In his directorial debut, Michael Gracey took movie audiences on a blockbuster musical journey inspired by the life of P.T. Barnum. Starring Hugh Jackman as the “prince of humbug,” The Greatest Showman (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, rated PG, 105 minutes, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, $39.99) dances to home theaters with a rousing ultra-high definition transfer.
The mostly fictionalized rags-to-riches tale — actually Barnum’s real-life exploits are even more amazing — offers a pinch of family, friendship and tolerance while chronicling the promotional genius’ rise to fame.
Viewers watch him go from a poor tailor’s son to owner of a museum of oddities to a freak circus and ultimately a three-ringed spectacle eventually called “The Greatest Show on Earth.”
The ensemble cast supporting Mr. Jackman’s rousing singing and dancing includes Michelle Williams as Barnum’s wife; Zac Efron as his fictional partner Phillip Carlyle; Rebecca Ferguson as singer Jenny Lind; Zendaya as acrobat Anne Wheeler; and Keala Settle as the bearded lady, Lettie Lutz.
Despite Tony Award-winning, songwriting duo Benj Pasek and Justin Paul’s best efforts, the musical selection is just not very inspirational or that memorable, especially when compared to recent musicals such as “La La Land,” or “Moana.”
Generally, I felt a lack of emotional resonance in most tunes with only “Never Enough” and the Academy Award-nominated “This is Me” generating any goosebumps. The overall song construction reminded me of “Chess” and “The Lion King.”
Still, the whirlwind, music video style of Mr. Gracey’s way of filming makes the “The Greatest Showman” a breezy viewing for the family. It could have actually been longer to flesh out Barnum’s life and appreciate Mr. Jackman and the cast’s performances.
4K UHD in action: Offering an ultra-high definition presentation plucked from the 4K master format, the disc allows viewers to appreciate a lifelike visual quality throughout. That’s often due to the director and cinematographer’s use of resolution-rich, ARRIRAW digital cameras.
Most noticeably are the sparkling colors of the vintage costuming throughout as Barnum and Carlyle shine in their ringmaster garb with red coattails, gold-braided vests and textured top hats. Hues during the ringed performance are equally eye-catching with saturated blues and reds popping in Tom Thumb’s general outfit and a pair of high-wire acrobats deep-purple outfits.
As far as capturing some visual magic at the locations, Barnum’s visit to Buckingham Palace shines through ornate gold emblems and fixtures, and one of the more beautiful moments finds the showman and his wife hanging out at the beach as a purplish sunset greets them.
Although the Dolby Atmos soundtrack really brings the film to aural life, it’s almost too overwhelming during the musical numbers due to the heavy use of rhythmic drumming during some of the songs. I occasionally had a hard time hearing the lyrics.
Best extras: 20th Century Fox pulls out all of the stops to give viewers a definitive overview of the movie. I’m happy to report that the 4K disc actually contains some bonus content.
First, Mr. Gracey leads the way with a chatty optional commentary track. He talks about the real Barnum, the story, his shooting techniques, and gushes about the crew. He then touches on minutiae such as creating the opening title cards at the last second, Sam Humphrey having to play the role of Gen. Tom Thumb on his knees, and the director actually building some of visual effects.
Next, fans of the music can also watch the film again in UHD with a karaoke option or go directly to each musical number, with or without the color-highlighted lyrics.
Now move over to the Blu-ray version of the film to get a 70-minute breakdown of each of the nine songs including “This is the Greatest Show,” “A Million Dreams,” “This is Me” and “Never Enough.”
Each segment focuses on the deconstruction of the songwriting process of Mr. Pasek and Mr. Paul. It features them at the piano, demos, early rehearsals and interviews with the director and select cast for each tune. Suffice it to report, musical theater fans will be riveted.
Also, a pair of featurettes offer a total of 47 minutes on the creation of the film supplemented with interviews, concept art, rehearsals and behind-the-scenes action.
The longer of the featurettes is broken into five segments led by key personnel that covers costuming with Ellen Mirojnick, choreography with Ashley Wallen, cinematography with Seamus McGarvey, production design with Nathan Crowley and scoring with Mr. Paul and Mr. Pasek.
Only thing missing is a featurette on the history and legacy of the real P.T. Barnum, which would have been a great addition to the bonus content.