Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment’s dual-disk release of “Moulin Rouge” is a knockout. Most current DVDs offer a few extras that help sell the title to consumers; they’re the video equivalent of a companion booklet. In contrast, “Moulin Rouge” is a jumbo coffee-table tome/cinema textbook. With six hours of supplemental material, the DVD set presents insights into the film, but offers a bigger perspective: It looks into the nuts and bolts of the pic biz and into the creative process. You don’t even need to have seen the film to appreciate this stuff.
The best addition centers on the film’s dance numbers. In a brief intro, director-co-writer Baz Luhrmann explains that he often had to cut away from choreographer John O’Connell’s spectacular work to serve the story. In this DVD add-on, the TV screen is divided into one large screen and three smaller ones — each showing one of the four camera angles of a dance scene.
In essence, every viewer becomes an editor by choosing which angle fills the bigger screen (overhead shot, master shot, etc.), and then clicking to different shots as quickly as he or she wishes. It’s pretty damn ooh-la-la.
Almost as much fun is an item called “Behind the Red Curtain.” At eight points in the film, a logo appears in the corner of the screen. When the viewer presses the Enter button, he or she gets a mini-docu that works as visual and audio footnote; the filmmakers explain how a certain shot was achieved, the preparation that went into it, or give a brief history of the real Moulin Rouge.
There are two commentary alternatives: One features Luhrmann, d.p. Donald M. McAlpine and designer Catherine Martin, and the other has Luhrmann and co-writer Craig Pearce.
They address concerns ranging from a 60-foot elephant to Nicole Kidman’s garter clips, and talk about aesthetic philosophy — Luhrmann explains he tried to emulate Warner Bros. cartoons in some early scenes, to prevent audiences from watching the film passively. They also point out filmic allusions as diverse as “Singin’ in the Rain,” Bollywood, Benny Hill and Shakespeare.
But aside from comments specific to the film, they broaden their horizons and discuss the creative process and the contributions of everyone, including hair and makeup people and the focus puller.
Luhrmann and Pearce’s conversation about the writing development is backed up in another menu selection, “Old storylines & script comparisons,” which offers script pages of the first draft and various rewrites.
Also talking about their work are the actors and an army of behind-the-scenes workers, including lead VFX art director Andrew Brown, music director Marcus De Vries and editor Jill Bilcock.
There is a section on marketing that features trailers, various poster designs, still photos and media attention (including a front page of Daily Variety bannering the film’s opening at the Cannes Film Fest).
The “Moulin” creators are among a small group of filmmakers who are pioneering the new medium as more than a marketing tool, taking the potential of DVDs seriously. While this approach may not work for all films — does anyone want six hours of supplemental material on “Freddy Got Fingered”? — it works terrifically here. This one is a keeper.