A grand, flamboyant spectacle of oddities and curiosities, The Greatest Showman is a surprisingly and freakishly delightful fantasy based on the life of P.T. Barnum and his road to creating his legendary circus. The sideshow attraction rushes to the Ultra HD stage with an excellent 4K HDR10 presentation, a fantastically satisfying Dolby Atmos soundtrack, and a great assortment of supplements, making the overall package Recommended.
Brushing aside several historical inaccuracies while avoiding other disconcerting details that might disturb moviegoers — look no further than the sad, exploited lives of Joice Heth and Charles Sherwood Stratton for more — The Greatest Showman is, on the whole, a splendidly extravagant and exhilarating musical drama. Directed by Michael Gracey, the film is also pure fantasy, condensing decades in the life of P.T. Barnum (a charmingly dynamic Hugh Jackman) into a matter of a few years. This means key events in Barnum's road to becoming the king of the circus, museum exhibitions and a purveyor of biological curiosities are shifted around or greatly exaggerated in order to achieve a specific goal. That goal amounts to little more than a feel-good tale about realizing one's dreams, lauding diversity and finding joy in our differences. Or, as a cold, uncaring critic realizes, "a celebration of humanity." In that respect, the production accomplishes its intended objective effectively and satisfyingly, uplifting the spirits of this unsmiling critic.
And isn't that precisely the reason we go to the movies in the first place, to escape the ordinariness of reality and enter an unfamiliar world for a short while where we dismiss from our minds other concerns. We gladly and willingly pay our hard-earned money, as Jackman's Barnum astutely points out, for the privilege to be hoodwinked, hoaxed and deceived. It's a perplexing and paradoxical desire — perhaps, even a deep-rooted, innate need — to be lied to in such a unique way it makes the real world just a tad more interesting and fascinating. We find a great deal of enjoyment in voluntarily allowing ourselves to be fully immersed in the verisimilitude, in the possibility of the strange, macabre and extraordinary being real or actually happening in the way the story is being told to us. Gracey's film provides audiences with a fanciful, romanticized invention of a man who understood our appetite for suspension of disbelief decades before motion pictures fulfilled such cravings. The art of lying is in receiving pleasure from satisfying an audience's indulgences.
In order to do that, a story must be carefully designed to fit a narrative that steers spectators in a particular direction. The sequence of real-life events, in the script by Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon, did not occur as seen on screen and many characters are amalgamations of real people, such as bearded lady Lettie Lutz (Keala Settle), a character who becomes essential to one of the plot's central themes and unofficial leader of the "freaks." But the story does include a couple Barnum's more personal accomplishments, the most significant being his organizing of famed Swedish singer Jenny Lind's (Rebecca Ferguson) unprecedented American tour. However, as with everything else in the production, the filmmakers use a great deal of creative license for dramatic effect so as to fashion this milestone within the larger narrative, and the film is all the more entertaining for it. Then, there are the obvious blatant lies, like Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron) and Anne Wheeler (Zendaya), a love affair that never happened between two people who never existed.
But again, the point and enjoyment of The Greatest Showman is not in looking for how accurate the plot is, but rather, in allowing oneself to be absorbed in the spectacle of the fantasy, to simple marvel at the hyperbolic pageantry. Now, the degree of enjoyment is, of course, purely subjective, with some devouring the story and associated visuals while other sourpusses find fault in the discrepancies, such as culture critic James Gordon Bennett (Paul Sparks), which I openly admit to being sometimes. For example, the story jumps so quickly from one event to the next that the film tends to feel episodic, failing to spend enough time on the emotional moment to deliver much of an impact. Barnum's wife, Charity (Michelle Williams), seems more a dramatic archetype than three-dimensional personality, and their marital difficulties is a typical trope easily brushed aside and forgotten. The musical drama clearly aims for the sentimental and hear-warming, but just misses its mark. Nevertheless, its fervent enthusiasm to please and entertain remains infectious.
Vital Disc Stats: The Ultra HD Blu-ray
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment brings The Greatest Showman to Ultra HD Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack with a flyer for a Digital HD Copy, which can be redeemed via FoxDigitalMovies.com but only available in HD / SDR and HDX on VUDU. The dual-layered UHD66 disc sits comfortably opposite a Region Free, BD50 disc inside a black, eco-cutout keepcase. At startup, the UHD goes straight to the main menu screen with full-motion clips, the usual options along the bottom and music playing in the background.
The circus of oddities and curiosities rushes the Ultra HD arena with a lovely HEVC H.265 encode that bursts with such lively buoyancy and effervescence, immediately filling the room with excitement. The red in Barnum's tailcoat is a slightly deeper shade, but it also has a flamboyantly vivacious candy-rose quality that feels true-to-life. The sky has a lovely cerulean quality while many outfits and clothing fabrics, such as General Tom Thumb's costume, show a welcomed distinction between the cobalt, navy and admiral blues, and the greens in the few bits of shrubbery and other articles of clothing are very upbeat and full of life. Even better are the sumptuously gorgeous array of secondary hues, permeating musical number with warm, golden yellows of the stage lights. Or, back to the costumes, the ballerina leotards and slippers are a deep pink while Anne Wheelers intensely dramatic wig is more of a blush taffy hue, but her trapeze outfit is a dazzling mix of lavender, periwinkle, and orchid, making each performance mesmerizing.
Unfortunately, the picture doesn't quite leave as much of a memorable impression in the contrast and brightness area. Granted, the freshly-minted transfer is brighter and a bit richer than its HD SDR counterpart, offering enough of an appreciable difference to love this performance more, but it's not by a significant margin. Spot-on whites remain largely sparkling, making the fancy, button-down shirts look clean and splendid in certain scenes while the stage lights radiate with a hot intensity. Daylight exteriors are arguably the best moments, providing extraordinary visibility in the distance, and the fluffy clouds in the sky are resplendent, giving viewers a few picturesque sceneries worth admiring and possibly demoing. However, those best spots also tend to wash away some of the finer details, and while specular highlights provide a nice, realistic sheen to various metallic objects, the brightest sections are simply blobs of white. For example, any scene with a fire burning lacks the sort of realism and detailing we've come to expect of the HDR process, making each flame look like splotches of white suddenly switching to a reddish orange.
On the other hand, the 4K presentation offers some luxurious, raven blacks in practically every scene, and the best moments are the Jackman and Williams "A Million Dreams" number in New York and Keala Settle's "This is Me" scene. While still maintaining exceptional, precise visibility in the darkest, dingiest corner of the frame, shadows penetrate deep into the screen, providing the 2.40:1 image with an extraordinary three-dimensional quality that brings the song & dance numbers to life, and viewers can really appreciate the smallest difference in the various shade of black in the clothing.
Shot entirely on Arri Alexa digital cameras with resolution levels ranging between 3.4K and 6K, which was later mastered to a 4K digital intermediate, overall definition enjoys a welcomed and noticeable uptick over the Blu-ray. Detailing is undoubtedly excellent, exposing each individual brick in the buildings, the smallest imperfection and crack inside Barnum's museum, and the teeny-weeny, out-of-place pebbles on the cobblestone roads. However, there are moments where one can actually tell when the source was upscaled because there several instances of minor aliasing along the edge of ropes, banisters, and roofs of buildings. Occasionally, those lower resolution sequences also tend to show some very mild digital noise while also looking softer than scenes before or after. On the whole, this is a fantastic 2160p video and should be the preferred way to watch and truly enjoy this surprisingly good musical.
The surprisingly entertaining sideshow attraction finishes the extravagant show with a fantastically engaging and satisfying Dolby Atmos soundtrack that immediately sucks viewers into the fantasy. As the room swells with the loud, bombastic stomping of circus patrons, creating an awesome echoing effect that spreads into the sides and front ceiling channels, the entire soundstage engages with a terrifically broad and richly-layered sense of space. The mid-range is absolutely extraordinary and extensive, exhibiting clean separation and distinction in the highest frequencies without ever faltering and with splendid room-penetrating clarity. Every instrument in the orchestration and each individual note displays outstanding warmth and fidelity while also bleeding into the top heights, generating an awesome half-dome wall of sound that's simply sensational. Amid all the hubbub and infectious excitement, vocals maintain exceptional clarity and precision.
As in its DTS-HD counterpart, the design also comes with an unexpectedly thunderous low-end that is sure to shake anyone's home theater with some serious oomph and impact. Not only does the bass hit hard during the many songs and few action sequences, providing them with excellent presence, but some of those same musical numbers come with several surprising hits that dig deep into the ultra-low depths with authoritative force, reaching down as low as 13Hz in a couple places at high decibels (bass chart). Those with the power and equipment to enjoy are in for a fun ride but might consider warning the neighbors first.
Another similarity is the somewhat lack of rear and height activity. Of course, the design does come with some amusing moments, a few sporadic effects that discretely pan between the channels and overhead. But, they are rather seldom, largely reserving the channels for the musical performances, which frankly, are superb and create a satisfyingly immersive soundfield. However, unlike its predecessor, this hemispheric audio track does better in spreading the applause and cheers around the entire room while a few bits of noise travels above the listening area, such as those scenes with the flying trapeze. Overall, the expansive front soundstage is ultimately the real showstopper, making it a marvelous and absorbing lossless mix.
Audio Commentary: Director Michael Gracey rides solo for this commentary, explaining the technical details of the production, insight on the creative process and thoughts on the music and dance numbers.
The Songs (HD, 70 min): A collection of featurettes focused on each musical performance, and viewers can either watch them individually or simply enjoy the entire series in one sitting.
Music Machine (HD, 56 min): Jump directly to specific song performances with a sing-along option.
The Spectacle (HD, 32 min): Five separate pieces devoted to specific aspects of the production.
The Family Behind (HD, 14 min): Short EPK-like piece with cast & crew interviews and lots of BTS footage.
Sing Along (HD): Owners can watch the entire film while singing along.
Still Galleries (HD).
Much like P.T. Barnum himself, The Greatest Showman hoodwinks moviegoers with a whopper of a fantasy, thrilling them with flamboyant spectacle and an imaginative fairytale that inspires. Starring Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron and Michelle Williams, the musical drama hits a few snags during the show, but the overall performance is freakishly entertaining and delightful, finishing strong in the end.
The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray takes to the stage with an excellent and lovely HEVC H.265 encode and a satisfying Dolby Atmos soundtrack that'll have owners cheering, dancing and singing along with the characters. With a small but extensive and informative set of bonus features, the overall package is recommended for the whole family and the freaks who enjoy a good musical.