Like most people, I have discovered the magic of DVDs. I get all excited when reading the back of the boxes. They’ve got special features! Could anything be cooler? No! And I feel deep and utter disappointment when there are none! What’s the point of a DVD if you don’t have fantastic extras? Deleted scenes? Commentary? Different languages to choose from? It’s what separates the DVDs from the videos! It’s what makes them worth my precious time!
Right. But in reality, like many others I imagine, I never really take advantage of these special features. Oh, I get excited about them, I go over the menus to see what’s there and I never miss the deleted scenes, but other than that…eh. Have I ever followed the white rabbit on the Matrix DVD? Ha! Ever looked over storyboards? Yeah, right. Watched the interviews with the cast members? Now why on earth would I do that? Not when I have a movie to watch in utter crispness and clarity with French or German or Spanish subtitles!
Yes, I am lame. But my two-disc Moulin Rouge DVD? Another thing entirely. Due to this blasted movie I went from being someone who never really cared about what went on behind-the-scenes, or the movie making process, to someone that listened to two commentaries, searched for every freaking easter egg, and even went over clothing and set sketches. What the bejeezus happened?
Well, for one, there’s a whole “in love with the movie” thing and two, the two-disc set has an insane amount of extras on it that DVD reviewers hail as wonderful. But how do these extras add up to mere mortals?
Disc one contains the movie, of course, and is fairly light on extras. There are the standard subtitle/language options, (and may I say, I feel there really should be more options. But that’s just me.) a fairly tame and not horribly interesting “Follow the Green Fairy” feature that takes you behind the scenes on how certain sets were built and the filming of certain sequences (which I imagine is much like The Matrix’s follow-the-rabbit option. Not that I’d know, never having actually followed the damn rabbit.) and two commentaries to choose from. Now, I’ve only ever attempted to watch one other commentary, The, uh, Goonies’, and that was worth it just to see the cast all at one table trying to be interesting. I suppose it should be noted that I had to give up a half hour into it because I had elsewheres to be, so it’s quite possible it derailed somewhere in there. Otherwise, I’m not really sure how fascinating these tend to be. Regardless, I found both offered on this disc to be extremely dry (you have the option of either co-writers Baz Luhrmann and Craig Pearce or Baz, production designer Catherine Martin and director of photography Don McAlpine) and dangerously, bordering on insanely, boring. Rarely did they come to life or offer up anything of interest, especially in the case of Baz and Craig. Which was kind of surprising, because they really strike you as two rather odd men who should have a lot to say. But here they came off as disinterested and unsure of what to say. They don’t banter charmingly nearly enough, and rather than jumping in with fascinating insights on how the story changed or alternate plot lines were dropped, they merely hint frustratingly at them and then Baz spends a good deal of time talking about “contracts.” Baz goes on and on about how he feels the audience agrees to a contract when they sit down to a red curtain movie. Basically it’s his fancy way of saying that you have to suspend your disbelief. Well, isn’t that sort of obvious? It is a musical, after all. Wouldn’t time have been better spent explaining more about Count Von Groovy?
The commentary with Baz and the production designer and director of photography is only slightly better. For two hours of my time I was hoping for more on the complexities of making a film like this than random bits of costuming trivia and “Ah, I remember we lit her through the window in the door for that shot” reminiscing. This could just be me, but they spent more than nine months filming the movie, shouldn’t there be more to say than “You know, it’s not often when an actress asks if she looks good that everyone agrees yes, she looks good?” Perhaps part of the problem was that they seemed to just be sitting down to the movie and winging it, and in the process ended up like deer caught in headlights, struggling for something witty or important to say. Plus, with the three people clearly not having plotted out who got to talk when, I think they ended up talking over each other or not interrupting the person talking and then having moments they wanted to talk about pass–and it just didn’t work. Notes or a script might have been in order here. I hate to tear it apart completely, because they did take the time to sit down and try, but I really don’t feel it was worth my two hours. Either time. Ahem.
Much more interesting is their attempt at an audio description/narration for the visually impaired. I can’t say I’ve made it all the way through, since I attempted to listen to it with my eyes closed to get a better idea of how successful it is and fell asleep. (Of course, it was one in the morning, so it may not have been entirely the narration’s fault. However, it must be noted that they chose a narrator with a very soothing English accent. So maybe it was their fault.) It’s an interesting movie to attempt this with since it’s so very, very visual. Unfortunately, no matter how hard they try, there’s just no way saying “Christian smiles” can properly convey the emotion on Ewan’s face. But bonus points for trying.
Moving on to the second disc we find an incredible amount of features. Under “The Making of Moulin Rouge” there’s a fairly standard documentary that previously aired on HBO. Under “The Stars” you’ll find interviews with the actors (preceded by a lovely montage of Ewan and Nicole set to sappy music). In “This Story is About” there are interviews with the writers, (in which we learn that they cut part of an earlier draft that had Satin and Christian ballooning with Count Von Groovy to his estate where he then seduced them both and got them hooked on morphine…I think it was morphine, while Oscar Wilde and Sandra Bernhard danced downstairs and Toulouse cut his face up with a mirror…not because it was pretty fucked up, but because it was just too many storylines to deal with. Uh huh.) the entire first script, (A must read. Oh dear god, you must read this, if for no other reason than to marvel at how the final product turned out.) and three drafts of the opening sequence. It’s fantastic. A little difficult to read on my TV, and my DVD player got a wee bit pissy and froze up from time to time, but well worth your time.
Where I started to get disappointed was in “The Cutting Room.” I’ve mentioned the nine months of filming, yes? And the myriad script changes? I’m fairly certain some scenes got cut due to length issues and tweaks to the story, (in fact in the interview with Catherine Martin she talks about a small dominatrix scene they shot that got cut, that she was still a little bitter about) so where are they? Instead of actual deleted scenes, this section contains an interview with the editor Jill Bilcock and abandoned edits of scenes in the film–alternate “Come What May” and “Dance Across the Sky” sequences, variations on the opening Can Can number, and what I think is a sort of run-through of the green fairy bit, but damned if that chick doesn’t look like Kylie to me. So it’s all just a little disappointing. In the “Come What May” edit there are actually a few amusing sequences that didn’t make the final cut, so I suppose that should satisfy me. But it doesn’t. I need my deleted scenes! But I’ll be fine. I will. Oh, and before we move on, there is a hilarious section called “Mock Previsualisations” where they plan for pick up scenes. Check it out. It’s pretty amusing. Baz does an impressive Duke.
From this we go to “The Dance.” I love to watch dancing, I wish I could do it, and the dance numbers in this movie–especially the Tango–made me want to leap out of my chair and make an ass out of myself. Not that that’s anything new, but still, the dancing was fantastic. Under “Dance” you’ll find most of dances (Tango, Hindi, Can Can and the Coup d’Etat) uncut. Plus, under the Tango, Can Can and Coup d’Etat the creators of the disc provide you with a multi-cam option where you can play with the angles to your heart’s content. It’s positively boffo! Note: this, like the screenplay, caused my DVD player to pitch a hissy fit. It is a few years old, so I’m going to assume if you have a newer machine it’ll work seamlessly. But, still, boffo! And under “Choreography” there’s an interview with the choreographer, natch, and the first performances of the dances for the crew.
Under “The Music” we find “The Musical Journey” skimming the surface of the work that went into both the background music and the song recordings. Fatboy Slim is interviewed here, “The Lady Marmalade Phenomenon” contains both the MTV live performance and the full-length music video, and to cap it all off, there’s a video for “Come What May.” Set to an annoying beat, true, but the clips in the video more than make up for it.
Next up? “The Design!” There’s just so much here, and I’ve gone on for so long already, I’m not going to go through it all. But explore it—there are tons of concept sketches versus finished products, for both the sets and the costumes. Under “Graphic Design” you get a fanciful little tour of all of the promotional materials they created to go in the Moulin Rouge (i.e. posters of Satin and promos for Spectacular Spectacular) and under “Smoke and Mirrors” you’re walked through the making of the opening run-through of Paris and the making of the green fairy sequence. The interviews with the costumers and production designer are also here and worth a look.
And, finally, “Marketing.” One of my favorite sections, it contains all of the promotional materials for the movie. We’re talking trailers, each and every possible promotional poster, a pictoral of a promotional book that was only handed out to a select few (“The Little Red Book”) and an impressive photo gallery. The photo gallery boasts extensive behind-the-scenes photos of five photographers, and it gives you a chance to focus on the minor characters and costumes that got lost in the frenzied spectacle that is the movie.
So, to the layman? A lovely, if ultimately slightly frustrating, purchase. The extras are wonderful, don’t get me wrong, but I would really have appreciated more in-depth interviews (come on, I’m sure Jill Bilcock could’ve gone on for hours on trying to edit this film) and the inclusion of deleted scenes or workshops that showed the story evolving from the drug-addled plot of an older Count Von Groovy and adventures in ballooning, to the comparatively toned-down frenetic love story we saw. That’s all. Not too much to ask, right? Oh well, maybe in the next special edition.
*Note: There will, in fact, be another edition. Baz’s Red Curtain Boxed Trilogy, containing Moulin Rouge, Romeo & Juliet and Strictly Ballroom is set to be released this year. Take note Baz, if there are new extras or anything I want to see on the new disc that causes me to have to get another copy, ass will be kicked. Maybe even yours. So play nice.