A purrfect catastrophe
Cats (2019): A tribe of cats called the Jellicles must decide yearly which one will ascend to the Heaviside Layer and come back to a new Jellicle life.
It’s not hard to know what you’re going to get walking into a screening of Cats. Universally panned, bombing at the box office, the reputation of this film far proceeds itself at this point. Yet, never have I ever been more excited to watch a film as I was going into Cats. I even flirted with dressing up as one because, why not? If you’re gonna go watch Cats at 10:30 at night, might as well go all out. Do what the film should have done and dress up in a unitard and dance around for two hours, right? From the first moment to the end credits of this 110 minute cat-tanic disaster, my hands never left my mouth. I was shocked and amazed, yet delighted that something as purrible as this could possibly be green-lit by a studio, let alone have that studio legitimately think they had a glitzy, deserving awards contender on their hands. (Cats has since been removed from Universal’s “For Your Consideration” awards page. Don’t worry, though: cats have 9 lives, right?) This film somehow, inexplicably exists, and honestly we are better off for it.
Do you need a summary of what Cats is? Is that why you’re here? Probably not, but if you are, Cats comes to us from direct Tom Hooper (bless his heart, he’s done good work before and will make good films again. If he can get over the PTSD of looking at this digital fur technology for an entire production cycle) and is an adaptation of the musical of the same name from playright and man-who-just-discovered-LSD Andrew Lloyd Weber. The musical is essentially cats introducing themselves for 2 hours via hit-or-miss numbers, with the final cat (that the rest initially shun because that cat is poor and uncharismatic, but we won’t talk about the message of hating something simply because it’s different) singing the (admittedly) iconic “Memory” and instantly winning the competition for 9 lives. Or the Jellicle Cat award. I don’t know, whatever trippy title Weber thought of when he wrote this. (Are you mad I just spoiled Cats? Are you really?) Tom Hooper’s cat-daptation (they’re not gonna stop, I am gonna work through all my lives with these) tries to use CGI to create “digital fur technology” (yes, that is the official PR phrase from our friends at Universal, and don’t you feel better knowing that) so it doesn’t look like we are looking at people in form-fitting unitards dance around for 2 hours. Instead, we have to look at some of the worst CGI on the planet, so that’s better? I guess? Don’t worry, we’re gonna talk more about this digital fur technology in a bit. Ugh. Never have I ever been more ashamed to like cats.
If you’re looking for a disaster in filmmaking that is so bad it’s actually kind of fun to watch it implode on itself…. Look no further than Cats. Literally every aspect of this film is catastrophic, from the editing to the cinematography to the lighting to the sound design to the very un cat-like performances themselves. The editing varies WILDLY from number to number, as it was clearly used as a crutch to mask the hilariously terrible CGI. Some numbers have so many cuts it’s literally incatprehensible to process what is happening on screen. (I’m pretty sure I counted something like 25 cuts in less than 30 seconds in one number? That is NOT how you want to film a musical) Fortunately, “Memory” is almost a single close up on Grizabella (Jennifer Hudson) in a moment that is totally-absolutely-not a shameless attempt to recreate the “I Dreamed a Dream” sequence in Les Misérables. (which, to be fair, is also a Tom Hooper film so not the worst thing?) This sequence, akin to the actual musical itself, is the only thing of any value Cats has to offer to the world.
There is absolutely no direction in this filmmaking. How do you butcher the sound design in a musical? I’d rather listen to cats howl than listen to this again. The vocals were clearly added in post production, so how do you not get the balancing right among the singers? And how do you not balance the singers with the instrumentation properly? These are basic qualities of a movie musical, and when you can’t even get that right…. Yikes. Also, the lighting. Is so bad. Like the rest of this dumpster fire, the lighting is created via CGI, and it looks like the filmmakers spent their CGI budget on cat fur and forgot that they needed to actually light the cat fur, too. And can we talk about the set design? Because, it’s great. Said no one, ever. The sizing of the cats in correlation to the set around them is wildly inconsistent. It’s distracting and uncomfortable watching a cat transform from the size of a peanut to a human in correlation to the set around them from one scene to the next. It’s almost as if the filmmakers ran out of time adjust the sizing of the cats, or had some sort of existential crises realizing they were working on Cats and tried to escape before completion. It’s bad.
But the worst offender in all of this is undoubtedly the digital fur technology, and the actors underneath the disturbing CGI. At best, the CGI creates a disturbing cat-human hybrid, a product of a science experiment gone horribly wrong, and at worst we witness an abomination that would make Sega Genesis graphics proud. This was amplified by the cast, which clearly didn’t rehearse together before shooting, as there was no consistency in the performances whatsoever. Some (like James Corden) are actually trying to act like a cat, others (like Rebel Wilson) are making jokes at the expense of cats, (rude) and others (like Ian McKellen) are just walking around like humans, clearly not even trying.
Ok, ok, ok. I need to vent and ask the void what on earth are Ian McKellen and Judi Dench doing here? They can’t sing, they barely dance, (and the dancing they do do is baaaad) they don’t have a chance to act under all the CGI, so…. Why? Both of them are clearly #initiforthepaycheck, but why give them the paycheck at all? They bring nothing but their likeness to these roles, a likeness which you can barely see under the digital fur technology, so, I ask again: why? But that question is exactly what I was asking myself for basically two hours. An indecipherable, incatprehensible disaster of a film that is the very definition of “so bad it’s good.” Destined for cult status, this film is almost worth watching during its brief run in theaters just to say that you witnessed it. Because, at the end of the day, it is a lovable, joyous meowtain of cat litter.
My Number: 1/10 So Bad It's Good
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