Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Non-Essential Viewing: Rocky Horror Picture Show (2016)

I don't know how to categorize this.  It was a two-hour television "event" on Thursday night, in prime time.  It's a sort of "TV movie", but it's in the manner of one of the live musicals the networks have been doing.  Only, it wasn't live.

It also wasn't... very good.

Look, no one has remade this movie to date because the original is lightning in a bottle.  It was a movie that's still relevant, but a lot of what was taboo or edgy in that film has lost it's subversion as elements have become or are becoming more mainstreamed.  Putting a play/ movie about themes that were still considered unmentionable in the 1970's and turning it into fodder for channel flippers on a Thursday night was going to be difficult - but I almost felt like, Laverne Cox aside, most of the cast didn't really know how this was supposed to work.  And, frankly, it didn't feel like the director or producers knew how to do this, either.

To maybe throw some context on this:  the show/ movie was directed by Kenny Ortega, a name that's not exactly household for me, but he was the brains behind High School Musical.  And, boy howdy, does that explain a lot when you're watching the thing.

Really what struck me while watching this was:  Hot Topic.

Look, I don't want to oversell my high school cred as some counter-culture punk kid, because I was a pretty far cry from that scene in many ways.  But Hot Topic was the cooption of an already coopted culture that had been, before the term "alternative" made it into record stores - mostly DIY, the badge of a certain POV - right or wrong.  It was the antithesis of going to the mall.

This is Rocky Horror by way of Hot Topic.  This is what happens when the kids who never had a day when they weren't one moment away from doing Ralph Lauren ads are playing dress up.  If the original film reveled in anything, it was by freaks for freaks, or at least the audience that okay in its own freakiness, even if it was less kinky.

Now, the characters look less like part of some LSD and coke-fueled meltdown and more like folks about to take the stage for something at Six Flags.  I don't think I'm putting on rose-colored glasses about how "edgy" shit was in the 70's - 90's, but we kind of knew the difference between the Sex Pistols and the Donnie and Marie Show, and this is Donnie and Marie covering "Anarchy in the UK".  Or Kids Incorporated doing X.

Of course, in 2016, when Laverne Cox is a beloved household fixture, maybe it's a good thing that what was considered a mental illness or inversion has been mainstreamed into something fairly dull, fit for the family hour.  I'll be thinking on that one for a while.

Then again, the very concept of Rocky Horror relies on nostalgia for late-night cheaply run movies as platform or delivery mechanism of those subversive and gleefully perverse ideas.  But, when I think of the audience and the performers themselves - it's not just the years between the 1970's Rocky Horror and today that stands between the kids, but a lack of context.

I knew I was in a bit of trouble when the show started and rather than Patricia Quinn's lips we had someone who looked to be channeling Madonna in Blue in the Face as an usherette singing the opening number in front of posters from relevant movies.  Like "see, kids!  These are real movies, this isn't just a string of random words!"

I'm not saying that no Millennial ever saw a 1950's creature feature, but they aren't living in a world just 20 years on from those movies with just a few channels and the guarantee that one of them would be showing old horror and science fiction films on a Saturday.  And, really, the 1980's and 1990's are their 1950's for movie touchstones.  While revival movie houses somewhat exist - at the end of the day, Netflix, streaming and near infinite access to media has meant the reasons for watching some of those old films have been gone since before I started catching them via MST3K.  And finding stuff of interest took work, and I mostly did it on my own (and I still haven't seen every movie referenced in the Prologue song).

The production is confused by merging in bits of the famed crowd participation into the program.  For reasons that I'm sure sounded good on paper, the movie is framed as people going to see the original movie, but seemingly okay with a remake?  Maybe?  The film merges Frank's castle with the movie theater, where, maybe - this is the performers putting on their own Rocky Horror beneath the screen? - but it's not? - so it's the actual show? - but it's clearly a stage show of some sort, so...

My guess is that a lot of thinking was done at some point about how to recreate the experience of the live show for a television audience, and maybe some of that was brewed up during some period during which it was believed the show would be presented live.  I don't know.  What I do know is that it feels a whole lot like a bonus feature on a DVD - one you'd turn off at some point in the movie as it would feel odd and jarring.

The show wants to be a tribute to the original movie, but it needs to set itself apart.

If nothing else, the show was simply toothless.  The casual cruelty of the original film, which was funny, is rubbed away to a sort of indifference to each other, and it makes nearly the entire Eddie portion a weird interlude that doesn't ever really make complete sense.  Even the twin Frank seductions scenes are played to be as soft as possible.

I dunno.  There's plenty more to say, but it's not really worth it.  At least Laverne Cox was entertaining.  And it DID have Ben Vereen clearly having a good time playing Dr. Scott.  So, that's something.

Don't bother with this.  Just catch the original.


J.S. said...

I was going to watch this. But I missed it. Which is, I guess, a good thing.

The League said...

The only real reason to watch it is morbid curiosity. It's not devoid of laughs or entertainment value, but in the shadow of the original, it's kind of pointless.