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Featured Blu-ray Review: Baz Luhrmann Blu-ray Double-Feature

October 28th, 2010

Baz Luhrmann Blu-ray Double-Feature - Romeo+Juliet: Buy from Amazon and Moulin Rouge!: Buy from Amazon

Baz Luhrmann started in theater. He wrote many works, including Strictly Ballroom, which he later adapted into a movie. That film was the first in the "Red Curtain Trilogy", the other two were Romeo+Juliet and Moulin Rouge!, which recently came out on Blu-ray. The screeners arrived late, so without further ado...


A modern adaptation of the classic William Shakespeare play tells the story of a doomed romance between Romeo and Juilet, who are members of the Montague and Capulet families respectively. It is such a well known story, that going over the plot seems redundant.

Short recap: The story begins when a group of Montague boys run into a group of Capulet boys at a gas station. Words are exchanged, followed shortly by bullets, and the end result is a fire that gets the cops involved. It also inflames tensions between the two families. The tensions that only get worse when Romeo crashes a Capulet party and sees Juilet, and the pair fall in love. But will the feud between the two families, which had been escalating, keep them apart?

If you don't know the answer to that question, then you will likely have zero interest in this movie.

This William Shakespeare adaptation is a weird mix of the modern and the traditional. Nearly all of the dialogue is taken directly from the original play, but the setting is absolutely modern with plenty of songs that at the time were top 40 hits. (How many William Shakespeare adaptations do you know of that have a song by the Butthole Surfers on the soundtrack?) Some of the time, this does prove to be a bit of an issue. For instance, they use guns instead of swords or daggers. Fulgencio Capulet grabs for his longsword at the beginning of the movie, it's a submachine gun with a plaque below it that says "Longsword". Some guns are "Dagger" models. One final note about the adaptation is the style. If there's one thing "Red Curtain Trilogy" is known for is its style, and that is just as true in this movie as it is in the other two.

All of this can be stated as fact without rendering a judgment on the movie. Your opinion of this movie depends heavily on your opinion of these three factors. If you don't like the style of language used in Shakespeare's day, then you won't like this movie. If you are a traditionalist and cringe at modern adaptations, then you won't like this movie. If you think Baz Luhrmann is over-indulgent when it comes to style, then you won't like this movie. On the other hand, those that do give this movie a chance, and are not turned off by the style or the language, (which admittedly to conflict at times) will be in for a treat. The performances are excellent from a number of actors, many of whom were up-and-comers back then. (On a side note, I can't believe Harold Perrineau hasn't earned more awards.)

The Blu-ray

Extras start with an audio commentary track with Baz Luhrmann, Catherine Martin, Donald McAlpine, and Craig Pearce, that's director, production designer, director of photography, and co-writer respectively. It's s very in-depth discussion that hits practically every detail of the creative process. You can also watch this track in Picture-in-Picture mode, which has behind-the-scenes footage, rehearsal footage, etc. There are even points where you can jump from the movie to the many other extras on the disc, including extended behind-the-scenes footage, featurettes on the music, etc.

There is also a much longer, 49-minute documentary on the music in the movie, which plays a very important role in the movie. There are also a series of shorter featurettes on the music, interviews, rehearsal footage, etc., much of which can be seen in the Picture-in-Picture track.

Looking in on the film's technical specs, I have to say I'm impressed. The film was made in 1996 for a mere $9 million, but it looks fantastic. The detail levels are sharp, while the colors truly pop, which is important given the film's visual style. The audio is also strong with clear dialog (which is more important than with most films, due to the archaic language) while the surround sound speakers get a workout.

The Verdict

Stunning video and audio, extras, extras that push the technology, all for a price that is lower than some shovelware. If you like this movie, there's no reason not to upgrade. On the other hand, Romeo+Juliet is not for everyone.

Moulin Rouge!

We first meet Christian as he struggles at a typewriter trying to tell his story. He explains the woman he loves is dead. We then flashback to the events surrounding how the two met.

Christian is an English poet who moved to Paris, specifically the district of Montmartre, to be part of the Bohemian revolution with his fellow artists. However, while he desparately wants to be a poet, and describes the wonders of love, he's never been in love. It is at this point he is introduced to an acting troupe led by Toulouse Lautrec. After helping them complete a musical they wish to perform at the Moulin Rouge, Christian and his new found friends celebrate with a bit of Absinthe and the Green Fairy makes her appearance.

The is the first of many, many visually striking, but somewhat disorienting scenes.

Upon sneaking into the Moulin Rouge and avoiding the owner, Zidler, Christian is again overwhelmed by the sights and sounds and then he sees her. Satine. Satine is the number one courtesan, whose job it is to make sure Zidler's investor, The Duke, is entertained. However, a quick case of mistaken identity later and Satine thinks Christian is the Duke, and of course the moment Christian sees Satine he's in love. And as soon as Satine hears Christian's poetry, she too is in love. Now they have to figure more and more elaborate ways to be together without drawing the suspicion of The Duke or Zidler.

But since one of the first lines of dialogue we hear from Christian is that the woman he loves is dead, we know this romance will not have a happy ending.

Despite all of its flamboyance, Moulin Rouge! is actually a lot more accessable than Romeo+Juliet is and it will have a lot wider appeal. It remains very much a Baz Luhrmann movie with the visual style that is his signature, while there is still the intentional anachronism of using modern music in the film set in the year 1899. Some might argue that the style of the film gets in the way of the story, but I'm not among them.

I'm not a huge fan of musicals, but this is a fun ride.

The Blu-ray

A lot of the extras on this Blu-ray are similar to the extras on the previous one, and we start with the same style audio commentary track / Picture-in-Picture. Since they are so much the same, and of the same high quality, there's little that needs to be said.

Other extras include an introduction to Baz Luhrmann, there's a featurette on how Baz and Catherine Martin met. The House of Iona talks about the compound where Baz Luhrmann and his team work on the creative process and there's a 26-minute long making of featurette. These featurette is just as stylish as the movie. There are more than 40 minutes of short From the Bazmark Vault segments, 21 minutes of interviews, segments on the music, the costumes, etc., much of which can be seen the in Picture-in-Picture track.

This was a much more expensive movie to make, but the results are especially evident with the audio / video on this Blu-ray. Every color pops, every musical number surrounds you, the details are amazing. You could use this to show off your home theater system.

The Verdict

If you were happy with the previous Blu-ray, you will be ecstatic with Moulin Rouge! on High Definition. Easily worth the upgrade from DVD.

The Final Verdict

I've been reviewing a lot of shovelware Blu-rays recently, where even if I liked the movie, I've been disappointed with the film's treatment on High Definition. I'm glad that's not the case with Romeo+Juliet (Buy from Amazon) and Moulin Rouge! (Buy from Amazon). I prefer the latter over the former, but fans of Baz Luhrmann will certainly want to buy them both.

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Filed under: Video Review, Moulin Rouge, Romeo+Juliet