Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Movie Musical Genre: Friend or Foe?

It seems to be the trend these days that if a concept works in one medium, it will work just as well in another; and this is an ever present reality in the world of the movie musical. However this is a unique area, as it moves in both direction, possibly multiple times, over the years with the ebbs and flows of pop culture and fandom. The most recent creation to grab hold is the film that opened yesterday, Mamma Mia!
Now, I did not watch a copy I found streaming on the internets early in the week, due to the fact it opened the same weekend as The Dark Knight (and it being the weekend before finals, having time only to see one of them over the weekend), at home lounging in my fabulous IKEA chair. However, if I had, It would definitely tint my view of the success one way or another, wouldn't it. Doing so would deprive the movie of the surround sound and the amazingness of seeing the vibrant sets on the jumbo-tron; but, it would allow me to sing along with the ABBA songs that have been woven into a storyline.
What is the storyline, you ask? You mean you do not know...well, girl meets boy and wants to get married in a big production with her father giving her away, however, her mother won't tell her who her father is, so she steals her mothers diary and discovers her mother was a whore, giving her 3 possible fathers. Being the MENSA candidate she is, she invites all 3 to her wedding, determined that she will know him at first sight (ah, the hope of youth that law school has beat out of me with wet reeds). And as you can tell, this is not heading in a positive direction for a quick resolution and telling you the rest would give away the fun part of the story:)
Anywho, on stage it was good, I enjoy the music of ABBA and having large dance numbers to go with it makes it even better. In movie form, it does translate, you get bigger better sets and more intricate dance numbers that you can have a birds-eye view of. The actors acted, but the actors are not singers, and here is my dilemma with the genre in general. In the time of the classic, to act you had to be the triple threat, be the best actor, dancer, and singer. Nowadays, if you are hot enough, they with have a computer synthesize your talent if they want. I am not saying that these were not talented people, quite the opposite. This cast pulled together some of the most talented actors and actresses out there. As hard as he may try, Pierce Brosnan could not pull off Sam, and that may be less of the fact of the acting and more the fault that he is who he is and having James Bond play Sam was just odd. But overall, extremely enjoyable matinee fun, but is even more enjoyable if you are watching during a thunderstorm in you jammies singing along at the top of your lungs...
Now that Mamma Mia has emerged a victorious stage to screen jumper, studios are clamoring to get more stage musicals to the silver screen, and that means a Wicked movie musical. And this is where I pause and wonder if we have taken the genre past the point of no return. When I read Wicked, I enjoyed the dark, gritty writing and immediately thought this would be a fabulous movie, then, they made it into a stage musical...they made it safe and puffy and basically scrubbed and polished the plot to sell it to the masses. And the show itself is fabulous, following the skeleton plot they left intact, mainly the characters names and location, with a soundtrack that is way too catchy. But how will they make this into a movie. If they introduce more of what the book originally laid out, they could create a visually stunning masterpiece (even if they let George Lucas CGI in some flying monkeys), examining the sides of the characters they decided were too dark for Broadway. But if their goal is to keep the songs and audience they have, this is not really an option.
Solution 1: make 2 musicals, have Tim Burton translate from the book and have Adam Shankman translate from the musical.
Solution 2: don't do it! Learn from the mistakes of the past, RENT did not work as a movie, this may not either.
But, alas, it will be made. It may or may not ruin the original, whether that be the book or the stage production. For Hollywood studios are a society unto themselves, cutoff from the outside world by the 5, the 405, and the 101. They will do what works, over and over again, because they know every couple of years a new generation see Annie, or Cats, or now HSM3, and they realize that people can sing and dance at the same time and they want more. And, truthfully, the movie makes the "great white way" a more accessible destination for all. I just ask you to consider one thing, the fact that musicals can make great movies, but not all movies can make great musicals [Spiderman!]

And for a taste of HSM3 for those not in the know...

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