Film Review: Cats (2019)

Written by Jasper Harris

Author’s Note: Contrary to popular belief, the fact that there wasn’t a review last week was by intention. I like the holidays, and so do you. But, I’m back, because Cats is a movie which… exists… 

I, like many others, saw this film not because we wanted to, but because it would have been wrong not to. Cats is not a film, but a cultural phenomenon that needs to be experienced to keep up with the Twitterverse and its associates. 

This film clearly wasn’t completed. Or, at least, it wasn’t fit for public viewing, and thus would be unfair to give it a rating. There is a saying as old as cinema (comparatively pretty young, when you think about it compared to say, literature) that ‘no film is ever finished, it just gets released’. Cats stands true under this logic, but unfortunately for all the wrong reasons. 

Director Tom Hooper clearly had a vision, and what seems like a half decent one at that. I truly believe that if he had achieved what he intended to, this film would be pretty good. I have no idea how else he could have managed to convince so much star power to agree to be in this. From well-respected older actors like Ian McKellen and Judy Dench as Gus the Theatrical Cat and Old Dueteronomy, to more current celebrities like James Corden and Taylor Swift, there was no reason that this film shouldn’t have succeeded. 

As you may be able to tell, I’m tiptoeing around the topic of the CGI in this film, as almost all of it is atrocious, but I wanted to first outline the better aspects of the film. 

Some of the performances are pretty good. Nothing hugely special, but not bad by any standards. Overall, McKellen comes out looking the best (both from the CGI, and his acting), and he certainly gives a good performance, but nothing up to the ability he can and does often show he has. Newcomer Francesca Hayward (Victoria the White Cat) also does a fine job but on the whole, not marvellous. I remember when people were dubbing this the film that would get Idris Elba an Oscar. God, those were the days… 

The dance numbers are okay, but not brilliant. Dance has always struggled when being translated from the stage to film. It’s clear that if they had choreographed new routines to the songs, the dancing would look ten times better, but it feels a lot like Tom Hooper had to make the film to the parameters of what Andrew Llyod Webber wanted, not necessarily what would have been best for the film. The whole thing reeks of backseat driving. 

In terms of story, there is nothing. And when I say nothing, I mean nothing. The whole film is centred around a singing competition of sorts, where the winner ascends to the ‘Heaviside Layer’ (Heaven), where they are reborn as a different cat. When in the context of the film, it makes more sense, albeit not by a huge amount. 

Apart from that, the whole story is just Victoria being led around the backstreets of what looks like London, except all of the scaling is wrong, so all of the buildings are too big, and yet the props are cat-sized, and being introduced one by one to different cats that will be competing (who we never actually see compete) and then they are snatched away by the evil Macavity who takes them to a barge, only for them to escape. 

Things happen in the film that have no bearing upon the characters in the story in any meaningful way. It isn’t a story, it’s a collection of dance routines. 

It’s a weird one, I tell you. But I knew all this going in, having seen parts of the musical when I was younger. But nothing could have prepared me for the Special FX’s. They are on a whole new level of incomplete. There are so many issues with them, down to the fact that no one attached the feet of the cats to the ground, and so they don’t interact with the floor in anyway, so each cat slips and slides all over the place when they shouldn’t be moving. 

There are things done with CGI that should have been done practically. There isn’t an argument about that. In a particular moment when someone pours champagne into James Corden’s mouth, not only is the bottle CGI, but so is the liquid. Surely these are things which could be done on set, no? 

Talking of set, none of it is practical. It’s all green-screen, which means that instead of grounding us in reality in some shots, and using that to then take us places they weren’t able to, we just don’t believe any of it, because it all looks fake. 

The best (or worst) part of the CGI is the design of the character’s costumes. They look more like skin suits than fur, and are totally two-dimensional in nature. This already makes it more difficult to pull off the deception. But it is in the inclusion of human features that makes the characters look so weird. Human hands, feet and facial features. The final being assumedly so that the star power is more recognisable, and so more people would want to see the film? It’s funny how that had the complete opposite effect. 

Cats will be remembered, maybe as the film with horrific CGI, or maybe as a testament to making films practically. It clearly demonstrates why actually doing things there and then can lead to not only a better film, but easier and less distracting storytelling, which, in the end, is what cinema should primarily be all about. 

Cats is not a film that anyone needed to happen, nor wanted to happen, and yet happen it did. And that was poor judgement on the part of the producers. Hopefully the problems with the CGI will be ironed out when it is released to DVD, and I will update this review at that time. But for now, trust me. Don’t watch this film. Not even ironically. 

About the author

Jasper Harris

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