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The first time I heard about this film, I was pretty excited to see this, especially with it being a musical and Hugh Jackman leading the way as he is a wonderful actor with a strong musical background.
I have also wanted a film about the character of P.T. Barnum, as I find the history of the birth of the circus to be one that needs to be put to film.
The closest we have come is 1952's The Greatest Show On Earth. While I know that film is seen as one of the worst Oscar 'Best Picture' winners, I still see it as a really good film.
While the film did attempt to cover the topics I was hoping they would, the film itself only just about delivered and left me somewhat satisfied.
The first half moves along nicely and we get a solid arch with many characters and stand-out set-pieces.
However, in the second half, the momentum does slow down as the story goes down routes that contradict its own message. That for me was slowly deflating my emotion for it.
This was a passion project for Hugh Jackman and his screen presence is still as strong as you would expect. His song-and-dance experience worked well in this and did enough for me in his performance how much of a pioneer Barnum was.
It was great seeing Zac Efron go back to his musical roots and he was a pleasant addition to the cast.
I was happy to see Rebecca Ferguson be involved in this, as I think she is a great talent. But I didn't think her character's involvement added much.
Michelle Williams was massively under-used. Someone of her quality should not have been casted for something so small. However, she did well with what she was given.
For the rest of the cast, they did a pretty good job. Especially with the big dance numbers.
A big part of this film that needs to work is the music. I managed to like it on the whole. However, the poppy and almost X-Factor style of music felt out of place at times with the period. Also, the timing of them felt odd, and if you told me to sing one of them back to you, I would struggle to remember. But thankfully, it did manage to work at times. So much so that those moments were my high points of the film. Those moments also had crowd-pleasing choreography.
I was surprised at the over-use of visual effects. There were plenty of times where I felt the use of the technology was unnecessary. While there were scenes where CGI is needed, I expected a period piece to have more practical sets and the set-pieces to be always be genuinely done by performers.
A small mention to the script. While the dialogue was a bit on the nose, it did not feel obvious enough to downgrade my feeling of the film.
So while I was disappointed with several aspects, I enjoyed it enough to give it a decent rating. I think the commitment by everyone involved helped a lot, especially when it was working for me.
I think what they did right was show how much of an exaggerator the character of Barnum and show-business always has been and contain enough moments of the circus spectacle and razzmatazz.
But it was a shame that they did not seem to concentrate on the parts that I and many others are expecting to see. When they did show those parts, those were the scenes that I enjoyed the most. If they did that, then I think we would have a true spectacle of The Greatest Show On Earth.
Its crowd-pleasing message does lose itself in the second half. There is also a romance going on in there that felt forced and had no reason, except that the people involved are the two most popular people in the film within the teenage demographic.
I can totally see why it is not winning the critics over, but the general public seem to be happy with it. The glossy execution of the story definitely plays to a mainstream crowd. So, if you're looking for a thorough account of P.T. Barnum and the beginning of the circus and how we see show-business, you will only get it in small doses.
The way they showed Barnum almost reminded me of how Walt Disney was portrayed in Saving Mr. Banks. They do show his true nature if you look closely. But on the surface, they sanitised his complex personality.
To end this on a high note, I will say that I hope this story becomes a theatre production. I say that because I feel it had plenty of moments that would work really well on stage. So, fingers crossed this is given the Broadway treatment.