Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Little Shop Of Horrors ("Retro" Movie Review)
Long before I ever attempted to combine music and sci-fi storytelling to develop the Spirit Blade Trilogy, I was captivated by the 1986 movie, "Little Shop Of Horrors". Based on the stage musical (which itself was based on a Roger Corman flick), the story is set roughly in the 1950s and centers on Seymour Krelborn (Rick Moranis), an overlooked, under appreciated nerd who has a heart of gold, a spine of jelly and thinks he is completely unlovable. Seymour works at a failing flower shop and secretly pines for his beautiful co-worker, Audrey, the victim of poor self-image (and an abusive boyfriend portrayed sadistically and hilariously by Steve Martin).
Everything changes for Seymour and the flower shop when he discovers a strange plant which attracts numerous customers and business for the store. Soon Seymour is finding amazing success in every area of life because of this plant. The only problem? The plant's unusual diet: Human flesh and blood.
I've never seen the musical this movie is based on. The movie is my only experience of this story, and I fondly remember watching it again and again as a kid. It's been almost 20 years since I last saw this movie, and it was an incredible experience to revisit with the blu-ray director's cut released this week.
I suppose it should be obvious that if you can't stand seeing and hearing people break into song in the middle of a movie, this isn't the flick for you. But you still might consider giving it a try. The experience is very tongue in cheek and makes light of our rose-colored view of the 50's in the same way Edward Scissorhands did. It also does a great job of capturing the feel of a 50's B-movie sci-fi horror flick, both celebrating and making fun of the genre at the same time. (The alternate 20-minute director's cut ending especially plays to the genre, but more on that later.)
When I was younger, I just thought the movie was cool for combining music with science fiction. Watching it now I noticed two things. It was funnier and more moving.
There were several nuances in character performances I completely missed as a boy that made me laugh out loud now as an adult. In a brief cameo, Bill Murray gives one of his funniest performances, and Steve Martin is at the top of his game as well.
Rick Moranis and Ellen Greene both had me welling up with tears as I felt the pain of their neglect and loneliness, and I couldn't wait for them to be together and find the love that life had denied them for so long. I found it odd that I was becoming so emotional over a musical comedy (a genre I actually loathe), but I know I'm a sucker for an underdog story, and this movie is a great one.
The songs are still a lot of fun, and make use of the trappings of 50's music to great effect. The tunes are catchy, fun and even tender and moving when they are supposed to be, even while employing tongue in cheek humor. (The balance between camp and real human drama is a wonderful accomplishment of this film.)
However they missed a great opportunity, in remastering this film for blu-ray, to bring the vocals forward in the mix, or giving them more clarity. More often than not, I can't understand what the Doo Wop girls are singing. The same is true for the chorus members in the song "Skid Row". Ellen Greene (Audrey) also has a tendency to modify her vowels so much while singing that I couldn't understand a number of her lyrics. This also became an issue now and then in her spoken dialogue, as the raspy quality of her voice and slight lack of enunciation caused syllables to be dropped from words or be made unidentifiable.
In 1987, Little Shop Of Horrors was nominated for, but lost the Oscar for best visual effects to James Cameron's "Aliens", but I think it could have easily won the same Oscar most any other year, including the last five years. Why? Because the massive, singing, talking, dancing plant... was real.
I don't mean that the plant was actually alive. But it physically existed in the form of a puppet that moved and behaved more believably then any computerized creation I've ever seen. I'm still stunned at what I saw and how easily it moved, given its size. I figured that people behind curtains were involved somehow, pulling levers or moving sticks. But I found it much easier to give up trying to figure it out and just "believe" that the plant was really a living being.
Frank Oz and company are a group of geniuses, and its amazing how the effects in this movie not only hold up, but outshine the cookie cutter, easily identifiable CGI creatures of today. I'm convinced more than ever that Hollywood should change their focus toward developing better, faster and cheaper animatronic technology, rather than pumping wasted research dollars into trying to make CGI creations behave and move with more realism.
Regarding worthwhile topics for thought or discussion, this movie didn't make me think much while watching it. But it made me feel. I felt a frustrated, burning desire for justice while watching this movie, as I saw both Seymour and Audrey mistreated, abused and overlooked by everyone around them. Under the right circumstances, I think this theme can lead to worthwhile thinking in the aftermath of the emotional reaction it provokes.
The idea of a God of Justice is very unpopular today. But the truth is, we all want a God of Justice. Maybe not one who will give US what we deserve for the wrongs we've done. But one who will give "all those bad people" what THEY deserve. Underdog stories like this one can make us yearn for the wrong things to be made right in life and for those pursuing love and selflessness to be rewarded. That's certainly what I wanted before the movie was finished. And I wasn't disappointed. (At least not with the theatrical ending.)
There is an alternate, 20-minute director's cut ending that has been fully restored and included as a viewable option. If you purchase this movie and have never seen the original stage show, I would highly recommend NOT reading the inserted note from Frank Oz inside the blu-ray packaging, or viewing the director's introduction to the director's cut of the film, as both spoil the alternate ending.
The alternate, darker ending (originally intended by the director) was found to be unsatisfying to test audiences before the movie was released in 1986, resulting in the re-filming of a new ending before releasing the film to theaters. I thought I would prefer the original ending, given my tendency toward dark themes in fiction. However, I found that although interesting and wonderfully produced (involving HUGE special effects sequences that look great most of the time!) it was unsatisfying because it diverts from where the movie naturally seems to be building to until the climax.
This movie is about Seymour and Audrey, and their little story in the confines of a little flower shop. The original ending zooms out to an epic, global scale that seems to come out of nowhere. A huge plus for those interested in an unconventional, unpredictable ending. But although I usually love being thrown for a loop, my emotional investment in the main characters made the alternate ending seem strange. Not too dark or depressing. Just odd and unsatisfying.
This is a classic cult film that people who love sci-fi, horror and the occasional musical should definitely see. Even if you don't like musicals, it's worth stretching yourself to see. It's also a great underdog story that reminds me of our built in desire for justice, and for God to one day make right every wrong.
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material including comic horror violence, substance abuse, language and sex references
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