Monday, 4 September 2006

Producers, The (DVD) (2005)

Support creativity: watch original versions, not remakes!

You wouldn’t be interested in this DVD if you hadn’t watched or heard of Mel Brooks’s original 1968 movie of the same name, starring Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder as the aging Broadway producer and the high-strung accountant who stumble upon a way to enrich themselves beyond their wildest imagination by producing the biggest and worst flop on Broadway. Part of the fun lie in their quest to locate the worst script, the worst director to helm the script, and the most inappropriate actors to cast in the musical. It’s the salad bowl combination of the sheer outrageousness of the scam, the over-the-top hysteria of Bialystock and Bloom, the genuinely likeable pairing of Mostel and Wilder, their daft sexbomb of a secretary, and their outré collaborator Roger DeBris and his airy crew, that made The Producers one of the funniest Mel Brooks movies ever.

What better way to pay tribute to the movie about a musical than to make a musical of the movie? Brooks and Thomas Meehan have done just that in their hit Broadway adaptation, which has proven to be just as funny and even more of a spectacle than the original. And what better way to pay tribute to that musical than to make… a musical movie? After all, if the original had a funny setup and hilarious lines, all its adaptations and their subsequent spinoffs should be as funny, right?

There’s a flaw with this reasoning, though. The Producers musical in 2003 was only good because it offered audiences something more than a staged version of the original movie. It had much more singing and dancing than the movie, and a fantastic stage set. What the 2006 movie had to do was offer far more than the stage musical.

Yet from the beginning, this enterprise was doomed with a miscalculation by Mel Brooks, in hiring Susan Stroman, the choreographer and director of the stage musical, to direct the movie. The result is a filmed version of the stage musical: it is as though Stroman built a slightly bigger set and planted a camera dead centre of where the front row seats would be if this were a playhouse, and just set the contraption rolling, occasionally adjusting the zoom and panning the camera. It is as though Stroman forgot to remind Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick that they are on camera, and the audience can see them very clearly even in the back row of the cinema (hell, they’re gigantic on a cinema screen!) and they don’t have to do the theatrical overacting anymore.

The result? A movie where the 2 stars are even more over-the-top than the Mostel and Wilder, except Lane and Broderick come across as pantomimes and Mostel and Wilder look comparatively realistic in their deliveries. A movie where the best scene is a fantasy sequence ("I want to be a producer"), because it required some measure of creativity in set design and visuals, and was a decent piece of cinematography.

When you compare The Producers to Chicago, Moulin Rouge, or last year’s U-Carmen e-Khayelitsha, it becomes clear where this musical movie fails where others have successfully made the leap from stage to film. The directors of these 3 films offer something that the stage musical cannot – angles, shots, scenes that would be impossible to film on a stage set. In other words, they made a cinematic film, and not a filmed musical. As films, there is no duplication and hence redundance between dialogue and music. Since Stroman did very little rewriting in the movie remake, almost every scene in The Producers feels like 2 minutes of dialogue followed by a 5 minute song making exactly the same points as the dialogue.

If not for the entertaining performances by Uma Thurman and Will Ferrell, The Producers would be a decent but somewhat flat and possibly overlong movie that doesn’t do the original proper service.


The must watch is the Deleted Scenes extra feature. None of these scenes were botched NGs. They might have been cut from the final print due to time constraints of the movie, but most of these scenes are non-redundant parts of the movie, and some feature songs that were the hallmark of the stage musical itself. What I cannot fathom is why a few of these deleted scenes appear to be much more dynamic in cinematography than the actual film itself.

First published at incinemas on 4 September 2006

1 comment:

Flip Chick said...

I just watched the dvd of "The Producers" and my main reaction was that it was okay - not as bad as I expected it to be (from what I'd heard from others who saw it). I liked the Broadway production, but I didn't think it was the funniest or greatest show I'd ever seen. I wasn't bothered by the way the movie was filmed. I thought Will Farrell did a great job and Uma was fine as Ulla (but Cady Huffman would have been much better). The highlights - spotting theater actors and the outtakes (10x funnier than the movie itself).