Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Movie Musicals

There's a trend these days, a trend to make movies into musicals. I've only seen three, but it already makes it clear the problem in this.

Tarzan...uh, let;s not go there. Ever.

Legally Blonde I saw on MTV. I must say I loved this movie, but the musical failed it on several levels. It replaced the subtle charm of the film with a less subtle sugar rush, which makes everything less convincing. The songs also don't really add any depth or character, just sort of serve to keep perking up the mood, which only goes so far.

But the one that really baffles me is the one I saw the other week. I really enjoyed this movie, and the musical has a lot of the same charm. The problem is that the charm doesn't feel any different than the movie. The film also supplies a fairly convincing level of emotion, which is precisely what's missing here. In fact, the attempt to infuse it here feels awkward. too indebted to the film, and too unwilling to deviate. There are scenes in which incredible emotional heft is short-changed. Case in point, one scene where two characters almost kiss, then discover that one's grandmother is dead. The scene takes about 45 seconds, and is somewhat carelessly dropped into the middle of the story with no lead up or follow up. And that's the show's problem. In a film, cuts are easy and unobtrusive. On the stage, though, cuts are distracting because of the dead time while the scene changes, and to have a scene enter and leave within the span of a minute feels just plain silly. The emotions are injected in almost formulaicly, but there's been a sever miscalculation, turning a finely nuanced movie into a sitcom-ish attempt for serious issues. The show also does a nice job of showing the pros and cons of a pop score. it works well during the crowd-pleasing numbers, of which there are several (the big ass rock song and Life With Harold come immediately to mind). But the pop score also can't quite carry the more emotional parts of the film.

Perhaps the biggest problem of all with these movie musicals is just that it saps the inspiration process out of it. Musicals like Nine and A Little Night Music use the movie as a launch point, crafting ingenious scores that add so much depth to the movieā€”a pastiche in the former, a suite in the latter. But here, it's like a bad DVD transfer where everything becomes jumpier, more washed out, and leaves you with the sneaking suspicion that maybe the movie wasn't as funny as you remembered. Don't worry, it was.


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