Friday, December 26, 2014

Into the Woods, on camera

Remember all those articles about how the film was going to dump half the songs and change the entire plot around? Forget those; they didn't do any of that. There was a fair amount cut, mostly the bulk of the framing structure, although the result seemed just as long as a stage production, maybe more so. Perhaps because there was no intermission. A few other pieces, like the reprise of "Agony", were also cut: I could see why, as it doesn't really advance the plot, though it tells a lot about character - as proven by the fact that, without it, the prince's dalliance with the baker's wife (yes, they left that in) seems slightly bizarre and out of the blue.

The singing was ... OK. These people are actors who sing, not singers who act. And the acting? That was ... OK, too. Christine Baranski as the wicked stepmother was the only really outstanding performance. On the other hand, nobody was bad, except that Johnny Depp as the wolf was from some different movie. If I'd seen these folks in a stage production, I would have found it satisfying but not dazzling, as the Ashland stage production was.

What was good was the recording and the staging. The sound quality was excellent: voices and orchestra both clear and finely mixed. There's an Oscar category for this type of work, and this movie deserves one. The camera whirred around a fair amount, but not too excessively, and the shot construction of the songs where several people are simultaneously singing while located in different places was very well done. The real-woods surroundings didn't add to the magic of the stage show, but they didn't take away from it either.

Most of the story takes place at night, so just about everything was blue all the time. Some of the off-stage action is pictured, including the inside of the wolf (eww), making the omission of others, such as the land of the giants or the prince's first visit to Rapunzel, all the more conspicuous. The witch (Meryl Streep, being Streepy) after her transformation looks not glamorous but like Scary Margaret Thatcher (if that's not redundant), that being of course a part that Streep has played recently.

Despite the vocal limitations, it conveys what makes the songs good, even if it's iffier about the overall shape of the show. If you don't know the stage show, and you see this movie, I hope you'll be encouraged to take it on stage sometime; and if not, please don't dismiss the stage show because of it.

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