Perhaps it was utterly naive of me to volunteer to cover this particular program. I am usually all about seeking out the positive in a show or movie, whenever possible. I honestly hate to speak negatively about anything (well, only as it pertains to the entertainment world). Because sure, maybe I don’t care for something. But there is always going to be someone out there who does. It is simply an impossibility for every person in an audience to respond favorably to every program. I am usually the one on the defense for the show that I love. But this particular one proved to be quite a challenge for me. I have spent the last few days attempting to figure out how to write this in a cohesive way that conveys my feelings without coming across too insulting. It’s been a huge struggle, to say the very least. I apologize in advance, as I am sure there were a few who actually did enjoy this reboot. I am only expressing my personal opinion, which I know is not necessarily reflective the whole.
I would like (if I may) to preface this by saying that I am obsessed with The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I love the original musical, LOVE the movie (it’s my favorite, period), and I am not a stranger to the shenanigans at midnight screenings. I think after seeing this movie for the first time (decades after it premiered, I am not that old), it was one of the first times in my adolescent years that I realized- OH, not everyone is in this world is “normal” or even trying to be normal. I know “normal” is a subjective term. To me, it was definitely not akin to staying up late watching RHPS nine times a day like I was. Googling every bit of trivia about it. Watching the commentary with Richard O’Brien and Patricia Quinn on a regular basis. Watching Shock Treatment only to get a taste of some of those actors again (actually I adore that movie as well). It’s difficult to explain how that sort of thing begins. But I am no stranger to obsession, as anyone who knows me can attest. I knew I was in over my head pretty early on. There is just something so mysteriously alluring and enticing about the entire Rocky Horror experience. It’s difficult to explain to anyone who isn’t a fan. But I have always felt very much at home in this bizarre universe. And that is something of a challenge when you’re a teenage outcast.
Once upon a time, the glorious Richard O’Brien wrote The Rocky Horror Show. Yes, it was a musical before it was a movie. And a relative hit, at that. Like with most things, it made sense to capitalize on the success of the musical by adapting it into a movie. However, it somehow didn’t quite translate at first. Musical adaptations are tricky. They don’t always come to fruition in the way you imagine them. I happen to also be a huge fan of the OBC of Into the Woods, and was probably the only person who was not entirely thrilled about the movie release a couple years ago. Stage shows are often like books- there is an element of audience interpretation and imagination involved. I could look the 8×10 foot backdrop of Cinderella’s house on stage and imagine it whole. In the case of a movie, the cast and crew are essentially giving you their personal interpretation of the universe they are exploring. They are effectively removing the ambiguity of a specific world and illustrating in its entirety for the audience. Sometimes it’s brilliant. For example, I could never have imagined the world of Harry Potter to be quite as grand as depicted in the film when I first read the books. But other times it can be nothing short of disappointing. The Golden Compass comes to mind here (do not get me started on my beloved His Dark Materials). Perhaps this was the first issue with this new version of Rocky Horror. The sets for the original movie were very simplistic, as were the effects. It was all very low-budget. But that was also part of the charm. The characters were obviously what brought the movie to life.
I won’t get into the whole history of RHPS, as it’s a bit more complicated than I am making it out to be. But eventually the film was relaunched in NYC as a midnight movie. This would turn out to be a genius decision. Other locations began to follow suit. It became a ritual for many on a Friday or Saturday night. An underground club of sorts. Eventually, fans began yelling (in unison) at the screen as the film played. And thus, cult status was achieved.
Yes, we all know that The Rocky Horror Picture Show was, and still remains, a cult classic. And during the time it was initially released, it was also completely shocking. Nowadays, I suppose it could be considered a tamer sort of film compared with much of the material we are shown today on television, in the movies, and even the news. It was a play on B-movies of the past. And it is a parody in and of itself. The film has obviously gained much more mass appeal, or at least mass acknowledgement since the 1970s. You can find it playing on television every so often, predominantly during the Halloween season. But that core dedicated fan base still remains a bit niche, at best. Sure, there are always “virgins” at every midnight showing. It’s definitely a fun and engaging activity for anyone who has never been. And I’m sure every year, more new fans discover and participate in this ritual. What am I trying to get at? I am still working through why exactly this remake was made, when there are dozens of other options for TV musical adaptations appropriate for the Halloween season.
Networks have been attaining success in making their own live adaptations of musicals as of late. And that leads me to my first question- Why in the world did this not follow the trend? I strongly feel that if this was a live show, I would have enjoyed it substantially more. The cast was immensely talented- many were better singers than their predecessors. Though some have claimed that the soundtrack was very much retouched (perhaps one of the reasons why it could not be live). Still. They could have even talked through the songs in the way that some of the original characters did. It would have sounded similar. The stage show definitely garners success, both in the past and even in this millennium. It was the reason the movie got made in the first place. I think having this NOT be a live show was basically the first mistake. I did not need the fancier sets, effects, or scene transitions. There was really no reason I can think of why this wasn’t live when it so easily could have been. There was a “live” band, there could have been a live audience. I can actually answer this one myself- control. RHPS is one of those things that could take a very inappropriate turn quickly and unexpectedly due to the nature of its content. This show was wiped of any inappropriateness. So what we were left with was something that, at times, looked more like The Brady Bunch Variety Hour than The Rocky Horror Picture Show (this was especially apparent looking at the background dancers in Time Warp).
My next question is who exactly were they targeting with this reboot? A few notions struck me at once. Sometimes actors were very obviously emulating the original characters- with the blocking, the inflections of their voices, as well as their reactions. That’s all well and good. But then at other times, it’s as though some of the actors decided that they were going to do some of their own character interpretations. That’s fine as well. There was just no consistency whatsoever. Throughout the two hours, I had no idea what I was watching. Was it meant to be a carbon copy for the new generation? Or was it intended to be a completely revamped alternative interpretation? They also attempted to capture the audience participation aspect by inserting a couple of the more “appropriate” responses in a theater setting. That felt entirely out of place to me. I understand the desire to do so. They somehow wanted to integrate the midnight fan experience into it. But there’s an issue with that as well. Part of the allure of that midnight experience is that it’s more risque. It’s almost illicit. Sure, you’ll hear “SAY IT,” but more often you’ll hear more than your fair share of “SLUT” and “ASSHOLE” (pardon my language). Obviously, you aren’t going to have a constant barrage of that language in the 8pm Thursday time slot on FOX, so why even attempt to put that element it in there at all if it’s going to fall short?
I remember reading that the primary aim was to produce a quasi-”love-letter” to the RHPS fans. Before actually sitting down to watch the program, I read about a group of die-hard fans (some were even actors who played the characters at midnight shows) who actually loved it. Perhaps that was why I was initially willing to give it a shot. But somehow it just fell completely flat for me from the start. They went the route of the stage musical and had the Usherette kick off the show with Science Fiction Double Feature. I have to say I truly missed those lips (freeze lips, turn blue). That is something which is an iconic visual representation of the film. And then after that, it strictly adhered to the movie script for the remainder. I wasn’t nervous when Brad and Janet entered the castle. The Time Warp felt like a joke to me. No one seemed to have any chemistry. Magenta and Riff Raff seemed so separate. I was not quaking in my boots as Laverne Cox entered as Frank-N-Furter. The entrance did not make me shiver with antica…There were too many inconsistencies for my taste. I will say that the enthusiasm from the actors was somewhat palpable, but it just didn’t translate. I absolutely hate that I didn’t like it. I hate that this was a passion project that fell short for me. I hate that i have to talk about how much I disliked it. Maybe in a different world where I didn’t essentially worship this movie, I could have found a way to enjoy it. Maybe if I didn’t have the faces and voices of Tim Curry, Richard O’Brien, Patricia Quinn, Little Nell, Barry Bostwick, and Susan Sarandon so permanently ingrained in my mind, I would have a different opinion. Maybe if I had seen the movie once years ago, and just wanted to enjoy a night in with a fun and campy musical, it would all pan out differently- And maybe, just maybe, I would be singing a different sort of tune.
But that is not the case. I acknowledge that these actors had an impossible task- they had to pay homage to a cult phenomenon. Rocky Horror isn’t exactly Shakespeare, mind you. It’s campy, it’s inappropriate, and it’s offensive. It’s definitely dated. But because it is so incredibly iconic, it rendered itself timeless. Becoming a cult sensation made it untouchable. Coming into our current world, it would likely never see the light of day. It’s not at all politically correct. It has some undeniable flaws. It has some truly ridiculous moments. But it is indubitably a product of its time. I am not saying that this cast failed. I can see the tremendous effort they put into their roles. They did not phone in their performances. But as a whole, this felt like a failure. There was something inherently absent from the very first chord of Science Fiction Double Feature (and not just the lips). Not even Tim Curry’s presence could save it. At no point from start to finish did I feel like I was being catered to as a fan. At times it felt like a cheap ripoff, other times it felt like a sub-par copy. Finally, the Time Warp felt like a terrible high school musical (no relation to the director’s previous projects…or maybe, yes?).
Please do put this cast in other musical projects. They have certainly proven that they are multi-talented. I can take a step back and at least see how much heart and soul was put into this project. However, to me, it was sadly doomed from the start. The actors never had a chance to succeed. Now, I do understand that am not the only person in the universe. And I have not read the opinions of many others as of yet. The ratings were not stellar, though they were on par for a normal night on FOX. And it was the 4th most buzzed about program on social media that day. So perhaps saying it was a flop is a bit exaggerated. But it was certainly not an “event” success. After all, Grease Live had over 12 million viewers. To this longtime fan, it was something I will likely never watch again. And something I’m currently ready to forgot after writing this.
If the ultimate intention was to reach a new generation- I believe this was nothing but a fail. If I want to introduce someone to this insanely campy world, I will insist that they watch the original. If the intention was to create a love letter to longtime fans, then again, it simply did not translate. I have learned that cult movies cannot be forced. They are entirely unpredictable. Often times, the intention is to create something mainstream, only to have it become a failure of epic proportions. You can remake The Sound of Music, Grease, and Peter Pan. But can you really remake a cult film and expect a favorable reception? Can you remake The Room, and believe that it would capture the hearts of Tommy Wiseau fans? Likely not. Now, following the musical may have been a safer option for FOX. But we will never know. We will never know the decision behind having it pre-recorded. And we will hopefully never see another remake of this in my lifetime. Long story short- stick to the formula that ensures relative success- live network musical events or bust. This was not the Rocky Horror I know and love. There was no shock. There was no magic. In the words of Riff Raff – Your mission is a failure. This reboot was lost in time, and lost in space, and meaning.