Director: Tom Hooper
Stars: Francesca Hayward, Jennifer Hudson, Taylor Swift
When I was 16 I took LSD for the first and only time in my life. I had anticipated, thanks to TV and film, to suddenly see conjured pink elephants and gateways to other dimensions. Time-lapsed flowering mushrooms and the like. That didn’t really happen. Instead, for a little while, my spatial awareness was fucked. Crossing a road took an eternity, while the length of a beach seemed to vanish in a step. I was on the ground, but I didn’t think that I looked like I was on the ground. That and nausea were the most profoundly constant sensations.
Watching Academy Award winning director Tom Hooper’s ‘live action’ film of Cats didn’t spark in me an acid flashback, though its the closest I’ve ever gotten to feeling that way again. He’s taken Andrew Lloyd Webber’s smash hit musical and turned it into a lurching merry-go-round of aesthetic disasters; an intangible, impossible world of nightmares that, if intended to evoke sheer horror and madness, would be hailed as a grim and twisted masterpiece. Latter-day Tim Burton couldn’t hope to envisage half of this shit.
With a sustained pitch of hysteria only rivaled by that one episode of The League of Gentlemen where Papa Lazarou started putting Royston Vasey residents inside of circus animals, Academy Award winning director Tom Hooper introduces us to a cobbled London street circa the early 1900s. Here, unwanted feline Victoria (newcomer Francesca Hayward; uncomfortably sexy) is dumped. She is swarmed by other cat-people. They sing to her. They are ‘Jellicle’ cats. Tonight, one of them will be chosen by Old Deuteronomy (Judi Dench, looking hench) to ascend to the Heaviside Layer – a kind of cat heaven accessible once a year by hot air balloon, where they will be reborn into a new life. All they have to do is sing about themselves.
That’s all there is to Cats really, but boy is it enough. The cats are humanoid. They have human faces. Human hands. Human feet. But with the addition of cat ears, digital fur, and tails sprouting long and lithe from their anuses. Some of them wear clothes but most don’t. The ones wearing clothes look the worst. Whatever algorithm created these monstrosities can’t cope with this additional layering, so collars and dresses slip wonkily around necks and shoulders, appearing to be 2D mock-ups pinned to hyperactive 3D frames. CG whiskers wander around faces. Victoria’s guide Munkustrap (Robbie Fairchild) frequently appears to have a flat stuck-on face, in spite of the twists of his body. He is constantly and unnervingly staring right at us.
Proportions are all wrong and totally inconsistent. One minute the cats appear almost human size, as when lounging in a cemetery or dancing in a theatre, a moment later they’re the size of your forearm or only just large enough to roll a Coca-Cola can. This undulation, this persistent sense of morph and flux has the same feel as getting off of the waltzers at the fairground, an effect damn near tripled by how half of the movie green-screens its characters onto artificial backgrounds. The cobbled street exteriors, bathed in pink neon, blatantly aren’t there. See also a flight of stairs that look as though they were generated on a Nintendo 64. Academy Award winning director Tom Hooper’s feline sprites pirouette on woozy backgrounds and then he has the gall to go hand-held. Is this what anti-gravity is like? Is this what dying is like?
Several dozen moments within this possessed clown of a movie are worthy of gasps. The way Ian McKellan’s Gus literally says “meow” or that bit where he laps water from a saucer. The time Rebel Wilson’s Jennyanydots takes off a whole layer of fur to reveal she’s clothed underneath that… and with more fur under that. How Idris Elba’s Macavity looks naked. The sound these creatures make when they’re impressed with a performance. The fucking mice. Horrors upon horrors, each more delightful than the last. I could feel my brain giving up. It dribbled from my ears, the same way snot dribbles from Jennifer Hudson’s nose throughout her cacophonous rendition of “Memories”.
James Corden is in this and he’s awful, obviously. If you weren’t yet sure whether he was the worst person to happen to film in the last decade, Cats closes the book on that one. The role of Macavity has been accentuated to no real end. Taylor Swift turns up and murders a song while showering catnip on all the horny dancers… And the amount of panting going on… Judi Dench makes lustful eyes at Ian McKellan. And Francesca Hayward. And most of the cast, actually. Judi Dench is horny-as-fuck in this. Judi Dench. Then at the end she sings to camera and I…
Academy Award winning director Tom Hooper’s Cats isn’t ready. It’s painfully obvious that they ran out of time on this one. He recently spoke of a 36 hour stint overseeing the visual effects right up to delivery and it wasn’t enough. Universal set their deadline and Academy Award winning director Tom Hooper missed it, but they shoved his partway finished creation out anyway, like an unwanted kitten tossed out of a sack into an alley. They weren’t ready and neither are you. You thought those trailers were insane. You haven’t seen anything.
In spite of all this chaos, all this nightmare fuel, all of the mistakes, weird choices and crazy depictions… Cats still manages, somehow, to bore. It’s a curious dichotomy. You’re sat there, agog, trying to process hell happening in front of you, but you’re also numbed after a time. The entire second hour takes place in the same rundown theatre set (making the film feel eerily similar to Gaspar Noé’s god-awful shockfest Climax). Vomit-worthy as early excursions into Jennyanydots’ kitchen or the Milk Bar were, at least they provided variation. Once Cats beds down, it really becomes very old hat very, very fast. I’ve cracked the codes of Lynch movies, I’ve swam the misanthropic seas of Bergman, but I don’t think I’ll ever understand what the fuck all the stuff aboard a boat in the Thames is for in this movie.
An astonishing, astonishing folly. I also kinda can’t wait to see it again. With that in mind, if you’re looking at the star rating below and wondering “Is that five stars or none at all?” the answer is… Yes.
Cats is the final boss of cinema, and I’ve lost all nine of my lives.