Cats, critical response and schadenfreude

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The Cats movie has been facing hostile reviews – one or two leaving a little bit of a sour taste.

Over the weekend just gone, the long-in-gestation Cats movie landed in cinemas to a chorus of jeers from critics. That was then met with audience apathy, as the movie grossed under $7m on its opening weekend in the US. Universal is looking at a sizeable loss on the film as things stand.

The movie was, of course, the work of hundreds of people, and it was completed merely days before its eventual release. There are clearly questions about such a technically demanding film having so little wiggle room with its schedule, and those are clearly fair. Yet in the days since the film’s release, the critical kicking has continued, and it feels as though the conversation has gone beyond critiquing the movie to punching and kicking it for sport.

A caveat. Cats is a film in cinemas that are charging people to see it. The way I see it, you pay your money, you have a right to your say. Likewise, I’m a huge fan of good movie critics, particularly those who reviewed the film, made their point, and constructively put across their view.

Sadly, though, there’s been an element of cruelty in some of the critical response. Appreciating that those involved are capable of sticking up for the film themselves, and the majority have been recompensed well for their work, the glee in kicking the film is increasingly filling me with discomfort. I know this isn’t a popular view, but in the race for clicks, I’m seeing websites and critics just trying to come up with the most creative way to slag a film off.

I don’t think it’s a good look.

I’m not directly naming names, because that’s not the point of this. I do think articles such as ‘which body part in Cats is the most disturbing’, rounding up collections of the most brutal reviews and ‘the worst films that every Cats actor has been in’ are part of what feels like a race to the bottom. That the film has become a football, and kicking it hard is deemed fair game in the race for website traffic.

That, and the critics going out of their way to show off the most brutal way to slag a film are leaving a sour taste. Outside of web clicks, I fail to see who really wins there. But then cheap web clicks is primarily what it’s about in some cases.

I’ve seen the film. It didn’t really work for me, but I can see that the people involved were not short of talent, and the movie has a sense of a large bunch of people trying their damnedest to make the whole thing work. I respect that.

I also see that the source musical – for its narrative frailties – has given people pleasure for decades. I don’t think it works on the big screen, and I do wonder if the once-mooted feature animated version may have been the best way forward. But at least somewhere along the way, someone took a risk. It was always going to be technological stretch to make all this work, and the easiest thing would have been not to try, and make another homogeneous blockbuster sequel instead. Few can accuse it of being that.

I’m not asking for people to like Cats, and I do understand it’s made by a movie studio whose Christmas party budget exceeds what I’m likely to earn for the next few years. But still: there are still human beings behind it. There are still people who have thrown the last year or two of their lives into the film. Conversely, there are people who have paid for a night out at the movies, who are entitled to their view.

But for the film websites and critics making hay out of a big film falling: what kind of movie industry do we want? One where the costs of a film struggling are primarily financial, or one where there’s schadenfreude, glee and a pile-on, with an inevitable impact on the humans behind the scenes?

Right now, it feels like the former.

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