It’s been a few days now, and I’ve had time to sit and think about it.
See, when Friday arrived I was inundated by hordes of people declaring the new production of Rocky sucked, was a pretender, an imposter, flat and unbearable.
Here’s the thing, I’m not really a fan. I’ve seen it three times in the theater with a live shadow cast. I’ve also seen a production of the stage show (the Rocky Horror Show – minus the “Picture” element) that the film was based on. I’m okay with it, but Rocky isn’t the sacred cow to me that it is to some people, and my milage may vary. But it also means I come at it with a very different perspective, and perhaps a different set of expectations.
First and foremost, it bears noting that this was NOT a remake. That was marketing not really knowing what to call it. I’m not sure myself. It’s not a remake or a reimagining, it’s more akin to a broadway revival with a new cast. It’s a companion. It would be a marvelous special feature on a Rocky Blu Ray, but whatever it is – this version of Rocky is not the thing itself. It’s a reaction, a homage pointing towards the original. This is important to understand. This production was never meant to replace or usurp the original, but rather to honor it.
The broadway revival metaphor is significant as well because this really isn’t a film. It’s theater. I’ve caught some flack for this statement because it wasn’t shot live with a three camera set up. It’s got film cutting techniques in it. Yeah, that’s true, but I’d say the same is true of that Jesus Christ Superstar revival about ten years ago, as well as the Joseph on with Donny Osmand. Both had film production qualities for their releases, but were still obviously theater productions. So is this. Watching the performances, the staging of the dances and the costuming…these people are playing the roles broad. Big. They’re trying to reach the back rows of the theater. It’s more of an homage to the stage show than the film really…but it’s going to be recorded so why not take advantage of that and use different angles and special effects? Still the lights on the sets, and the generally two dimensional nature of them (you can absolutely tell where that stage would end in most cases) convinces me this is a theater production, not a film one. It’s also relevant because Rocky has always been meant to be viewed with others. Most people were watching (or half-watching by a lot of accounts) this at home. I headed out to the Cedar Lee Theater to see it on the big screen with a hundred other people. The group dynamic at a venue that has hosted Rocky for over 20 years makes a difference.
So does that make things bulletproof? Not at all. There’s still flaws here, but I think a lot of the disdain comes from people expecting a very different kind of show…either a straightforward remake or a very film centric version…that’s always going to lead to disappointment. When I go to see Briagadoon at Huron Playhouse, I’m not expecting ti to be the same as the production I saw a few years ago at Stocker Center. Different cast, different director, but the same music. The same story. That’s a lot of what this is.
And how does that different cast fare?
I actually like Reeve Carney as RiffRaff. It’s a logical update with a slightly more modern look while not losing any of Richard O’Brian’s creepiness. His sister Magenta is actually a very different character here – perhaps that has to do with the original being a little underdeveloped. Christina Milian is trying to do some thing new with the role, but she quickly slides into Disney channel mode, giving a perky, squeaky Raven Simone type of performance. It distinguishes her from the original, and it’s an interesting contrast to the stage version I saw, where Magenta was played VERY sensual. I think it’s an interesting take and fun to see how varied the character can be.
Columbia. This has always been my favorite character in the story – she’s always been fun and hyper while still managing to give a maniacal and spooky edge at moments. Annaleigh Ashford‘s update has gone less glam and more punk (but broadyway punk so it’s still pretty glam). She feels like a reaction to the popularity of characters like Harley Quinn. Still, I recognize Columbia there and she’s absolutely delightfull in the role. I love the added sight gag of her constantly having a sucker in her hand or mouth (a gag they play with several times) giving her a perpetually blue tongue. It’s a charming touch. It’s a shame her boyfriend Eddie dosen’t fare as well. Adam Lambert tries his best to do Meatloaf, but it’s never enough. He’s a diffrent kind of voice and he never quite manages to infuse the song with the soul that Meatloaf did. It would have been better off if he had played the role in a different manner rather than trying to merely imitate Meatloaf. Imitation works for Brad and Janet – those are meant to be one note characters, but Eddie needed to be more.
So what of the main character? What of Frank-N-Furter?
I was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. It’s a revival after all, and Tim Curry will never play the role again. I was interested in seeing the new take. the stage Frank I saw years ago was even more over the top that Curry and it really worked. I was interested in seeing how the gender swap would play as well (yes, I know – and it’s irrelevant to this discussion, really.), because Frank was always androgynous (But not truly – it was always leaning one way or the other) I didn’t expect it to change the dynamic that much, and I don’t think it did.
The real issue here is Laverne Cox’s voice. It’s not so much about strength as it is inflection. Curry had an impish quality about him. Flirting with femininity to contrast his obvious masculinity. He’d lower his voice to a throaty feminine timber for certain verses – a parody of the seductress that came off as comical. Cox is already at a lower range and while masculine playing up feminine works as comedy, it doesn’t really work the other way around. Cox knows this so she dosen’t go there, but insted comes off as exaggerated and a bit hollow. The only time I really recognized Frank-N-Furter in her was during the screen with Adam Lambert where she stares angrily at Eddie.
I’m not sure what would have fixed this. I like the costumes, but I think I needed wilder hair like Curry’s. If someone had slapped a Phyllis Diller wig on her, maybe a black one, it would have worked better for me visually. If she’d tried to go a different direction with the character…committed to those differences instead of vacillating between her own take and a Tim Curry imitation, I might had accepted it better. I don’t know. I only know that I had a very hard time accepting her as the character, despite being interested in seeing what she would do with the part.
I like some of the songs. I like some of the changes – it’s expected for a revival with different voices and different takes. But there are some bits – like Science Fiction Double Feature, where the pauses are held out too long and it throws me off (I must say, I loved the ticket taker though).
Finally, there’s Tim Curry. I’m of two minds about his appearance which is more than a cameo, but less than a full fledged role. I love how this honer’s his involvement- he deserves that. I’m happy he’s gotten back on the horse so to speak, and put forth the obviously massive effort it took to be a part of this. that makes me happy.
But his condition makes me sad.
You can see how ravaged he has been by his stroke, and how he struggles with his line readings. It’s a bit disheartening to see him in this state….but then again, look in his eyes. It’s there, particularly when his assistant does a pratfall or something equally ludicrous.. there’s a light and a rascally sarcasm there. Tim Curry is still there, no matter how his body may hinder him.
In the end, this feels like something you’d put on in the background to listen to as you get ready to go out and see the original movie at a midnight showing. It gets you in the mood and the soundtrack works as well as any of those studio cover band Halloween CDs you see littering the shelves every October. It doesn’t deserve the hate it’s gotten, but it’s certifiably not the main feature it was billed as.