The stage has long been a source of movie material, but should certain shows just stay on the stage?
Certain projects call attention to that question, and after a very long journey to celluloid, “Cats” is one of them. At a safe distance in a live-performance theater, the show is utterly captivating as limber performers embody felines without camera close-ups adding the concern of the actors truly looking like authentic cats.
Director Tom Hooper faces that challenge in translating the show to the screen, and the fact that he’s only partially successful is a big albatross that the movie has to wear. Yes, there’s a certain kick initially in seeing such familiar talents as Taylor Swift, Jennifer Hudson, Idris Elba, Judi Dench, Rebel Wilson, James Corden and Ian McKellen looking like cats …. but before long, the gimmick starts to wear thin, even souped up by modern movie technology.
With that said, technology went only so far for “Cats” early on: In a hugely unusual move, Universal Pictures called back initially released copies of the film to substitute ones with re-engineered. Presumably, that will be the version seen via all avenues going forward, including home video; however, it also suggests that even with as long as it took “Cats” to reach the screen, the picture still wasn’t quite ready when the time for its debut came.
The story, such as it is, involves the felines trying to earn the chance to ascend to cat heaven and be reborn (you know, cats having nine lives and all that). Elba’s sinister character Macavity wants to remove all of his rivals for that opportunity — among them, former beauty Grizabella, whose aging leads to the standout song “Memory” being rendered with the expected power by Hudson. And Swift performs an original tune, clearly with the intent of being an extra lure for her fan base.
With its Andrew Lloyd Webber and T.S. Eliot background and its impressive cast, chosen to hold some appeal for just about every segment of the audience imaginable, it’s easy to see where the movie version of “Cats” looked good on paper. How much you like it ultimately will depend on how much you want to like it, but if you walk into it cold without any concept of what you’re about to see, it’s no stretch to predict that “Cats” may well kill your curiosity. In film form, anyway.