"Moulin Rouge" was the first stepping stone for a return of movie musicals in 2001. Despite the awards and notice that film received, the musical was still an awfully risky proposition. "Chicago" was the next step last year, a musical that seemed to unite audiences and critics alike in praise for director Rob Marshall's film. Do I think it deserved it's Oscar for Best Picture? Not particularly; I would have gone with "Lord of the Rings: Two Towers" or "The Hours". However, it is a very fine effort, with surprisingly good performances and technical credits.
The story is probably already familiar to many: Roxie Hart (Renee Zellweger) is a Chicago housewife who dreams of being a star of the stage. Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is the town's hot chorus act who dreams of increasing her fame. Both women find themselves in jail, however; Roxie killed her lover after finding out that he wasn't telling the truth about how he could advance her career, while Velma killed her husband when she found him with her sister.
Both women seek representation from Billy Flynn (Richard Gere), whose services don't come cheap. Flynn attempts to clear both, but manages to elevate Roxie to celebrity status in his attempt to "Razzle Dazzle" his way around what she's gotten herself into. Jail matron Mama Morton and Velma, however, may have other plans.
"Chicago" isn't as imaginative as "Moulin Rouge", but approaches the material smartly in adapting it to screen for a modern audience. Gere, Zellweger, Queen Latifah and Zeta-Jones all can sing surprisingly (with the exception of Queen Latifah, whose powerful voice is no surprise, given her singing career) well, but play their roles and hit the dialogue with timing that's fast, witty and entertaining (especially Gere and Zeta-Jones, who're at their sharpest here). They're all energetic performers, but there's something nice about how the performances stop a few feet before approaching over-the-top.
The musical numbers are expertly staged and transitioned into smoothly, given that they're all taking place in Roxie's imagination here. They're staged with pleasing intensity and verve (and also strong editing/rhythm, as demonstrated by the cross-cutting of the opening "All That Jazz"); there's also one particularly fun little bit where Gere plays Zellweger like a puppet at a press confrence. The film maybe - just maybe - could lose a number. Despite offering great performances, superb visuals and a whole lot of "Razzle Dazzle", given the somewhat slight nature of the story, there's a few moments where forward momentum starts to grind towards a halt, if never completely.
Again, I don't particularly agree with "Chicago"'s Best Picture win, but find a great deal to appreciate about the film. Smartly played and well-staged, the film offers a series of excellent performances. Rob Marshall and writer Bill Condon really managed to overcome most of the obstacles associated not only with making a musical for the screen, but adapting one of the most popular.
VIDEO: "Chicago" is presented by Miramax in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The presentation isn't without a few minor faults here and there, but it's generally a superb effort from the studio. Sharpness and detail were quite good throughout, despite the film's often-dark appearance. Definition remained consistent, while shadow detail was pleasing and fine details were often present.
Unfortunately, some flaws did occasionally enter into the presentation. Minor compression artifacts were present in a few darker scenes. Mild edge enhancement also showed up on a few occasions, but only briefly. The print used looked marvelous, however, with no instances of wear. Some inconsistent grain appears, but it may be intentional.
Colors are - as one might expect from a movie like this - vibrant and well-saturated. I didn't notice any issues with colors or fleshtones. Black level also remained solid throughout. A few little problems came up on occasion here, but overall, this was a fine effort.
SOUND: "Chicago" is presented in both DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1. One thing that stood out from the early moments of this soundtrack was how "live" the vocals sounded from the singing. Whoever was singing at the moment, the vocals carried into the room with remarkable clarity and fullness. The backing instrumentals were also exceptionally lively, sounding fierce, bassy and thrillingly dynamic. All the elements of each scene are well-balanced and sound quality is top-notch. However, surrounds aren't always in gear; although they certainly do provide satisfactory reinforcement of the music, they're pretty much left out otherwise.
Commentary: This is a commentary from director Rob Marshall and writer Bill Condon. Although there's a few minor patches where the two go over the story currently unfolding, this is largely an excellent, informative discussion between the two of both the large and small aspects of the musical that had to be explored in order to successfully try and adapt this musical for the screen. The two share plenty of stories of technical challenges that had to be faced, as well as story issues. I also found the comments of the two regarding working with the varied styles of the actors to be enjoyable, as well.
Also: 28-minute promotional featurette (nothing new here: lots of clips, lots of interviews about the basics, the occasional behind-the-scene clip), deleted musical number "Class" (with commentary from the writer and director) and "sneak peeks" for other Buena Vista titles. No trailers for "Chicago" are included.
Final Thoughts: Technically dazzling and with strong performances and direction, "Chicago" has a lot going for it; it's great entertainment. Miramax's DVD isn't the Special Edition most hoped for, but it does offer excellent audio/video quality and a couple of good supplemental features. Recommended.