So I did something out of the ordinary (for me, as least). I went and saw a film I didn’t like the first time with hopes that the second time would me somewhat more enjoyable. It wasn’t, but at least what I saw was a bit more polished and I kind of got it a tad more. Yeah, I saw CATS again. Granted, the first time was a freebie, as a friend had planned to take his wife when the film opened. They went to see the last Star Wars film together and CATS was her pick for the next film they were to see, but she got sick, so I got called up as a last minute substitute player. I still haven’t seen that Star Wars movie yet, by the way.
Anyway, I was astounded by how very well-made but very off-putting this expensive film was and started writing a review in response, the opening paragraph which is below:
I was planning to save this one for when my writer’s block was slamming a book down on my fingers, but this review is practically writing itself for me as we speak. CATS is so very memorably atrocious that if we ever get visited by alien life in the future, I think those aliens will somehow unearth a print that’s been buried somewhere and may think we were ruled by a feline race that we made extinct because we got to see them as they really were.
There was more, but after looking at the finished review, I ended up trashing it it because it wasn’t constructive at all and even though I managed to make it a tidy 501 words, not too many of them were positive. So, I decided to chalk it up to the unfinished quality of the first run print’s unacceptable CG and yesterday afternoon, I flipped a coin and went to see it again, as the fixed version was out making the rounds. Mistake, meet blessing in disguise, as there was a blind person in front of me using a folding cane buying a pair of tickets to the showing.
He was accompanied by a woman who turned my way and nodded with a slight smile. I automatically said “Hello”, to which the blind person responded with “Ah, she doesn’t speak very good English, my daughter, but I will say “hello” to you for her, along with one from myself”. He sounded too much like Ricardo Montalbán, and as I was carrying a note pad, I quickly wrote that down, along with his greeting. As they were leaving the box office to go into the theater, the woman whispered to the man, who stopped and turned as I was buying my ticket and asked if I was a reporter. I told him I wrote for my own blog and he seemed pleased at this, offering up that he’d loved all types of movies and musicals since he was a child, also noting his blindness “arrived for a visit – but stayed” about a dozen years ago.
“Where are you sitting?” he asked, I told him anywhere is fine, and he said he had stories to tell if I was interested. His daughter laughed. “He tells… a LOT of stories!” she said in what I thought was not bad at all English, and the old man came back smiling with “But, ALWAYS good ones!” and that had me laughing at his swift response. Well, that was an invitation I accepted, as I noticed he skipped getting the hearing assist device that theater offers when he got his tickets. We had about 25 or so minutes before the film, so we talked about musicals and old movies and he noted that he’d seen CATS four times in the ’80s in its Broadway run, so he knew all the songs. In a really funny twist, his daughter noted, and the man translated that she had seen the film already with her mother and they both didn’t like it much other than it looked strange and sounded fine, but Dad was curious about the music and well, here she was again.
Before I could ask, he told me that normally, he takes his wife with him and when possible they’ll see Spanish dubbed films so they both can understand the stories. But she tapped out on a second go at the film and his daughter, who’d explained the story differences between the play and film (yes, she’d seen the show when she was younger) and even though her review was less than stellar, he wanted to experience it because of the music. A tired-looking theater employee noted we could enter and be seated, asking if we wanted help setting up the listening device, to which the man patted his daughter’s arm and said: “She sees things for me, thank you”.
We sat together at about the middle of the theater, chatting about more old movies while his daughter went to get snacks. “How many people are here?” I was asked. A quick headcount revealed 28 scattered around the theater, but a few more dropped in, including his snack-toting daughter before the lights dimmed and the trailers began playing. Surprisingly, I got handed a very cold beverage (!) and a small popcorn (!!) with no butter and I thanked the daughter for them and wondered how she knew I didn’t like movie theater “butter”, Like a mind reader, she said in her not bad at all English “I don’t like the butter. Is that okay?”, to which I nodded her way, with a thumbs up for emphasis. As the lights lowered completely, her dad stuck a finger out towards the screen, saying “And so, it begins” in a whisper.
As the film was about to start, a woman with two kids in tow rushed into the theater and sat down at the end of our row, but both kids wanted to move closer to the screen. I looked over at them as they changed seats, and in the darkness, I saw one kid was wearing pink cat ears on her head. That made me smile and hope at least she saw a film she liked a hour and fifty minutes later. On that second viewing, I saw the CG fixes right away and found that once you get over the uncanny valley thing and freak show nature of the project, It’s less terrible (but still not great) when you roll with it and at least try and grasp where it’s going. I had never seen the stage version, but in the late ’80’s I knew a guy who toured in it and as with the first time I saw the film, I wondered it he’d seen the film and what he thought of it.
About a third of the way through the showing, the woman with the two kids was dragging then out while hissing that the film was NOT for kids at all. Well, for a PG rated film, yeah, it could be said that for some audiences, the film over-sexualizes it’s felines to a good degree. But from the tales I heard, the stage musical did that as well. I remember the first time I saw the film in December, a woman who came in with a kid but sat in the back of the theater was nowhere to be found when I looked back near the ending, and a random stranger behind me told me after I turned around “Oh, she left maybe about 10 or 15 minutes in!”. I actually didn’t mind the weird proportions and a lot of other nitpick to somewhat important things many have railed against because the film is after all, a fantasy. A very surreal one, mind you. But trying to ascribe any rules of reality to CATS means you’ll spend that 150 minutes complaining 149 of them. For those new to this, a hint: All you really need to do is read this and click on links if you like.
As for my new friends, the daughter still didn’t like it, making a face and shaking her head when I asked if was better now. Dad appreciated the songs, but was a tad lukewarm about the film’s new one, saying “It was okay, but it felt like it was added to give a cat something to do.” He also offered an insight into why he felt the film is less effective than the stage version. “There no interaction with the audience.” He said, as he also noted that in the stage version, the cats were introducing themselves to and interacting with random audience members and that kept him coming back. I remembered when I saw Tony ‘n Tina’s Wedding many years ago, and that was a fun play when it premiered because the cast would interact with the audience before, during and after the show. Naturally, that didn’t translate at all successfully into a film version.
After the credits rolled, we waited until they were over and parted ways with thanks to both of them for their assistance (and free snacks!). They were going in the opposite direction I was, but the man asked when I’d publish a review and if I could email his daughter or her son and give them a link because he didn’t use a computer regularly. I told him today or tomorrow, which turned out to be today, which is tomorrow because when I got home, I pretty much fell asleep on the couch (oops). Still, leave it to a sightless man to really see what’s missing. And here I was about to pen another “Cats Is Trash!” review and end it with something like “It had to be made by dogs as a form of revenge”, something that I ended my first review attempt with.
Oh, I told the man he sounded like Ricardo Montalbán before we went in different directions, and he paused before winking and responding with a loud laugh “You know… my wife said this to me, oh… 37 years ago, and that’s probably why we got married!” He translated a bit to his daughter (I think he added a few things, but my Spanish is super rusty), but she was laughing hard as well before he even finished. So. To see, or not to see? That is the question. I’ll leave it up to you other than to say this film is its own psychotropic, so going into it on them is not a good idea, I think. Well, unless you want to forget the experience or have even more vivid nightmares afterward. It’s your move, though.