|Pick of the Week|
Reviewed by Ivana Redwine
Tagline: "No Laws. No Limits. One Rule. Never Fall In Love."
Length: 127 minutes
It may not be currently fashionable, but I like musicals in general, and I love "Moulin Rouge" (2001) in particular. Co-written and directed by Baz Luhrmann ("Strictly Ballroom", "Romeo + Juliet"), "Moulin Rouge" is a visually dazzling, extravagantly theatrical musical drama starring Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor. The style of the movie is eclectic, drawing on grand opera, MGM musicals, and MTV music videos, and if you put your sense of reality on hold for a couple of hours, you just might have a great time watching it. And if you’re really into this movie, the two-disc DVD set offers more extras than any I can think of.
Although "Moulin Rouge" is set in 1899 Paris, the music is almost entirely 20th-century pop. Here’s a list of a few of the songs in the film (with the artist who originally popularized each song given in parentheses): "Your Song" (Elton John), "Roxanne" (Sting), "Like a Virgin" (Madonna), "Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend" (Marilyn Monroe), and "Nature Boy" (Nat King Cole). Also, there is of course the famous "Cancan" from Offenbach’s 1858 opera "Orpheus in the Underworld." And the movie has one new song, which is "Come What May." But even as I enjoyed listening to these songs in "Moulin Rouge," I admired the way they have been successfully integrated into the narrative.
The film takes its title from the famous Paris landmark which the narrator tells us was a combination nightclub/dance hall/bordello where the rich mingled with bohemians and the underworld. But Moulin Rouge in its heyday wasn’t so much a place as it was a state of mind, and Luhrmann hasn’t made a documentary: He’s captured for us something of how it must have felt to go there in 1899, and the sets, costumes, and cinematography are fabulous! I found it interesting that CGI, which in most movies seems to distance the audience, works well in "Moulin Rouge," giving the film an artificial, edgy quality that for me serves the fantasy-like quality of the story.
The storyline in "Moulin Rouge" seems to be a composite drawn from the operas "La Boheme," "La Traviata," and "Orpheus in the Underworld," with maybe a little bit of the movie "Cabaret" thrown in. Christian (McGregor), a penniless aspiring writer, moves from London to Paris, where he befriends a group of bohemians that includes Toulouse-Lautrec (John Leguizamo). Also, Christian meets and falls in love with Satine (Kidman), a courtesan and star performer at the Moulin Rouge, who suffers from an advanced case of tuberculosis. However, the efforts of Moulin Rouge impresario Zidler (Jim Broadbent) to make the facility ever more glamorous have brought the business to the brink of bankruptcy, and a cash infusion from the wealthy Duke of Worcester (Richard Roxburgh) is desperately needed. But the financial support from the Duke is contingent upon Satine becoming his mistress, forcing Satine and Christian to make some difficult decisions.
I really enjoyed the performances of Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor, and I thought they had strong screen chemistry that made me believe that Satine and Christian were genuinely attracted to each other. They’re both reasonably good singers, too, and their duets together were particularly good. Also, Broadbent, Roxburgh, Leguizamo, and others are excellent in their supporting roles.
Disc One of the two-disc DVD set includes two separate commentary tracks, and both are worthwhile. I particularly liked the writers’ commentary track, featuring Baz Luhrmann and Craig Pearce, but I should admit that I’m particularly interested in the process of screenwriting. Others might prefer the production commentary by director Baz Luhrmann, production designer Catherine Martin (Luhrmann’s wife), and cinematographer Don McAlpine. Disc One also provides a feature called "Behind the Red Curtain," where at about eight places during the movie a green fairy icon will appear on the screen and you can press the Enter button on your remote to see a behind-the-scenes vignette related to that part of the film. One of these vignettes shows an amusing dominatrix scene that was cut. You can watch the film in red curtain mode at the same time you listen to either of the two commentary tracks, and that seems to me like a good way of doing things.
Disc Two contains a wealth of bonus materials. Dance enthusiasts will undoubtedly want to see the uncut dance sequences, and lovers of music videos won’t want to miss the crotch-grabbing young women (including Christina Aguilera) performing "Lady Marmalade." There’s a wealth of other special features on Disc Two as well, and I’ve listed most of them below. Also, Disc Two is a veritable treasure-trove for Easter egg hunters, and I’ve described 15 of them elsewhere on my site. (See Related Resources below.)
Selected Special Features on the DVDs:
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