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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

REVIEW: "The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let's Do the Time Warp Again" -- Absolutely See It. Or Absolutely Don't.


NOTE: I plan to talk solely about the movie when it comes to direction, design, and adaptation. I'm not here, nor am I qualified, to make social or historical statements about it. I know many people who would do a far better job of that than I, and am leaving it to them should they so desire.

I'm rarely the person to "take bullets" for my friends when it comes to things they're not sure if they want to see. But as I spent four years in my college sci-fi club's shadow cast of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and I'm always curious about alternate versions of the show, I took on Fox's remake myself in my friends' stead.

I knew coming in that it wasn't going to be the same gritty, grungy, smeared-lipstick Halloween treat that I'd grown accustomed to. But I also didn't need for it to be. My Rocky Horror memories are strange, silly, and varied. I was Riff-Raff my first year, Frank the following three. We had a female Rocky in a gold bikini. I had a grand total of one corset, and much of our costumery was Close Enough (this was the early Noughties and you couldn't get half a dozen screen-accurate costume pieces overnighted to you -- you just had to go to the thrift store or Priscilla's with your leftover cash and hope). So while my memories are very much tied up in the original movie, they're tied up more in the people I experienced it with.

And I think that is where the success or failure of the remake lies at the end of the day: if it works for you, you're willing to forgive its flaws. If it doesn't work for you -- if your ties to the movie are purely shadow cast nostalgia -- nothing can fix the fact that it isn't the original. Myself, I enjoyed it fine while being aware that I'll probably not be picking it up on DVD or making it an annual tradition. Someone with a different connection to it might love it more... or not at all.

The sum total of this adaptation is... it's a mix bag of good and bad decisions. Some ideas worked amazingly. Some fell short. Some were just different. The most I can do is lay out the most notable ones and see if we can help you decide if you and this movie are a match. So...



The opening number: It was given back to an usherette and reset into its original key. It was also depicted as taking place in a theatre -- the Palace Theatre (remember that) -- where RHPS would be showing. People attached to those red red lips will spot them during the end credits, but people with a love for the original stage play may appreciate this. Also, there was a rather nifty move to show the original posters for each referenced film.

The audience: This... was hit or miss. As mentioned, the audience is here to watch this movie. And you know what that means: callbacks. It's a nice nod to the fact that the callbacks have become an integral part of the movie, but the cutaways often made the movie feel disjointed. It was fine for visuals, such as taking out newspapers for "There's a Light" or throwing toilet paper for Dr. Scott, but elsewhere -- with the exception of it perhaps being a teaching tool for Rocky virgins -- it felt odd.

Tim the Crim: Notably, Tim Curry appeared in the role of the Criminologist. Which was a lovely touch, and it's interesting to see things come full circle. It's a bittersweet appearance, though, as it's clear the stroke has taken its toll. Because he can't turn pages or do the Time Warp, an assistant (credited as "The Butler" and played by Canadian voice actress Jayne Eastwood) takes over those duties. He does sing the final lines of "Superheroes," which is quite haunting.

Set design: The Palace Theatre is also Frank's castle, as evidenced by some rather large tells at the end, but also by the fact that Rocky is created in a drinks cooler and other bits of lobby-ware are scattered around. The lab set contains the same semicircular ramp as in the original film, leading to a lot of similar choreography for "Sword of Damocles" and "Hot Patootie."



Laverne Cox: Honestly, she was the best thing about this. Her use of Tim Curry's Frank accent (which Curry stated in an interview was his mother's "telephone voice" and his idea of posh) was an odd decision. Was it a tribute? Was it "how Frank is supposed to sound"? Some have complained that she lifted the accent, but I do wonder what people would have said had she not. That aside, she played a Frank who, while still obviously not the hero of the piece, was almost sympathetic. As I told a friend, I know she's straight-up a murderer, but I kind of just want her to be happy.

Ben Vereen: He's an extremely close second, and the only reason he's not equal best with Cox is because Frank takes precedence. This was an inspired piece of casting for Dr. Scott, and one I didn't even know about until a few days before the movie aired. He can do no wrong in my mind, and that continued here, bless him. And gotta love the irony of casting this amazing dancer as the ONE PERSON WHO DOESN'T FRICKING DANCE (okay, he gets some nice kicks, but still).

Annaleigh Ashford: The most blowback I heard over the cast was actually over Columbia, and it was more to do with the fact that she looked like a "Hot Topic reject." And it's true, with her tulle and her multicoloured hair and her lollipop-blue tongue, she did look like she was hitting the Suicide Squad demographic. But the second she opened her mouth, all that dropped away. She was beautifully snide, led by Little Nell's performance without channeling it directly. And her monologue to Frank was genuinely heartfelt. (Plus she got the best new line in the show -- a dinner scene callback worked into the script. Take a guess.)



The costumes: The issue with outfitting a 2016 Rocky Horror cast is that making them look weird is very difficult. The look of Frank's "unconventional conventionists" is almost par for the course in an era when I have, on multiple occasions, written off a rainbow dye job as a business expense. Some looks worked; some didn't. Magenta's hair for all but one scene (where it looked perfect) seemed overdone. Frank was smashing in everything. Well, almost everything. I have no idea what that big round mask in "Sweet Transvestite" was about. The floor show costumes, while largely different, were pretty dang cool.

The choreography: Speaking of the floor show. My biggest gripe in "Wild and Untamed Thing," as someone who performed it repeatedly, was frickin' mince mince mince mince... JUMP! JUMP! and the weird can-can line. I actually preferred the organized chaos of this version's choreography, with Brad hanging off the back of Dr. Scott's chair and all. Some numbers, like "Sword of Damocles," felt a little odd, and the Time Warp (of all things) didn't feel quite right.

Pre-Watershed: This was... awkward. And I don't just mean hearing "A mental mind-game can be nice." Scenes like "Touch-A, Touch-A, Touch Me" were downright weird when you had to maintain certain network standards, resulting in Janet and Rocky bouncing on a canopy bed and Rocky bench-pressing her. It was so close to being very neatly lampshaded by Magenta and Columbia egging on her extremely virginal behaviour, but fell just short. Conversely, toning down Frank sneaking into Brad and Janet's rooms was lampshaded by turning anything post-watershed into slapstick. But Janet's eyes darting down to Frank's cleavage before delivering the line "Promise you won't tell Brad?" put an extremely different spin on that scene.



Overall... there was a lot of good, and there was a lot of bad. About equal of each. And your relationship with the original film will help you decide which outweighs the other. This is honestly one of the single most subjective things I've ever seen committed to film... and honestly, if it were a stage production with the exact same cast and costumes, I sense people would be a lot less divided on it.

For me, it was a fun trip down memory lane with some nice flashy costumes and some entertaining in-jokes (and a few moments of "DAMN how do they dance in those heels??"). The time slot really worked against this production, but by way of launching a Halloween event... hell, it was fun. But if the original is so sacred to you that the mere thought of a remake seems like a crime? Watching it won't change your mind.

Like the original, it has its fair share of merits and flaws. And, also like the original, you'll either enjoy it for what it is or let it float by unnoticed. But if you're even a little bit curious, give it a peek. You might enjoy yourself.