story, but they will tell you more about how he does what he does and how he makes you feel the way you do from one moment to the next.

 

 


I have found more to enjoy and to love with each viewing, as I believe others have as well. And while Baz likes to think of Moulin Rouge! as having “re-invented the movie musical”- a prediction that has not borne fruit, nor did I see how it could, his movie stands on its own, like Harry Partch’s Delusion of the Fury, as a monument to unbridles imagination, creativity and commitment to an idea.

 

The Film: 8

The time is 1900. The place: Paris. The Moulin Rouge - a wild and crazy affair where performances, largely by prostitutes, would tantalize the middle and upper classes with their risqué dances and costumes. Our hero, a young romantic named Christian (Ewan McGregor), has come to Paris to live the Bohemian life and write about Love – only he’s never been in love. Neither has the heroine of the piece, Satine (Nicole Kidman), the star of the Moulin Rouge.

In the movie’s begins dark and brooding prologue we learn that Satine is dead and Christian’s dream of finding pure Love and even his belief in Love is shattered. Through his pain he begins to remember how it all started – in euphoric hopes, brilliant colors and high comedy – yet ending in such tragedy and darkness. Is it possible that Christian loved the great love, only for it to end in tragedy? Was there something he missed or misunderstood?

Satine is a jaw-droppingly beautiful courtesan whose particular talent is that she can make any man fall in love with her. Being Nicole Kidman you wouldn’t think this would be a hard sell, but even Nicole would have her work cut out for her if she had worked at the Moulin Rouge in 1900. Satine, as we noted already, has never been in love, for to do so would be “bad for business.” She is also ambitious and wishes to become a great and respected actress . . . sometime before she succumbs to consumption would be nice. To this end and, not unimportantly, to help the impresario Harold Zidler (Jim Broadbent) establish his Moulin Rouge as a legitimate theatre to rival the Paris Opera, the astronomically wealthy Duke (Richard Roxburgh) is promised Satine for a princely sum.

Before we learn all this we meet Christian, who suffers from a case of writer’s block - and no surprise. Enter, or more precisely, falling through his ceiling, a narcoleptic Argentinean, one of a small troupe of genuine Bohemians led by Toulouse-Lautrec (John Leguizamo) – yes, that Toulouse-Lautrec – who are rehearsing their new play, “Spectacular Spectacular,” in the room above Christian. Their problem: the libretto is awful, and they know it. They invite Christian into their group, having embraced the true Bohemian values of Truth, Beauty, Freedom, and above all, Love. Perhaps they could interest Zidler into producing the play, with Satine as star.

Now comes the moment where you either give up or give in. Either way, your first impulse will be to burst out laughing – and that laugh is likely to go on long enough that you might miss the point. I did the first time I saw the movie. Toulouse’s group is testing various lines for a particular scene in their play when Christian, in a screen-filling close-up – suddenly interrupts with “The hills are alive with the sound of music” – complete with string orchestra!

 

 

Despite that the music which immediately follows the 20th Century Fox logo is this very melody, we are hardly prepared for the lyric so boldly pronounced at this moment. That earlier soundbite of “The Sound of Music,” by the way, is followed by Offenbach’s “Orpheus in the Underworld” and other pop music favorites, and still we are not prepared for how far the idea of using late-twentieth century songs will be developed in Moulin Rouge!

The Offenbach “Can-Can” tune, by the way, has a dual purpose - the obvious one being its evocation of the Moulin Rouge; but equally important, however submerged at the beginning of the film, is its origin: Offenbach’s opera “Orpheus in the Underworld,” for Christian is certainly Orpheus and Satine lives in the Underworld. Christian sees his mission not only to have her fall in love with him, as the legendary Orpheus could do with just about anyone or anything, but also to rescue Satine from her life as a courtesan and even from death itself. The coincidence of Offenbach’s music and hero to the story of Moulin Rouge! must have struck Baz as a message direct from the heavens.

Baz resorts to this device of interpolating pre-existing songs into the fabric of new songs not merely to turn his audience inside out, though that must be one desirable intention, but to satisfy our Bohemian troupe’s search for the ultimate librettist. For Christian is an unending fountain of great lyrics, decades ahead of their time you could say. Christian thinks, breathes and argues such lyrics. Sometimes, as in the Elephant Love Duet, the entire song is made up of a succession of lines from other songs (ten in that duet), replete with their melodies. Imagine what it took to create a remotely convincing new song out of the fragments of others! Imagine the catalogue of permissions the music supervisor needed to obtain for this movie! And, except for Zidler’s rap and one song - the secret love song “Come What May” that Christian and Satine devise as a stand-in for their love - all the material is from previously composed sources. Some, like the zany “Like a Virgin,” longer than others. The tango version of “Roxanne” - a song of jealousy, pimps and prostitutes, with Baz cutting to the related drama of the Duke and Satine - is the film’s best partnership of interactive, layered meanings between dance, melody, lyric and drama.

Not wishing to reveal too much of the story, it is enough to say that after Christian and Satine fall in love and the Duke agrees to finance the play that Christian is writing with Toulouse, the Duke begins to suspect that Satine may not be living up to her part of the agreement, which, if true, could spell curtains for all concerned.

 

 

 

Image: 8/9   NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.

In the Extra Features, Baz offers a two-minute introduction to the Blu-ray in which he says: “We did not want to go ‘Look how powerful this new digital tool is’ but instead we wanted to take the film you experienced in the cinema and transfer it to Blu-ray, but enhance and celebrate the visual philosophy that we arrived at in trying to re-invent the movie musical ten years ago.” The word “enhance” is troubling. But whatever he means, the result in the new transfer is to increase the black level, color saturation and contrast, trusting that Blu-ray, as DVD would not have been able to do, will allow us to see into it and not be swallowed up by it. The result generates more powerful color than perhaps you have ever seen on your HD screen.

 

Fox’s DVD was very good to start with: brilliant color and contrast, with an image sharp, clean, and absent transfer issues. The Blu-ray goes well beyond that, allowing us to go much deeper into Catherine Martin’s unbelievably dense sets. Fabric textures seem reach out and touch it, but are actually quite soft. I think it seems that way because the color contrast is so good. Other things such as facial textures are hit and miss - deliberately so, according to the commentary, to keep things from looking “too perfect.” Ewan is nearly always soft, Nicole glowing, and Jim sharp and vivid. Black and white values have been extended, trusting that Blu-ray, as DVD would not have been able to do, will allow us to delve deeper into the blacks and all colors and take advantage of those millions of color gradations promised by the medium.

 


That said, the color – reds especially – are saturated right to the point of bleeding – especially noticeable in the opening insanity at the Moulin Rouge where Zidler introduces his Diamond Dogs and the girls do battle with flying skirts, legs, bottoms and laced underclothes (which, we learn from CM, were slitted back in the day.) The extended scene in Satine’s dressing room, bathed in reds, blacks and golds, can only be made sense of in high definition. Color contrast is forever being tested: Outside, when the camera pulls back to reveal the full size elephant, the entire courtyard and the Paris skyline in the distance in a sea of grays, blues and blacks; the shadowy space where the Roxanne tango is danced is just a hair’s breath from being crushed into non-existence. There are numerous scenes where on the DVD it seemed there was only a single color with hints of shapes. Not so here.

 

I have no doubt that Fox’s new Blu-ray is just about exactly what Baz could have hoped for, even if in absolute terms, the image is at times soft. I also thought I observed a touch of jaggies here and there, and only for that reason have I given it a score of 8/9 instead of 9/9. It’s a small quibble, but perhaps a higher bit rate with extra features on a second disc, might have helped overcome this.

 

CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio & Music:

I’ve never thought that the audio was the movie’s strong suit. The sound design is extremely complex, whose balances, and mixing is done well – always has been. But there is still a lack of air and openness, a thickness that even the uncompressed audio does not penetrate. That said, the DTS-HD MA mix makes bearable that which bordered on noise in the first two big numbers at the Moulin Rouge. Chaos is one thing, din is another. I remember finding those scenes quite irritating – both in the theater and on DVD. No longer, and that’s a real plus, entirely due to the new audio mix.

The dialogue here is just that much more telling, more convincing, especially important in a movie like Moulin Rouge! which hangs by a thread anyhow. An aside: all of the songs are pre-recorded, and all the singing, except for Zidler’s “Like a Virgin,” is performed by the actors. The syncing is quite good, and even if not always perfect there are enough distractions that we don’t take much notice.

Aside from a touch of opacity there can be no question as to the level of dazzling surround sound excitement and authoritative power and mass achieved in the lossless DTS mix, especially in the songs whose instrumentation and effects come at you from every which way.

An encyclopedic knowledge of pop music comes in handy for a proper appreciation of Moulin Rouge! Alas, I don’t have it. The best I can do is recognize the material even if I can’t place it and attend to the lyrics as they work their way into their new contexts. As it happens, that’s all that necessary – or expected, I think. The more you know, however, the more layered your appreciation of the movie. The Madonna and Sting songs are obvious examples, but even in snippets, the bits by Lennon/McCarthy, Elton John, Dolly Parton, David Bowie, Will Jennings and many others make the head swirl in delirious appreciation. What’s amazing is how seamlessly they work their way alongside lines from other songs and into the fabric of the story (I can watch the Roxanne Tango out of context anytime, even in the extended version in the Bonus features, where the image is shrunk by 2/3.)

 

Operations: 3
Once arrived at, the PIP feature works very well. Instead of relying on talking heads, numerous and fleeting clips form behind the scenes fly into view on one side of the screen, then the other, deliberately placed it seems so as to reveal the movie better. The material chosen coincides with the commentary (you’d be surprised how often that doesn’t happen on other videos.) A nice touch is the consistently placed banners that come into view which detail the title and composers of the songs being sung. All of this material is so densely packed that it feels like you’re watching a parallel universe for Baz’s movie. So much for the good news.

Fox continues and expands their idea of hidden menus, preferring a clean home page to a useful one. The head-scratcher du jour is the tab titled “SEARCH.” Now if the Menu itself isn’t a Searching device I don’t know the meaning of the term. So the use of the word here is puzzling. But there’s more – or less, depending on your point of view. When you click on the SEARCH tab – and you’re really not going to believe this! – a new tab comes up titled “SCENES” which needs to be clicked on in order for you to access said scenes. There are no other tabs under the SEARCH tab. The term “SEARCH” therefore in this context is not only redundant it is meaningless. It gets worse: Fox divides the movie into 36 chapters, and for a movie like Moulin Rouge! this can only be a good thing. However the SCENES toolbar only displays a thumbnail for the scene you’re in at the moment and, except for a time line, which is helpful, you can’t know which scenes are nearby, nor can you get to them without clicking through them one at a time! The same heartless attitude apples to the Extra Features tab: you can’t know what’s there until you’ve opened each window and sub-window. I can’t believe that the people who devised this menu have ever actually used it in the real world. (By the way, the same tragic approach to Menu design applies to the simultaneously released Romeo + Juliet.)

 

 

 

Extras: 9

Fox’s 2-disc DVD was chock full of interesting and entertaining extra features, the great majority of which have been ported over to the Blu-ray but sorted out differently. For example: “Behind The Red Curtain” is now subsumed by the PIP feature that brings up clickable pop-ups called “From the Bazmark Vault.”

The DVD had two separate commentary tracks which have been merged into one for the Blu-ray. For the most part, this works quite well, filling what few gaps there were in the separate commentaries and now feeling more like a roundtable (with Baz, the director and co-writer; Craig, the writer; Catherine – or “CM” or “Cim” as Baz affectionately calls her – in charge of production design; and Donald McAlpine, the cinematographer), all of which is consistent with Baz’s approach to moviemaking. You can either listen to the audio while watching the movie or you can bring up the “Spectacular Spectacular Picture-in-Picture feature which is so densely packed with information the movie is relegated to the background.

There are two new features in clear high definition: “A Word from Baz,” his 2-minute introduction to the Blu-ray edition, and the 11-minute “A Creative Adventure” in which Baz and Catherine Martin (his co-everything), in separate but interweaving interviews, speak of how they met 1988 and came to be partners at Bazmark. We like these people and admire their dedication to a common adventure while respecting their differences with stabs of heated argument along the way.

 


The many featurettes that made up most of disc 2 on the DVD set are here presented within a small proscenium reminding us of the theatrical aspect to Baz’s work and offering a unifying aspect to the features regardless of their shape and size.

A final note about Nicole, who may never have looked more beautiful in the many hats, costumes and makeups that her character goes through: When we see her in those brief moments in rehearsal or just relaxing or having fun on the set, she exudes a radiance and sense of confident carelessness about herself that is truly astonishing. It’s a beauty within that we rarely witness among celebrities. Compare these moments with the interview excerpts that appear here and there where she comes off as a studied promotional version of herself. A many-faceted woman, is she. And she can sing bloody damn well.

 

 

Bottom line: 9

Moulin Rouge! not only gets better with repeated viewings, but the act of writing about it only served to enhance my appreciation of the film. I was about to write the obvious: that it’s me that changes, not the movie, but the Blu-ray suggests otherwise. There is so much more there there and, outside of the theater, we can only get there in 1080p.

Leonard Norwitz

LensViews
October 24th, 2010

 

 

 

 

 

 

About the Reviewer: I first noticed that some movies were actually "films" back around 1960 when I saw Seven Samurai (in the then popular truncated version), La Strada and The Third Man for the first time. American classics were a later and happy discovery.

My earliest teacher in Aesthetics was Alexander Sesonske, who encouraged the comparison of unlike objects. He opened my mind to the study of art in a broader sense, rather than of technique or the gratification of instantaneous events. My take on video, or audio for that matter – about which I feel more competent – is not particularly technical. Rather it is aesthetic, perceptual, psychological and strongly influenced by temporal considerations in much the same way as music. I hope you will find my musings entertaining and informative, fun, interactive and very much a work in progress.


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