December 19, 2019


Cats is a baffling, humourless CGI nightmare--and the people deserve an explanation (Caspar Salmon, December 19, 2019, Prospect)

History books of the future will tell of the twin disasters in December 2019. The first, the Labour Party's results in a pivotal general election. The second, Cats.

In each case, the early portents (opinion polls; a trailer) loomed large, seeming to augur an impending fiasco. Yet throughout, hopeful campaigners and cinephiles clung desperately to the increasingly threadbare delusion that... maybe... it wouldn't be... so bad? And then--on 12th December at 10pm, and again on 17th December at 6:30pm--the sheer scale of the catastrophe descended upon us with a crash. This was not just any old failure, but a cataclysmic one, which could set back democracy in Britain/the art-form of cinema for a generation.

In Cats the exit poll moment comes in the very first scene, where we drop alarmingly from the sky, down to a sort of papier-mâché Soho, where humans dressed, painted and CGI'd so as to convey the outward appearance of cats, cavort and sing a song about being jellicles. The song lasts for about five or six minutes, crescendoing to a harrowing level of insanity, while never doing any of the following things: setting the scene; introducing a character; being pleasant to look at or listen to. The central dilemmas of the film already throb like a wound: 1) what does any of this mean?, and 2) the people, actors, who have been styled and instructed to play the part of cats, are, it is clear at all times, actually humans.

The story of the film is only very barely explained, after four or five loud and quite staggering songs by would-be comical (Rebel Wilson) or sexy (Jason Derulo) cats. The idea is that the cats are all jellicles, whatever that means, and one of them gets to go to heaven. They are each introduced in turn, and each sings a song explaining who they are--a curious cat, for instance; or a magical cat; or a (let me check my notes) "railway cat." One of the cats is a sex worker.

Throughout these early scenes, as the realisation dawns that the whole film is going to be like this, a kind of hysteria is released, and a sort of slack-jawed, punch-drunk stupor envelops you. You watch the film through clenched fingers, or start in your seat, or find yourself shaking your head in private wonder. At times I snuck a glimpse down my row of seats, which presented a gallery of faces frozen in shock and horror.

Posted by at December 19, 2019 12:00 AM