Sunday, January 4, 2015

Into The Woods (2014)

I wish...I could say I loved the movie.  Recent musical adaptations from the stage to screen have left me disappointed.  Big disappointments include Phantom of the Opera (I have never enjoyed Joel Schumacher's work anyway), Les Miserables mostly due to the casting of Javert, and the current abomination of Annie (2014).  The movie musical isn't dead though, Chicago and Dreamgirls were quite satisfying adaptations and perhaps because they lent themselves better to film from the stage than other works.

Into the Woods first premiered on Broadway in 1987 and was later filmed for television and subsequently released on home video/DVD. I have watched that production many times over the years as well as several live stage versions over the last 20 years.  The plot was created for the theater. The songs were placed in such a way that build toward the end of a first act and then the shift for the second act. Much like the Phantom movie musical, the transition through the eliminated intermission feels feels awkward and rushed.  It also creates the need to alter or eliminate songs from the score.  Into the Woods was without several songs from the original score, this did not however, take away from the plot and would be missed by a movie audience.

The story revolves around some familiar fairy tale characters; Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the beanstalk, Rapunzel and Cinderella along with some new characters including a Baker and his wife.  Their stories intertwine in a newly created storyline of the Baker and his wife trying to remove a curse so that they can have a baby.  The story is creative and all seems to be wrapped up into a happy ending. This is traditionally where act one ends.  Act two then follows with what happens after and then the story takes a steep dark turn. In the history of the stage show, many audience members have left after the first act, believing that it was the end of the show. The same went for the movie, where I heard some folk after the show saying that they felt the movie was too long and could have ended after the happy ending midway through the film. I had to to laugh, because that is just part of the Into the Woods experience.

Stand out performances came from Emily Blunt as the Baker's wife. She has a pleasant singing voice and was nice to look at.  I was less enthralled with Meryl Streep as the Witch. I just felt she was phoning in her performance in a paint-by-numbers portrayal of the role.  Frankly, she is also too old for the character.  The movie looked great from a cinematography standpoint but fell short of looking spectacular. I did take into account that much of the film takes place in the woods, a dark and dreary place and symbolic for the world in which we all live.  Into the Woods does not have a happy ending ultimately and you will not walk away feeling great about things.