Favorite Original Or Cover Of A Christmas Song?
"We always did feel the same, we just saw it from a different point of view"- Bob Dylan
Albeit a bit late, here's my review of the recent movie adaptation of the stage musical RENT. Fair warning, the review below might contain spoilers, though if you're familiar with the stage musical (or even the Puccini's opera La Boheme on which RENT is based) it's not like I could give anything away if I wanted to. If you don't want to risk having anything spoiled, the short version is: "Good Film. Fairly Faithful recreation of the stage show with a few problems but nothing that will stop me from buying the DVD the day it comes out."
Being a big fan of the stage musical, I tried to approach the movie with a completely open mind realizing that a movie CANNOT be exactly the same as a stage show. Different mediums have to be approached differently. That said, it took a few minutes of cringing at the beginning when "December 24th, 9pm..." was spoken instead of sung. I think if you've never seen the show (or even have only seen it once) you probably won't be bothered by this. It's only people like myself, who know every word and note of the show by heart, who probably are irked by the discord of hearing the oh so familiar words spoken on screen while the melody is loudly playing in my head. But after a few minutes I was able to get over it, in part because the movie drifted a bit away from the exact word-for-word dialogue of the stage show.
Many of the songs have been shifted around or edited to make the story fit fluidly into the movie format. For example, on the way to the theater I had wondered how they would work the song "Rent" into the movie. I figured they surely would, since it's the title song, but like a few others in the show, "Rent" is more along the lines of an aria as opposed to recitative (were the show an opera) and as such wouldn't translate well to the screen if done as it does on stage. The problem was remedied by pushing the number forward (while editing out parts that referred to information the audience wouldn't yet know due to the change), using it to set up the background of the story.
I was surprised and pleased that the movie format was able to retain alot of the "grit" of the stage show. One thing I love about the stage show is the minimal set. While the movie uses (and should use) full sets, it still retains that some what minimalist/industrial quality, not to mention that the metal table that was used more or less for everything in the stage show makes it's appearance in the movie, if less frequently. While the grit was there, the movie format also left a little room for polish, sometimes with enjoyable results. The Tango Maureen benefited from an imaginary (or perhaps concussion induced dream) extended dance sequence that, with its instant costume changes and introduction of Maureen, could not have been pulled off near as successfully on stage.
Some parts did not benefit from the movie polishing though. Perhaps most notably the creation of Joanne and Maureen's engagement party. The whole scene felt like simply a nod to the current events surrounding same-sex marriage, and while I'm certainly not opposed to putting such a thing in a movie, I did think that it was a bit drawn out since it was more or less simply a container for the song, "Take Me or Leave Me."
I've heard some say it bothered them that the actors (who were almost entirely from the original cast) were older than a new cast might have been (after all these are the same people who played these characters when the show came out in 1996). I didn't have a problem with this at all. There's nothing in the story line that indicates to me that the characters are necessarily "young" (so long as they're not "old" either). I think the benefits of having the actors who actually worked with Jonathan Larson (and know what he had in mind when he wrote the show) far outweighs any problems with a slightly older cast.
Another thing I thought they could do without were the fade-to-black transitions. I don't mind seeing one or two in a movie but using a black screen to transition between just about every scene leaves the movie feeling a bit choppy. Again, I think part of this comes from the transition from stage. You can have multiple things going on on a stage at the same time which makes scene changes a bit more fluid. On the screen you have to work some kind of transition in. In my opinion, fading to black then back up on a new scene doesn't quite cut it.
I thought the ending (which was a little cheesy on stage) was a bit too cheesy on film, though clearly there was nothing they could have done differently (short of rewriting the show). When you watch a stage musical (or even a non-musical play) there's a little stronger suspension of disbelief that takes place than when one watches a film. Bringing somebody back to life with a song only to have them break into song themselves is one thing on stage, but it's a bit much to take on screen. Not too mention that, if a song can bring you back from beyond, it's a real pity nobody thought to sing to Angel earlier in the film.
While the movie doesn't top the musical it was based on (nor did I expect it to), it's probably one of the better screen adaptions of a stage musical that I've seen. I highly recommend it and can guarantee you that it will be a great addition to my DVD library once it becomes available.
On a seperate note, while at RENT, I saw a preview for an upcoming movie adaptdation of Mel Brook's stage musical "The Producers." While I know very little about the show other than the basic gist of the story line, I'm guessing it will be a good one to see as well if you like Mel Brooks. The stage musical won ELEVEN Tony awards in its first year.