***** - a masterpiece
The very basic definition of a musical is an extravagent tale that uses music to drive its story, so I've often found it amusing when Baz Luhrmann's 2001 dazzler, Moulin Rouge!, complain about the film being " too over-the-top". Doing so is like groaning that a horror flick is "too scary" or a drama is "too moving" - Moulin Rouge!'s extravagence is its highlight, not its flaw.
I haven't been too much of a fan of the majority of musicals throughout film's history, because most of them just plain bore me. Love it or hate it - there is one adjective that Moulin Rouge! can't be used to describe it: boring. Most "traditional" musicals, from the likes of Chicago to West Side Story, lack the extravagence and imagination that Moulin Rouge! is oozing at every corner. Because most musicals are incredibly shallow in emotion and theme - they require to be a marvel of aesthetics to make up for what they lack, and Luhrmann's film certainly is.
Detractors of the film also note the film's shallowness, but I've always felt that view is a limited one over what artistic contributions film is capable of making. Orson Welles' Citizen Kane is a powerhouse of a biopic and narrative filmmaking, but it wouldn't be as universally noted as "the greatest film ever made" had it not been the influential and remarkable aesthetic contributions to cinema that it made. I've often found most landscapes to be a bore because they don't mean anything, but I can't help but love Van Gogh's because of the aesthetic appeal they have for me - and like the canvas, film is a primarily visual medium - something that Moulin Rouge! has a lion's grasp on.
Not to compare Luhrmann's film to Kanes visual contributions - no film is within reach - but Moulin Rouge! isn't a lightweight in that department, either. The controversial "quick-cut" editing style has been complained about as not allowing viewers to absorb the film's beautiful art direction and costumes, but I've often found it to be more revealing of the surroundings, not less so. As opposed to the stereotypical long, wide shots which allow the viewer to acknowledge everything on screen in a distanced shot - Rouge!s editing allows for a series of individual intimate portraits, revealing the environment in a different way.