Director Baz Luhrmann describes the making of his new Netflix hip-hop drama as a "10-year odyssey".
In a prerecorded message shown at a London screening of the first episode, Luhrmann credited the artists he's worked with on the series. "I'd like to say I'm the director of what you are about to see, but I don't really feel that. I really feel that I'm the curator of this vast story that I've been privileged enough to be invited into by the whole Bronx community," he said.
Luhrmann collaborated with hip-hop godfathers DJ Kool Herc and Grandmaster Flash, hip-hop artist and entrepreneur Nas (who's also an executive producer of the series) and graffiti artists John "Crash" Matos and Chris "Daze" Ellis to bring his "passion project" to life.
"The Get Down", whose first six episodes will be released 12 August, is packed with those influences. Grandmaster Flash himself is a character, manning the turntables in an underground club. But this is more than a biopic of the man behind "The Message". Rather it's a portrait of the crumbling Bronx in 1977. The city's on the brink of a cultural shift, blazing through the last days of disco and preparing for the rise of a new genre.
Netflix CEO Reed Hastings introduced the episode by acknowledging the company's shelled out more for "The Get Down" than any other original series. "It turns out that when you build a set and that set is the burned-down wreck of the Bronx, that can be expensive," he said.
Although Netflix declined to specify the total budget, Variety reports the series has cost more than $120 million.
It may have been expensive, but there's no denying it's money well-spent. Luhrmann and his collaborators have conjured up a blisteringly cool romp through a unique moment in American history. From the lavish set and costume design to the unapologetically crowd-pleasing soundtrack, the shifting scenes create a collage of the era, weaving in stock footage and '70s pop culture references from "Star Wars" to "Kung Fu".
Instead of focusing on the stars who defined the era, we meet the kids coming of age on the outskirts. There's lovelorn poet Ezekiel "Books" Figuero (Justice Smith) and Mylene Cruz (Herizen Guardiola), a pastor's daughter determined to become the next Donna Summer. Their connection to the world of "The Get Down" is Flash's protégé Shaolin Fantastic (Shameik Moore), a graffiti artist-turned-DJ with dubious martial arts skills but plenty of superhero flair.
The cast is dotted with familiar names and faces. I was pulled in by the promise of seeing "Breaking Bad" villain Giancarlo Esposito as Mylene's strict, religious father. And I was pleasantly surprised to hear Daveed Diggs, Tony award-winning star of Broadway's "Hamilton", narrating the first episode. Fans will spot Jaden Smith as a philosophical graffiti artist, but it may take a little longer to recognise Jimmy Smits behind his shades and facial hair.
Like the best Netflix originals, though, this series is all about the fresh talent. Moore has undeniable star power and Justice Smith grabs the viewer's attention early with a show-stopping poem, penned by Nas, on the cruel realities of life and death in his world.
Despite Luhrmann's claim that he's just a curator, his fingerprints are all over "The Get Down". Get ready for larger-than-life characters, grand declarations of love and seriously heightened reality. Like so much of the director's work, it's a celebration of youth, music and spectacle. The disco club, Les Inferno, is all light and sound, in stark contrast with the wreckage left behind after the Bronx fires. The colours are bright and the metaphors are heavy-handed -- but that's not necessarily a bad thing. No one does excess like Grandmaster Baz, after all.