So, this is the one. The film which lost tens of millions of dollars. The one that was hated not just by critics, but also by audiences, who are now going to screenings to openly mock. The one which has withdrawn itself from the Oscars nominations list (as if that will have any effect on reality). I had to go to see this one.
Well, maybe Germany is different but its still pulling in the crowds here. We went for a Sunday afternoon screening and it was sold out, leaving us to mutter abuse from separate seats way apart from each other. And you know what? In no sense was Cats a good film, but I think these “Worst film of the Decade” plaudits are letting off all sorts of films which are much worse than this.
Let’s first look at what doesn’t work. The film is, as it were, neither fish nor fowl – it doesn’t know what it wants to do. If you go to the theatre to see Cats, the musical, you are never under the illusion that you are watching a stage full of cats. The film, though, uses extensive CGI to create whiskery furry figures with twitchy ears and tails which look a little like a cat, but not quite. Its like a weird photoshop experiment. Especially as most of these pseudo-cats are wearing extensive make up.
If the characters don’t look like cats, they most definitely don’t move like cats. In the opening scenes you see actors in cat suits crawling along on their hands and knees in exactly the same way that cats don’t. Later, they stand up and walk and dance and pirouette, as if they remembered that they’re singers and dancers and not cats at all (in which case, why all the added whiskers?)
And then there’s the clothes. Most of the characters are naked – like cats are – albeit with Action Man genitals. At least one wears a fetching cat collar and tag. But others wear suits and hats, and at one mind-fucking moment, one removes her cat fur to expose a dress underneath. Judi Dench has such a thick pelt that you assume its a fur coat, but then wonder which of her fellow creatures she had to skin in order to produce it.
In short, the film occasionally wants us to think that we are watching real cats, or at least a workshop where the actors are embodying the Platonic essence of catness. Then sometimes (weird tap dancing cat, you are the worst of several offenders) its a load of actors who are singing and dancing and just happen to be wearing cat costumes.
And then there’s the perspective. For most of the time, the actors are filmed next to large scale furniture which makes them look the size of a cat. But sometimes they’re the size of a dustbin, or the height of the bed in a night train, or about a third of the size of the lions in Trafalgar Square. This may not be ultimately important – it is all made up after all – but it can be phenomenally distracting.
The film has been accused of lacking a plot, which is unfair. There is plenty of plot. Very little of this plot makes sense but that’s something else entirely. So here’s what happens. It’s the day of the year when the Jellicle cats (whatever they are) have a singing competition. The winner gets to ascend to heaven and to get the next of their cat lives. Apparently this is seen as a good thing.
Various cats come up and do a turn, but out of the blue they are all catnapped by evil Macavity, who claims that as all the other contestants have gone missing, he is the winner by default. When this doesn’t work, he steals the judge – old Deuteronomy – and makes her walk the plank on a boat on the Thames (look I warned you that none of this makes any actual sense).
Then Mr. Mistoffelees the magical cat uses his magic to bring everyone back to the theatre, a stray cat emerges from outside to sing the Hit Single and is rewarded with a hot air balloon to heaven. Macavity tries to jump on board but gets dumped on the top of Nelson’s column. Everyone sings and dances a lot. Is that enough plot for you?
For a musical, the singing can be divided into 3 categories. First there are the performers who have a decent enough voice to carry it off with some amplification and studio tweaking. Then there are the Actors like Ian McKellen and Judi Dench who more or less recite their lines, and just about get away with it. Thirdly there is Ray Winstone, about whom the least said, the better.
And yet for all this, there are long phases when the film is perfectly serviceable. The good actors do their party pieces – if you took away the cat make up, Ian McKellen’s piece as an old hammy actor would even be quite entertaining. And even James Corden, not stretching himself as an overweight annoying cat, does nothing to make us wish the makers of the film actual bodily harm.
So, it wasn’t a bad film, you just wonder what on earth inspired anyone to take the least essential parts of a stage musical and to smother them with CGI so that we quickly lose the point of what they’re trying to do. I’ve had to introduce an extra ratings category just for this film, Its less a disaster than an enigma. I bet you want to see it now, eh?