I couldn't sum up my love for this movie in a few simple phrases. So I will break it down as best as I can for you.
Technically, this film is brilliant. In many interviews, Baz Lurhmann talks about how important it was for him to promote the story and not get involved in little sub plots. Likewise, the action of the film works the same way. Jill Billcock did a fabulous job editing this film. The American Film Institute honored her for the achievment. Some say it moves too fast at the beggining, but this was just another way of getting to the deep down core of the story. It is a love story.
I cannot stand movies that loose my attention. I cannot stand movies that are boring and non-emotional. The purpose of any movie should be to delve into a fantasy world. Even if it were a completely realistic film, it should always drag you into it. You shouldn't be looking at your watch, or even feel the theater seat beneath you. Your mind becomes so active with following and living the movie, that the outside melts around you. Moulin Rouge is the kind of film that does this.
The cuts are vivid, Donald McAlpine's cinematography was breathtaking. His use of color and light was amazing, especially considering the entire film took place indoors on soundstages in Fox Austrailia's Lot. Most memorable was the use of blue and red in the picture. I have read a really great article that describes the symbolism of the colors and characters. Blue invokes saddness, loneliness, pain. McAlpine used this color on Satine at certain points in the film to make her appear more tragic. It also heightens the color of Nicole Kidman's already pale skin. Christian is also highlighted in blue, especially during and immediately following the scene where his is in front of the Moulin Rouge calling out to Satine, and he is hit. He is dragged into his garet and the light is blue. Red is used to invoke the passion and fire that ignites the romance between Satine and Christian. The first love scene between Satine and Christian takes place in the red room. The lighting on the stage during the stage show changes from red to blue and back again during the entirety of Satine's Diamonds/Chamma Chamma performance. (For more on the symbolism, check out Hollywood Jesus It's not all about religion, trust me.) The coloring is so vivid and rich that it propels the movie along. At times you just want to sit there and stare at one frame in the movie, it's so beautiful. Even in the beggining of the film in Christian's messy garet, you just want to take it all in. Every scene is perfect.
The sets were breathtaking. It's hard to imagine that the real Moulin Rouge had an elephant in the garden, but it did! (It housed an opium den in it's belly.) The colors, the props--there's so much that you might not even notice. Even the absinthe spoons and glasses were authentic. The costumes were intricate and flashy. There was also a lot of honesty in Christian's wardrobe and Satine's kimono that she wears around his apartment. Clothes that allow them to be real, and not iconic or even stage-worthy people. It's amazing how just a bit of clothing can make fictional characters seem like real people.
The animation, which starts at the very beggining looks so real. The train station that Christian leaves isn't actually there. The average viewer wouldn't even know that Ewan McGregor is acting in front of a Blue Screen. He's in front of one on his walk to his apartment, even the prostitutes and the priest aren't really there. It can really boggle the mind. I really can't stand the look of CGI most of the time, it ends up looking completely fake, and turns me off (Hollow Man or The Mummy to name a few of the many movies using this technology). I usually immediatly deduct a few stars for even using animation (unless it's completely animated like Shrek), but the animation by Animal Logic was amazing. I liked the look of the green fairy sequence. Luhrmann had told CM that he wanted it to look like old-school animation, with real glitter chunks (think the original flying Enterprise of Star Trek). And somehow the brilliant animators were able to acheive this. It looked real and not digital. It was amazing.
A lot of controversy went into the soundtrack. A lot of critics complained that adapting current or recent music to fit a period piece was just outlandish. I believe that it works so entirely well in this film. The blending of songs helped tell the story so well. Whether it was Christian trying to seduce Satine on top of the elephant with David Bowie's "Heroes" and Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You" or the Unconcious Argentinian singing the Police's "Roxanne" with a mix of the classic Tango or Satine singing Lamb's "Gorecki," it all perpetuates the story. On the audio commetary track of the DVD, Lurhmann kept talking about how everything in the film must serve the story. I think of all aspects of the film, the music does this the best. There were other controversies about this, including a rendition of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" sung by Marilyn Manson that Courtney Love wouldn't allow, and Kylie Mingoue's version of "Physical" that didn't make it to the film. Many fans were angered by the soundtrack that doesn't feature the entire score on a musical. I'm happy to announce the second soundtrack will be available February 26th.
The acting in the film was increadible (I keep using these qualifying words, but nothing else seems to fit). McGregor and Kidman's facial expressions are wonderful; especially during the private poetry reading. His look of disgust at her writhing antics is precious. And then when he finally opens his mouth to sing, the shock is so apparent on her face. It's like she instantly falls in love. The two actors have so much chemistry, it's no wonder that gossip was circulating around Hollywood about an affair. Any publicity is good publicity, some say. Of course none of that was true, but sometimes when they're acting together, you have to wonder. Even more surprising was their vocal talent. It's no wonder that both are looking to branch out into the Music Industry. Kidman has already cut a track with Robbie Williams and "Something Stupid" was number one in the U.K. charts on Christmas. It's even rumored that McGregor will cut a track with Moby. Actors are amazing, because unlike many singers, they can truly act the words they sing, with all the emotion that those songs are meant to be sung with.
Jim Broadbent as Harold Zidler was nothing short of a cartoon character. He became Harold Zidler, he became the ringleader. He was awesome. The streaky grey and red hair, the small pointy beard, the handlebar mustache, and his ruddy cheeks made him so tangible. He was the entrepreneur, the big cheese, the showman. His "Like a Virgin" scene with Richard Roxburough was comical and amazing. Despite it not being his voice, he gave the song feeling with his mouth and body language. Even if he isn't nominated for a supporting actor Oscar for this, its for sure he will get a nomination for his role in Iris, I'll still think of Zidler accepting the award when the time comes.
John Leguizamo gave the bit part of Toulouse-Lautrec a real heart in this picture. Lurhmann says on the DVD commentary that it was indeed Leguizamo's idea to give him the emotional speech that Toulouse gives to Christian after Christian is beaten up and left out in the rain. The words "You may think of me as a vice ridden knome, who's only friends are pimps and girls from brothels. But I know about art and love. If only because I long for it with every fiber of my being" were actual lines from Lautrec's letters. Leguizamo also had to portray the height of Lautrec by wearing knee braces and false feet in the film. He spent the entire end sequence dancing around on stage crouching. It was a physically demanding role, that he probably won't get much recognition for, but I think it was brilliant.
Richard Roxburough was excellent as the duke. Despite his character being a bad-guy, I have learned to like his character, because he is just so funny and pathetic. He falls in love with Satine around the same time that Christian does, and this realization has allowed me to think of him as not such a bad guy. Roxburough does a great job portraying him, with the false teeth and the measly voice. He's amazing.
The dancing and choreography in this film is just mind-boggling. Everyone is so increadible. The passion that is evoked during "El Tango De Roxanne" has made this scene and this song my favorite in the movie and on the soundtrack. It brings the film to the climax. Will Satine sleep with the Duke? Will the jealousy drive Christian mad? The music is beautiful, the dancers Jacek Koman and Caroline O'Connor are really talented. And their circling at the begging of the sequence just describes Satine and Christian's "Elephant Medely" scene to a tee.
It is amazing how Satine and Christian's lives follow that of the script. Christian writes "You made me believe that you loved me" for the Sitar Player, and the Duke says the very same thing before he tries to rape her. Christian writes "Thank you for curing me of my ridiculous obsession with love" for the Sitar Player and he says it again to Satine between sobs as he leaves her lying on the stage. The secret song of the play is the same secret song of Satine and Christian. It is no more true than in this movie, that art imitates life and vice versa.
The script is increadible. The simple, yet poignant story of mistaken identity and a love that springs out of that is timeless. Yet through all the conventions and even cliches in this movie are made fresh by the Baz Lurhmann's impecible direction. He knows what he's doing, and I can only hope that he will make more films to entertain me for the rest of my life. I will love his work until my dying day. I can say that will all the conviction in the world.
-Jessica of Spectacular! Spectacular!