Release Date(s)2017 (April 10, 2018)
Studio(s)Chernin Entertainment/TSG Entertainment (20th Century Fox)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B-
Based on the fascinating real historical figure, The Greatest Showman follows the rags to riches story of Phineas Taylor Barnum (played with genuine zeal by Hugh Jackman), from his childhood on the streets of New York City to his heights as an infamous master of three-ringed ceremonies. After marrying his childhood sweetheart (Michelle Williams) and finding an unlikely and upper-class business partner (Zac Efron), Barnum begs, borrows, and steals his way into the creation of a profitable “museum of curiosities,” which soon becomes a home for the city’s many oddballs, misfits, and freaks. Unfortunately, that isn’t enough for Barnum, who craves respectability more than fame and fortunate. So just as his road to the latter seems assured, he finds the former in a beautiful singer named Jenny Lind (played by Rebecca Ferguson), the world-famous Swedish Nightingale, whose voice quickly leads him astray.
It’s easy to see the appeal and allure of The Greatest Showman, as a kind of big screen musical not often made in Hollywood these days. But while its ambition is admirable and its production design is splendid, its plot is predictable and its characters are never more one or two-dimensional. Barnum is full of honest ambition and charisma, but we never get to know the other characters in a substantial way. Just as we meet each of them, the story quickly moves on. Barnum’s actual and extended families, who should be the beating heart of the film and the rudder that keeps Barnum on course, are at best a kind of icing on the cake – all sugar but no substance. Each of them wears their hearts on their sleeve, but we never see past the sleeve. That artifice is only magnified by a soundtrack full of glossy pop songs that are catchy to be sure but also soaked in AutoTune. There’s shine a-plenty here, but too often it feels as if the soul is missing.
That’s a shame, because this film is absolutely gorgeous to look at. The Greatest Showman was shot digitally in the ARRIRAW codec (at 3.4 and 6.5K resolution) using ARRI Alexa cameras and was finished as a true 4K Digital Intermediate. It’s been given an HDR10 color grade and is presented here at the 2.39:1 theatrical aspect ratio. The result is truly spectacular. Detail abounds, with exquisite and refined texturing. Shadows are deeply black, with naturally bright highlights. And the colors! The film’s palette is rich and vibrant, truly luminous in fact, with remarkable subtlety and variation in its hues and shadings. This presentation ranks high on the list of the Ultra HD format’s best, a reference quality image in virtually every respect.
On the audio side of things, the 4K disc includes primary audio in a fine English Dolby Atmos mix that matches the visuals well. Clarity is magnificent, with abundant space and dimensionality in the soundstage. Dialogue and music are clean and full sounding, supported by a confident foundation of bass, and enveloped by an abundance of subtle atmospheric cues in the surrounds and overheads. Really, the only thing that keeps the Atmos experience from being reference quality as well is the aforementioned use of AutoTune, which just seems unnecessary. Additional sound options include English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio, English 5.1 Descriptive Audio, Spanish, Czech, and Polish 5.1 Dolby Digital, and French, Castilian, German, and Italian 5.1 DTS, with optional subtitles in English for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Spanish, Quebec French, regular French, Castilian, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, German, Italian, Norwegian, Swedish, Czech, simplified and traditional Chinese, and Polish.
The actual 4K disc includes a handful of bonus features as follows:
- Audio commentary with director Michael Gracey (with optional subtitles)
- Music Machine (direct access to all the film’s songs)
- Sing-Along (Karaoke-style lyric text for all the songs)
There’s also a standard Blu-ray Disc in the package that features the film in 1080p HD, with the 4K disc’s extras, and the following additional bonus features (all in HD):
- The Family Behind The Greatest Showman (14:05)
- The Songs (9 featurettes – 70:07 in all)
- The Spectacle (5 featurettes – 32:12 in all)
- Concept Art (2:55)
- Storyboards (35:22)
- Theatrical Trailers (2 trailers – 4:38 in all)
In the end, The Greatest Showman is solid and competent, but never quite manages to become more than the sum of its parts. It feels a bit too generic, missing the sort of substance and voice that a more experienced director might have given it. Still, the film is cotton candy fun, the music is enjoyable, and Jackman delivers the goods, as always. Fox’s 4K Ultra HD release delivers too, with a demo-worthy A/V experience that is (probably) worth the purchase price for fans of the film and home theater enthusiasts.
- Bill Hunt