Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.
One of the things I love most about Christmas each year is being able to give out movies to my friends. Picking just the right movie for each person is something I enjoy, and some years, it's easier than others. For example, this Christmas, I gave out a number of copies of Fox's exceptional new MOULIN ROUGE DVD package, and it's because not only do I like the film, but the DVD itself is about as good a collector's edition of a movie as you could ask for. Once again, Fox has outdone themselves when putting together an archival record of all things related to Baz Luhrmann's grand and strange experiment.
The second disc, the one with the supplemental material on it, is a stunner. One hardly knows where to start to wade into the thing. If you click on the menu selection, "The Stars," you're rewarded with a beautiful short silent film montage, glamour shots of Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman taken from costume and makeup tests and rehearsals and from the film itself. It's ravishing, and these two stars will never look better. The two of them practically glow in the film, and you have to wonder if it's because of how much they enjoyed making it or if it's a mere trick of the lighting. Either way, it's a beautiful little bonus, lyrical and worth watching a few times.
The section itself is divided into a series of cards, each with a different actor on it. When you click the card, you'll see the actor discussing their work in the movie, and their work with Baz. There's behind the scenes footage, rehearsal tapes, clips from the film, and interviews all cut together, and it's quite informative. If you go to the Leguizamo card and push "up" on your remote, you'll be rewarded with a Green Fairy that leads you to the first of four Easter Eggs hidden on the DVD, a snippet of footage of Leguizamo trying out his magic sitar costume. It is great to see how they made him shorter for the film, and to get a look at the prosthetic legs he was wearing in the movie. Overall, "The Stars" has a wealth of material worth wading through.
"The Cutting Room" is also fascinating, and contains the second Easter Egg, a well-hidden red windmill. This is, in my opinion, the best of the Easter Eggs, a long take of Ewan and Nicole during the filming of "Your Song." She can barely keep a straight face as Ewan earnestly sings to her, and by the end of the take, they've given up all pretense of seriousness and are both doing the Batusi and the Swim together, dancing and lip-synching to Ewan's rough vocal track, fascinating in its own right. In this particular take, Nicole is about as beautiful as I've ever seen her on film, and her laughter makes her even more appealing. I don't understand how anyone can still call her "cold." The impression you get of her after watching all these supplemental materials is someone who comes to a set ready to play, ready to make a great film, and who enjoys her work completely. This section is made up primarily of footage that was edited, then discarded, and watching the evolution of the opening of the film is a great way of understanding exactly what it was that Baz was trying to do in that hyperkinetic 10 minutes. When I first saw the film, my one complaint was that the beginning might turn off some viewers, that it was too much too soon, and that the film didn't really find its legs until Satine (Kidman's character) made her entrance. Now that I've seen the ways the film could have opened, it's obvious that Baz did some smart and focused cutting to get the film to work, and that he made hard choices there. Anyone who thinks they want to direct should definitely follow the development of ideas as this project moved from story to script to screen. It's educational, to say the least.
The section about the evolution of the script is fascinating because you get to hear just how off-the-track Craig Pearce and Baz got at times. I need to see a film featuring Baron Von Groovy, a character who eventually became the Duke, but he would have overpowered MOULIN ROUGE and diffused the simple melodramatic love story that the collaborators were trying to tell. Pearce and Luhrmann are both flamboyant, exaggerated performers, and it's obvious they love to bounce ideas off each other during the creative process. I was exhausted just watching them describe their ideas about the film, but what comes through loud and clear is that they saw this as an opportunity they made the most of, exploring all the possibilities before finally deciding on the story of Christian and Satine that was finally presented.
"The Dance" is divided into two halves, really. There's "Dance" and "Choreography." There's another Green Fairy Easter Egg hiding on the "Dance" side of things, hiding near Baz's name. There's also a lot of material to dig into here. Several of the musical numbers were cut as extended scenes, then had dramatic material cut into them, disrupting the flow in the final film. This section allows you to watch the numbers as they were originally constructed, and my favorite scene in the film is even better in this context, the "Tango De Roxanne." It's a beautiful, emotional bit of song and dance, and having the option of cutting the scene myself using the multi-cam option on the disc was more fun than I expected. There's similar pleasures to be had with the other numbers here, "Can Can," "Coup D'Etat," and "Hindi," but for my money, the "Tango" justifies the purchase price all by itself.
Under "Choreography," you'll find an interview as well as a collection of rehearsal footage, and it's here that you're likely to learn real respect for the dancing in this film. If I have any criticism of the movie overall, it's that there is too much sound and fury at times, and some of the incredible work that was done gets lost in the barrage of imagery. Seeing the very first rehearsal where the dance numbers were performed for the full crew, you get to really watch the dances by themselves, without the distraction of multiple cameras and elaborate set-ups. These are remarkably well-staged numbers, even in a bland setting like a dance studio, and I found myself impressed all over again.
"The Music" discusses the evolution of some of the film's songs, but seemed a little light on substance, given over instead to a music video for a remixed "Come What May" that never sounds right to me and a segment on "The Lady Marmalade Phenomenon." Of all the bonus sections, I was surprised that this one struck me as the weakest overall. Still, if these are the standout numbers for you, I'm sure you'll find much to like in here. I thought "Design" was dense with stuff to look at and admire, and one of the sub-sections, "Graphic Design," is presented in a particularly striking manner, a sort of scrolling montage of poster art and background imagery created for the film. It's one of those things that doesn't really serve a function, but that you find yourself watching twice or three times anyway.
The final bonus section is "The Marketing," and they've certainly packed in as much as they can. There's photo galleries and poster designs and an "international sizzle reel," and hidden somewhere amongst all of it, you'll find the last Easter Egg on the disc. I won't say exactly where, but it's a bitch to find. Just keep looking for the last red windmill. I think my favorite of the "Marketing" extras is called "The Little Red Book," a sort of vintage postcard version of the entire film. I'd love to get an actual bound copy of this thing. It's enchanting, like so much of the film.
Speaking of which... how is the sound and picture on the actual film transfer? Outstanding. This is one of those films that threatens to bleed right off your screen, so vivid and so colorful that it almost doesn't seem like a TV can hold it all. Fox has done an exemplary job of preserving the cinematography of Donald McAlpine, an old industry pro (PARENTHOOD, PREDATOR, MOSCOW ON THE HUDSON, BREAKER MORANT, PATRIOT GAMES) who seems to come to life when he's working with Luhrmann. His work on this and on ROMEO + JULIET is just remarkable, both cartoonish and emotionally honest. The soundtrack is amazing whether you play it in DTS or Dolby, and the numerous commentaries (one by the production team, one by the writing team) are informative and dense with observation. The overall effect of all of this, though, would be for nothing if the film itself didn't work, and as I was putting this together, I realize I never actually reviewed the film for the site. I never actually told you what I thought of the film.
It's a remarkable thing, completely artificial by design, but somehow filled with great, simple honesty. It's got two world-class movie star performances and is stuffed full of wonderful supporting turns. It's both incredibly overwrought and surprisingly direct. It would be an easy movie to hate thanks to the over-the-top touch that Luhrmann brings to all of it, and I can understand why the film's beginning would freak some viewers out so much that they had trouble seeing anything else in it. There are moments where it teeters on the verge of self-indulgence, something that Luhrmann has in common with some of his talented peers at the moment. I think it's that willingness to look ridiculous, to fail completely, that makes Baz so interesting, and that makes MOULIN ROUGE such a triumph in the end. This feels like a film that shouldn't work, that shouldn't add up to something affecting and real, but the basic charismatic connection between Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman cuts through everything else. They make the film glorious every time they lock eyes, every time they touch. They cut through all the clutter, and in some ways, I think that's the point. The film is loaded up like a mescaline-drenched vision of the most garish circus in the world, trying to emulate how it must have felt to step into the actual whirlwind of the Moulin Rouge at that point in time, and despite all the distractions, we are able to focus on this one love story. Would I have enjoyed the film so much if I hadn't taken along my own "sparkling diamond," someone to share it with? Who knows? Films like this are for those who are in love or those who believe in love, and they aren't interested in the hard-hearted, the jaded, the cynical. MOULIN ROUGE wasn't built to win you over to the idea of love if you're dead set against it, and it doesn't contain any great, secret wisdom beyond "The greatest thing you'll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return," but if you open yourself to the experience of it all, especially in the form of Fox's DVD version of it, you might find those words to be transcendent. I certainly did, and continue to do so still.
Before I go, I want to update this slightly. I just got an e-mail, one of many to point out that there are actually 15 Easter Eggs on this disc. This e-mail details all 15, though, and where to find them. If you want the fun of finding them spoiled, then here's a list for you. Me, I'm going to try not to look and head back to the disc in search of them for myself. Here's the letter:
Loved your review of the Moulin Rouge DVD, but I wanted to let you know that there are 15 easter eggs total, not just 4.
I've included them for your own viewing pleasure of if you feel like posting them as an update to your review. Either way: Enjoy!
Egg 1: In "The Stars" section, push up from John Leguizamo's segment to highlight the green fairy and push enter to see John showcase his magical sitar outfit. (0:12).
Egg 2: In "The Cutting Room Floor" section, highlight "main menu" and arrow left to highlight a red windmill and hit enter to see an outtake where Nicole can't keep a straight face. (1:59)
Egg 3: On the last main menu of Special Features, highlight the "Back" arrow and push right to highlight a red fairy and hit enter to see an outtake with Broadbent. (0:50).
Egg 4: In the "Dance" submenu, highlight "A Word From Baz" and arrow right to highlight the green fairy and hit enter to see Baz talking to actors at a rehearsal. (1:01).
Egg 5: In the "Choregraphy" submenu, highlight "main menu" and arrow right to highlight a windmill and hit enter to see Baz goofing around (0:20).
Egg 6: In the "Design" submenu, within "Costume Design" choose the gallery for "A Courtesan's Wardrobe" and go to the fourth page of the gallery. Push up to highlight a green fairy, and hit enter to see an outtake where Ewan's mic gets misplaced (1:30).
Egg 7: In the "Design" submenu, within "Costume Design" choose the gallery for "The Bohemians" and go to the fifth page of the gallery. Push up to highlight a red windmill and hit enter to see a video of the Bohemians messing around. (0:15)
Egg 8: In the "Design" submenu, within "Set Design" choose the gallery for "Gothic Tower" and go to the fifth page of the gallery. Push up to highlight a red windmill and hit enter to see a video of rehearsal where Nicole uses a persuasive tactic on Richard. (0:14)
Egg 9: In the "Design" submenu, within "Set Design" choose the gallery for "Spectacular Spectacular" and go to the second page of the gallery. Push up to highlight a green fairy and hit enter to see Baz take us to the ADR Studio doors. (0:40)
Egg 10: In the "Music" section, select "The Lady Marmalade Phenomenon" and arrow right from the 'Main Menu' option of this sub-menu to find a red windmill. Hit enter to see Baz & Dubsy in the car. (0:12)
Egg 11: In "Marketing" in the "Photo Gallery" section, highlight 'Mary Ellen Mark' and arrow right to find a red windmill. Hit enter to see John Leguizamo's costume test (0:38).
Egg 12: In "This Story Is About" in the "Old Storylines & Script Comparisons" submenu, push right at 'return' option to highlight a green fairy. Hit enter to see Baz & Craig goof around (0:25).
Egg 13: On the "Design" submenu, type '18' + enter, then '99' + enter to see a makeup artists dust some nipples (0:14) (Might not be what you are hoping for)
Egg 14: In the "Smoke & Mirrors" sub-menu, type '5' + enter, then '18' + enter to see the ol' Top Hats raised on strings gag. (0:15).
Egg 15: In the "Stars" sub-menu, type '9' + enter, then '17' + enter to see a fond farewell to Ewan with bagpipes on the last day of principal photography.
Thanks, and to all those who are going to keep looking like me, happy hunting.