There has never been a film like Cats. This cinematic adaptation will leave audiences with a cacophony of questions. What exactly is a jellicle cat? Why do they have human hands and feet? Can I teach my cat to juggle or tap dance? Has time ended? Who makes the shoes and clothes for these cats? Have the makers of this film ever seen a cat? Why does it feel like I'm watching cat foreplay? Why are the mice played by children? And on and on the questions will come to you, louder and louder, screaming to escape as you watch one of the great cinematic disasters.
Based on T.S. Eliot's poetry collection Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, Cats is the fourth-longest running Broadway show, running for nearly eighteen years. It is a baffling, haunting fact and surely points to much of what is wrong with society. There isn't really a plot here. A group of anthropomorphic felines introduce themselves one-by-one with the prospect that one of them shall be picked to be reincarnated for a better life. On the peripheries is the villain of the piece, Macavity, whose evil scheme is confusing at best. It all really doesn't matter though. Nothing matters in Cats.
There are a smattering of good performances here. Taylor Swift and Jason Derulo bring their skills as pop superstars to their individual roles, breaking through with a swagger and a cheeky grin. Their respective numbers are certainly high points. Cats proves that Ian McKellen really is incapable of being bad in a film and his brief screen time lifts proceedings. And Francesca Hayward is a compelling, likeable lead who occasionally gleams out through the madness. In fact all of the cast are fine, committing to the musical and to the prospect of playing cats. But the ensemble feel lost, obscured behind the many millions of pixels that make up the film's digital fur technology. Add this to the expansive list of technological advanced works that are terrible viewing experiences. The film is packed with terrifying visions, like Rebel Wilson periodically unzipping her skin to reveal a second one underneath or the moment you realise just how naked Idris Elba seems (resembling some kind-of hellish night demon with whiskers). The cast gamely throw themselves into this nightmare and all leave with their reputations intact.
Instead the blame surely lies with the creatives who came up with this poisonous broth. You leave almost certain that Andrew Lloyd Webber's illustrious musical theatre career is built on a lie: that he can write. Tom Hooper undoes much of the impressive directorial work he exhibited marshalling the colossal Les Misérables to the screen. The editing is atrocious, with little coherence to the musical numbers and shots seemingly cut together at random. The sets and costumes are a series of strange choices that lead to even more questions. Every creative decision proves a folly, but maybe Cats is ever so close to brilliance. Maybe there is a version that works. If so, this is not it.
Cats really is a life-altering film. It makes you question the very laws of time and space (it is under two hours but I'm fairly certain it is in fact 84 years in length). Is it possible that this entire time I have in fact not liked music or cinema? Cats is a singular misfire, mesmerising and horrifying in equal measures. Maybe it is the greatest horror film ever conceived. It is like nothing I have ever seen.