The Blu-ray disc we are presented with here in the UK contains a brand new 1080p transfer personally approved by Baz Luhrmann himself. I had high hopes for this, thinking that Moulin Rouge! had the potential to be a true showcase for the high definition medium. Thankfully it turns out that this is definitely the case.
The film was always colourful and on Blu-ray the colours almost make the retinas bleed, they are so intense. Reds, blues, whites, the green of Kylie Minogue’s dress evoking the most beautiful Absinthe you ever tasted – all these colours are deep vibrant and beautiful. Not every scene shows off the colour levels, it is true – a lot of the exteriors (and some interiors) are deliberately dull and drab. But the scenes inside the Moulin Rouge itself, and inside the elephant are just stunning.
Black levels are also pleasingly dense, and the contrast is superb. Shadow detail is pleasing, and the level of detail in the transfer is a dramatic improvement over the DVD, exactly as it should be! You only need to look at the detail on the faces in the close-ups and the superb realisation in the costume’s to realise what has been achieved here.
What is also incredibly pleasing is despite the fact that the transfer is newly created, there is no sign of any DNR or any aspect of the transfer that looks fake. In fact, there is a pleasing level of grain here, that gives the image a really nice natural look.
If I absolutely had to be critical, then the film is nine years old now, and certainly doesn’t look quite as nice as more recent discs. But this is certainly carping. I really couldn’t imagine this looking any better.
If the picture is impressive, then the sound is quite simply stunning. The directionality in the sound mix is amazing from beginning to end – and there’s only one slight flaw in the mix that prevents a perfect score. The soundtrack is a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix.
The first thing to note is the brilliant sound steering employed here. Whether a sound is happening on screen, off screen to the left or right, or even behind the viewer – every relevant sound is perfectly placed within the sound field. Amidst the bombast of the soundtrack, the steering is surprisingly subtle – never placing an effect in a certain place just to wow the listener. Instead it is only placed there to enhance the onscreen action.
A soundtrack like Moulin Rouge, full of songs which are not sung by professional singers, would be a challenge for any sound designer, but the pleasing thing here is ever word, whether it be dialogue or sung, is clear and precise and anchored well amongst the aural mayhem.
If I do have a criticism it is that the dynamic range is perhaps not quite as impressive as it could be. Whereas the treble is fine, never grating or harsh, the LFE does rather lack in punch. At no time do you ever really feel that bass pounding, even during the musical numbers. This is enough to lose the sound mix a mark, but this is still a fantastic mix.
Moulin Rouge! only comes on one disc, and with the stellar audio and video I wasn’t expecting too much on the extras front. I am very pleased to say that what is included is both fascinating and extensive.
We begin with a picture-in-picture commentary entitled Spectacular Spectacular! This features Luhrmann along with the writer, production designer, and director of photography. Basically, there are two ways to access this feature. You can listen to it as a straightforward audio commentary, or activate the PiP option. If you do this, then you get some video, storyboards, and icons that will take you directly to other extras relevant to the scene you are currently viewing. I actually found this rather enjoyable, as commentaries go – with a nice amount of background information imparted without finding myself ever being bored.
The next option available through the frankly awful extras menu is A Word from Baz where he talks in rather gushing terms about the work they did for the Blu-ray version. It is nice to see the respect they showed in the way that the transfer was done, however.
Next is A Creative Adventure, which is an 11 minute featurette about the similarities between Moulin Rouge! and Luhrmann’s other films. This is followed by an interesting little featurette called The House of Iona. I say interesting, because I had no idea about this estate. It’s basically Luhrmann’s equivalent of Skywalker Ranch, a creative area where he and his team can work. It should be noted that this is SD footage and as such it is presented in an ornate frame in the centre of the screen.
Another featurette presented in the same manner is The Making of Moulin Rouge. This opens with some fascinating archive footage of the Moulin Rouge and then goes on to look in detail at the making of the film. There is a rather self-congratulatory tone to it, but it does contain a lot of information in its 26 minute running time.
My favourite section in the extras called From the Bazmark Vault. This contains far too many sections to list individually – but they are all either behind the scenes footage or early screen tests. The highlight is an alternative opening sequence which was to be used instead of Nature Boy. It was to involve the song Father and Son by Cat Stevens, but the singer refused to allow it to be shown up until now. The scene was never shot in its entirety, but there is footage of McGregor singing it, and it sounds fantastic. This may be the highlight, but there are plenty of other absolutely fascinating items in here, and a true fan of the film will be in seventh heaven with early screen tests, extended scenes, and various alternative versions. Being really picky, there is no “play all” version here, which is a shame, but I really did love the material included here.
The next section is called The Stars which is a selection of brief interviews with each of the major stars – McGregor, Kidman, Leguizamo, Broadbent and Roxborough. A similar section on The Writers features an interview with the writers, and one of them (Craig Pearce) reading an early draft. There is also a section on The Design which looks at the design of several of the key sets.
Another particularly excellent section follows this – The Dance. This features extended versions of several of the dance numbers, and then finishes with an interview with the choreographer.
The next section, The Music contains features six featurettes. These look at the overall journey, the love medley, an interview with Fatboy Slim, Lady Marmalade, Come What May, and One Day I’ll Fly Away! These are all fascinating and full of insight.
The Cutting Roomfeatures an interview with the editor, and also has a look at some previs work. Rather strange, but also strangely funny is Toulouse Tonight Web-series which is a mock TV show featuring John Leguizamo. The package is rounded off with a section on the Marketing – featuring several trailers from different markets.
Moulin Rouge! is certainly a divisive movie and you are unlikely to remain indifferent to it. For those who love the movie, has justice been done by the Blu-ray release? The simple answer to this is yes, absolutely. This film could have been made for Blu-ray and has been transferred to disc with love and attention. The film remains the hyper kinetic, ravishing, trippy, musical hybrid and has the same corny plot and excessive acting. But within the world that Luhrmann has created this is perfect, and the film is a success.
The picture and sound is simply out of this world. There may be very slight flaws, and I have highlighted these in the relevant sections but the simple fact of the matter is this – if you are a fan of the film you are likely to have no hesitation in ditching your existing DVD copy immediately. The upgrade is absolutely worth it. The extensive extras package, including much material that has not been seen before is only the icing on a particularly lovely cake.
If you haven’t seen the film before, and are coming in blind, the decision to recommend is a little more difficult. I love the film, but I can equally understand that it is an unusual approach and may not be to everyone’s taste. In this case, a rental may well be advised first – but my hunch is you are likely to be hooked and end up buying anyway.
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