Updated: Dec 31, 2018
4K ULTRA-HD REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS
“THE GREATEST SHOWMAN”
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD copy; 2017; PG for thematic elements including a brawl; streaming via Amazon Video, FandangoNOW (4K), Google
Play, iTunes (4K), Vudu, YouTube
Best extra: “The Songs”
P.T. BARNUM, the ringmaster of spectacle, would have approved. “The Greatest Showman,” starring Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, Zendaya, Keala Settle, and Michelle Williams, soars into the heights.
It earned an Oscar nomination and Golden Globe Award for showstopper “This Is Me,” and grossed $420 million against a budget of $84 million. Not bad for a musical from first time director Michael Gracey. The people loved it; Rottentomatoes show an 88 percent audience score, critics only 55.
I’ll side with the audience. “The Greatest Showman,” with music composed by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul of “La La Land,” kicks historical accuracy in the tookus. The story is fiction; the real P.T. Barnum was by no means a good guy. But here, fantasy, good chemistry and grand performances entertain from start to finish. It’s reminiscent of the movie musicals from the 1940s-50s, with less polished choreography. In spirit, Jackman may be the Gene Kelly of his time; his rapport with Zac Efron is similar to that Kelly shared with co-star Frank Sinatra. I’d love to see them team up again. How about “Van Helsing – The Musical”?
Joking aside (maybe), “The Greatest Showman” sparkles. It’s a rags-to-riches tale of a young man and his love, well played by Ellis Rubin and Skylar Dunn (Charity), who share “A Million Dreams.”
“It’s got an innocence as you follow the young Barnum at about age 8 or 10, and all those dreams in his head, and his desire to live out his fantasy,” Jackman says in “The Songs,” one of seven bonus features on 20th Century Fox’s presentation.
The son of a poor tailor, young Barnum finds himself homeless when his father dies. He stays in touch with his wife-to-be, Charity, through a series of letters. Later, the young couple played by Jackman and Williams, marry, have two daughters, and struggle to make ends meet. When Barnum loses his job, he decides to rely on his showmanship skills. But the public has no interest in a museum stuffed with lifeless giraffes and elephants. He then solicits society’s outcasts to create a live show: The Bearded Lady (Keala Settle); a dwarf, “Tom Thumb” (Sam Humphrey); Dog Boy (Luciano Acuna Jr.) and other “oddities.” Suddenly, Barnum becomes a huge success.
Jackman’s Barnum – like the real life inspiration – is a smooth talker, a self-admitted “King of Humbug.” Others may believe his fantasies; he doesn’t. The truth is Barnum is no saint. He lures his “freaks” into show biz with promises of acceptance and love; then keeps them firmly in the background as success grows, and we see that. In real life, his actions were much less savory; a product of the time. Perhaps that’s why there is no P.T. Barnum bio included in the extras. Gracey and writers Jenny Bicks (“Sex and the City”) and Bill Condon (“Chicago”) keep that sparkle well-polished.
“The Greatest Showman” – like nearly all musicals – is made for spectacle and Fox delivers on an excellent 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray.
As expected, the 4K, with its HDR color boost, provides the biggest impact in color, detail, depth and contrast. Digitally filmed, it was mastered in 4K. That means we see everything from clothing texture to quality detail in wide shot backgrounds. Skin tones range from albino to ebony; color is natural showing fine lines and distinguishing marks, such as freckles, stubble and soot.
Color is gorgeous throughout. Musical numbers are made for that surreal intensity. There’s remarkable depth, use of shadow and fantasy effects in “A Million Dreams,” where the young ones explore a ruined plantation. Barnum and his performers appeal to their audience in their first, awkward show, progressing to a polished, beautifully costumed act in the snappy “Come Alive.” Jackman and Efron play off one another in the barroom setting of “The Other Side.” Cinematographer Seamus McGarvey bathes Efron and Zendaya in a romantic, golden glow for “Rewrite the Stars,” but the sunset scene on the beach with Jackman and Williams for “Never Enough,” nearly tops it all. Technicolor never looked this good.
Black levels are consistently strong, showing excellent detail among shadows. There are several crowd-filled night scenes, one with a raging fire. This is where the film’s three-dimensional pop shines.
The 4K offers an excellent Dolby TrueHD 7.1 soundtrack with the expansive Dolby Atmos (Blu-ray – DTS-HD eight-channel soundtrack). Height speakers benefit most in crowd scenes and the big fire. There’s a soaring, concert hall delivery of Jenny Lind’s performance of “Never Enough”; Rebecca Ferguson provides the acting, but Loren Allred of “The Voice” supplies the vocals.
Each track delivers most of what we expect: Clear dialogue, and immersive effects, both ambient and special. But a problem with the opening number, “The Greatest Show,” left me fumbling with volume control. Gracey, Paul and Pasek are in love with the opening percussive beat from Ryan Lewis of Macklemore and Lewis, but is too aggressive.
“The whole point was to stop people eating popcorn,” Gracey says in “The Songs.”
Just slap it out of our hands, guy. The balance is skewed, pitting Jackman’s whispered lyrics against a sonic boom. Lower the pain-inducing level and he can’t be heard. The song is reprised throughout, also closing the film, where it is balanced and enjoyable. This might be a first-time director’s mistake – just be warned.
Fox ports three bonus features onto the 4K disc from the Blu-ray: Michael Gracey’s “Director’s Commentary,” “Music Machine,” taking viewers to every song, with a sing-along option, too; and, yes, the “Sing-Along” feature allowing us to carry on karaoke-style.
Additional extras include “The Family Behind ‘The Greatest Showman,’” with director, writer, producer, and cast interviews. It took several years to make the film; here’s where we get the details and the anecdotes.
“The Songs” is truly unique, providing analysis and history of each musical number. “The Spectacle” is an engaging, five-part making-of showcasing “Characters,” “Choreography,” “Cinematography,” Production Design,” and “Scoring.” “Galleries” present painterly “Concept Art” and “Storyboards.
Extra segments can be accessed individually or in play-all or automatic advance. FandangoNow and iTunes provide all extras through streaming.
“The Greatest Showman” ranks up there with “Moulin Rouge” and “La La Land” for imagination, heart and enthusiasm. It’s about as close to perfect as it comes.
— Kay Reynolds