We’ve seen a lot of movie adaptations these past few years. In fact, it’s been a Hollywood trend for a while now of taking stories from various source materials and media and putting it up on the big screen for general consumption. TV show and novel sources were the norm – but lately, we’ve had movies based on comic books, video games, stage plays, musicals – even Twitter posts. While I do get the goal of wanting to expose more people to these stories by putting it on mainstream, not everyone’s going to like it. Maybe it’s because the movie production had a different vision than the source, and it didn’t exactly translate well. Maybe it’s because some stories or productions were only really intended for their original media and if it were to be shown elsewhere, it would lose its point. Or maybe it’s just because it’s a really bad rendition. Please welcome to the stage a movie that somehow managed to get all three strikes. Cats may well be the worst movie of 2019, and it’s not just because of the CGI disaster that somehow managed to beat the pre-edited live action Sonic the Hedgehog by a mile.
To those unfamiliar, Cats is originally a Broadway musical by musical theatre legend Andrew Lloyd Weber (Phantom of the Opera, Evita, Jesus Christ Superstar). Even in its original form, Cats barely had a “plot” that would pass for a 2-hour screenplay. It’s about a tribe of stray cats in London presenting themselves to the audience because of an event that happens every year wherein one of them can be chosen to cross over to a different place to start a new life. With just that on paper, it doesn’t sound half-bad, but when you realize that it’s just a bunch of very colorful characters introducing themselves for 60% of the entire running time and they never delve deeper than that, you begin to understand that this was better off as just a 5 minute storybook you tell your kids before bedtime. In all honesty, the main draw of the musical is that it is a revue of songs from a variety of interesting characters, with only a simple plot stringing them all together. Now, this may work on a theater stage, but it just didn’t transition well in a movie format as you don’t really get to appreciate the song numbers as much and you spend most of your time wondering when the plot is going to advance, if at all.
It’s biggest fault is in its visual presentation. The imposition of the actors’ very human faces on CGI cat bodies is smack dab the love child of a furry dream and nightmare fuel. Universal Pictures themselves have admitted to the treatment as incomplete as they even offered to release a retouched version of the film, but it was already too late – the world has already seen the horror of it all. Besides the CGI, there is an unexplained volume of tight, close-up shots that focus on their faces compared to the little shots properly framing a scene – a shame since this treatment barely showcases the choreography or cinematography which would have distracted us from the scary man-cats with human hands.
But the film isn’t a complete shipwreck. Given its stellar cast, there were bound to be some amazing performances – most noteworthy were Jennifer Hudson’s rendition of Memory and Taylor Swift’s Macavity. While Jennifer Hudson’s numbers had the emotion to rival the atrocity of her appearance, Swift had the privilege of being in the movie for only 10 minutes or such – not having to be subject to extended dismay from the audience as much as the rest of the cast – and it showed that she had fun and made the most of it.
As someone familiar with the source material, I can say that the movie is horrible, yes, but not complete garbage. I already knew before watching that its plot wouldn’t have been able to sustain a 2-hour screen time since it heavily relied on song numbers. The soundtrack itself is quite enjoyable, but it may not be something the mainstream audience can sit through. It really just boils down to it being packaged in a horrifying visual package and the movie not being a proper format for the material.
But Cats will survive this. Broadway fans know that it really is a weird production and an acquired taste at that. Several musicals in the past have already followed the trend of being box office flops but managed to sustain an underground following, and Cats is already on its way with there being singalong versions of the movie among fans.
But the judgment still stands – Cats is not a movie to see in cinemas anytime soon unless it is your intention to go through a very vivid fever dream.
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It's a reminder of darker days and that we can all move on from this