Kicking off with a with a musical number that quickly draws you into a world of larger than life escapism, The Greatest Showman mimics the kind of over-the-top production numbers that help make La La Land a phenomenon in 2016. This shouldn’t come as a surprise since Benj Pasek and Justin Paul wrote the music for both films. Directed by first-timer Michael Gracey from a screenplay by Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon, The Greatest Showman is apparently a loosely adapted biopic of P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) but much of the details are Hollywood hokum. The Greatest Showman wants you to come for the spectacle–the music, the dancing, the production values, all of which are outstanding.
Barnum grew up poor but spirited, the son of a tailor who was always struggling to make ends meet. Exposed to the scars of class warfare, Barnum grows up determined to make his mark on the world, and win the hand of Charity, his childhood love, and the daughter of the rich man his father worked for. Years later, Charity (now played by Michelle Williams, All the Money in the World) has become Mrs. Barnum and is happy living a simple life with their two adorable daughters, but P.T. dreams of more. He opens a Manhattan museum dedicated to oddities. It flops, but one of his daughters offers a suggestion: put some living things in it. A call for “unique persons and curiosities” goes out, and soon Barnum has a troupe of freaks: a bearded lady (Keala Settle), dwarf (Sam Humphrey), a tattooed man (Shannon Holtzapffel) and more. Barnum’s idea is a hit. The idea then, is that Barnum comes to respect this group of people like family, while the rest of the world rejects them. It’s because of this newfound respect, that these performers are finally able to love themselves and feel a sense of self-worth. Yes, it’s sappy, and largely untrue, but it works well to connect the musical numbers.
The message of empowerment is strong and the musical numbers shine. Hugh Jackman seems born to play this role, lighting up the screen during every song and dance. The man is so charming, it hurts. Nearly as charming is Zac Efron, reminding us of his High School Musical days, singing and dancing with a gusto that’s hard to quantify. He plays Philip Carlyle (partly based on Barnum’s real-life business partner James Anthony Bailey), a playwright from a wealthy New York family, he represents Barnum’s best chance for respect among the elite.
Barnum gambles all he’s built on the “Swedish nightingale”, opera singer Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson), who hypnotizes him and threatens his marriage, and a tour of America’s opera houses. “Never Enough,” performed by Loren Allred, is featured during this sequence and is a standout vocal performance. Another subplot involves Philip’s interracial romance with an African American trapeze artist (Zendaya). While the storyline is unwritten, it does provide for a memorable trapeze showpiece.
Like all musicals, The Greatest Showman isn’t for everyone. However, if you like the genre and can accept that much of the story isn’t true, what awaits is a rollicking, good time.
Presented in the 2.40:1 aspect ratio, this 1080p presentation offers distinct sharpness and definition throughout. The color palette is vivid and bright as you’d expect, with blacks appropriately inky. There are no print flaws to mar the viewing experience.
The DTS-HD 7.1 audio is solid, as the show tunes demonstrated good breadth and spread across the front channels. Stereo response is strong, with each song filling the speakers nicely and the rears joining in at appropriate intervals. Effects are less active in the film but do show up well when called upon. Dialogue is clean, clear and concise throughout.
English, Spanish and French subtitles are included.
The following extras are available:
- Audio Commentary with Director Michael Gracey: Gracey offers a running, screen-specific look at the story, characters, cast, performances, and the like. Typical stuff, Gracey is fairly dry and not particularly insightful. Probably best for superfans.
- The Family Behind The Greatest Showman (HD, 14:05) Cast and crew offer their thoughts on the film’s origins and development, cast and performances, songs and choreography, sets and costumes.
- The Music (HD, 1:10:07) Individual featurettes for each song in the film.
- The Spectacle (HD, 32:12) Featurettes on aspects of production including costumes, production design, cast, choreography, photography, and score.
- Sing-Along: A subtitle option displays the songs’ lyrics as they play. In addition, Music Machine allows direct access to any of the film’s 15 production numbers.
- Concept Art (HD, 2:55)
- Storyboards (HD, 35:22)
- DVD of the film.
- Digital HD.
Movie title: The Greatest Showman (2017)
Director(s): Michael Gracey
Actor(s): Hugh Jackman , Rebecca Ferguson, Zac Efron , Michelle Williams, Zendaya , Natasha Liu Bordizzo
Genre: Musical, Biography, Drama