There’s irony in watching a film whose fate has already been sealed. Sometimes, that can be a good thing. But that isn’t the case with Tom Hooper’s Cats which has hit Indian screens this week. The film ran into controversy right after its trailer was dropped, with the visual effects getting trashed unanimously. Problems increased after Judi Dench’s wedding ring was spotted, which resulted in a patched-up version getting released. And then there’s the prediction that the film stands to lose as much as 70 million at the box office. So, you can say I didn’t walk into the theatre with high hopes. And yet, it turns out I wasn’t prepared for the weirdness of the experience.
Throughout the 109 minutes, I had just one question. Why was this film made? Was it just to flaunt some technology for its sake? And this isn’t just humans prancing around in costumes. That I can try to understand. The CGI here is... questionable. The cats, especially the female ones, are sexualised to a fault. As many have complained earlier, why do female cats have breasts? And more irritatingly, the film isn’t even consistent with what it does. Some female cats have breasts, some don’t. The older ones wear ‘fur coats’, while the younger ones don’t seem to care about clothes. And then there’s Bombalurina (Taylor Swift) who sashays in high heels for a song.
The inconsistencies don’t stop there. There’s also the question of scale. How big are these cats? In the first frame, when Victoria (Francesca Hayward) is abandoned, the size resembles that of a regular cat. However, the scale miraculously changes as she steps out in regular human size. The film shifts back and forth between both, to jarring effect. While it doesn't rocket science to understand the intent behind it, it doesn’t translate onscreen cohesively.
With a star cast like this, it’s a shame that the performances don’t amount to much. It doesn’t help that Hayward, who dances like a dream, isn’t as diverse with her expressions. The Royal Ballet dancer literally uses the same expression — wide-eyed, agape in excitement — throughout the film. Not that the others have much space to explore. The characters don’t get much opportunity to rise beyond a caricature. The film is a musical, sure, but it still doesn’t explain why there are just five lines of dialogue. It is simply one song followed by another, and after a while, Cats feels like a glorified playlist accompanied by some good cinematography and choreography.
All said, I quite liked Taylor Swift’s new song, Beautiful Ghosts, written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and herself. The song is a fine companion piece to Memory, the centrepiece of the Broadway musical. While the choreography is again elegantly fluid, it doesn’t do too much to convince us of the world that it claims to belong in. Also, the mediocre CGI doesn’t let us truly appreciate the music or the choreography as the actors struggle to find some space to breathe.
The trailer of Cats dropped with the tagline, ‘This Christmas, you will believe.” I remember reading somewhere that the tagline sounded both like a plea and a threat, depending on how you read it. But after watching the film, it does seem like the latter. And with all its inconsistencies and problems, we can safely say that no, we don’t believe in it.
Director: Tom Hooper
Cast: Francesca Hayward, James Corden, Judi Dench, Taylor Swift, Idris Elba, Jennifer Hudson