Friday, December 16, 2005

Beauty and the Beast

Yesterday I saw two movies. One was good and one was bad. You get no guesses as to which was which, I'm just going to come out and tell you.

Ironically, the "beauty" of my title was King Kong, a film about a giant beast. But truly, a poetic masterpiece. Despite being a full three hours it was absolutely entertaining and engaging for every moment. After the film I felt similar to after I'd seen Jurassic Park for the first time, although that's completely not fair, because it's so much more than that film was even trying to be. Some are comparing it to Titanic, which is true in the epic-historical-romance-tragedy sense, but again not fair, because the story and dialogue far outpace that film. In a lesser year, it could have easily won best picture, but there are too many other good films out (that I need to see!).

I don't want to tell you anything about Kong, I just want you to see it. I promise it's worth your time and money. It's such a magnificent piece of filmmaking. I left thinking that it was what movie-making is truly all about. It is a movie-lovers' movie. Not only a great action ride, but a tear-your-heart-out romance, interesting themes about our relationship with nature...oh forget it, I can't even begin to tell you everything that's in there. It's all there. Sum up: beautiful or amazing things have always made me cry. At the end of this film, after tears had been rolling down the last 20 minutes or so, I actually had to sit in the theater and sob.

Now, after all that, how could I possibly have gone out to try to see something else?

Well, I had a date with my girlfriends, so I had no choice. And besides, I was going to see some lite fare, something from which I didn't expect much but to enjoy some of my all-time favorite music: Rent.

Woo, doggy, this movie was bad. I mean, laughably so. Several times we were turning to each other and asking what the hell was going on. Or why did it just turn into a Ralph Lauren ad? Or simply giggling at the absurdity of it all. It wasn't the actors' fault, it was just horribly filmed. Which was expected. Like I said, I didn't think there'd be much to like.

However, J said it well: the music is so strong, we didn't think even terrible filmmaking could really ruin it (think Jesus Christ Superstar: sucky film, still fun to watch). However, we didn't count on them changing the music! They took this multi-layered rock opera and dumbed it down to a one-note one-plot one-dimensional-character musical. They spoke half the songs! They cut out huge swaths of plot while inexplicably adding random scenes that don't fit the story or characters at all. They missed the tone completely, especially in some of my favorite scenes (like the candle).

I suppose I deserve it, for even trying to go. But honestly it shouldn't have been that bad. They could have filmed the stage play, one camera in a theater, and it would have been way better. I'm quite disappointed. The dumbing down was just stupid. There's no reason that your audience has to get something the first time. Duh - that kills repeat business. Well, obviously, they were out to kill any possibly repeat business with this sucker, particularly from fans. I can't imagine someone who loves Jonathan Larson's musical not being quite offended by this weakly-conceived mishmash of his beautiful music and message.

So, to sum up: See Kong, don't see Rent - you're better off waiting for the play to come to town.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hollywood has a long history of screwing up stuff. And they're especially bad about screwing up musicals/operas.

When they filmed my favorite opera (West Side Story, and don't bitch at me that it's a musical: 'tain't a musical, if only because of the quintet that ends Act I on an enormous high) they changed the scene order all around to match someone-or-another's vision. While the film version is fine as a film version, the pacing and development suffer because they shuffled the scenes around.

If you want to make a film opera/musical, it's better to plan it as a film from scratch, a la Jacques Demby and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. It was conceived for film and works gloriously there. The translation to the stage just doesn't work at all (it's been tried a couple of times.)

Different medium, different requirements. I'm going to go see Mel Brooks' movie-cum-stage musical-cum-movie when it's out. I have pretty high expectations of The Producers, but I think they'll be reached, or nearly reached. Brooks has plenty of film experience and should be able to pull it off.