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Byron Shire
January 26, 2022

Into The Woods

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Rob Marshall was responsible for one of the most crushingly tedious movies of all time when he made ‘Chicago’ (2002).

Stephen Sondheim is considered by those in the know to be a songwriter of pure genius, but to my unsophisticated ear his compositions are entirely without melody and, except for the occasional change in tempo, lacking in variation.Which is to say, his songs all sound the same and they all involve a lot of what can only be described as glass-shattering wailing (shoot me, but I’m an unreconstructed Gilbert and Sullivan man).

Marshall’s screen adaptation, therefore, of a Sondheim ‘classic’ was never likely to send me into paroxysms of delight – and it didn’t.

The idea of intertwining a handful of the Grimm brothers’ fairytales is interesting enough and James Lapine’s script manages the task without undue stress, while Dion Beebe’s colouring book cinematography is quite enchanting, but what we have here is a musical that would have been infinitely better without the music.

Narrated by the childless Baker (James Corden), the story is a shambolic take on the often dark little morality plays that featured Jack and the beanstalk, Cinderella, Rapunzel and an extremely irritating Red Riding Hood (check out Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs on YouTube for a tune that leaves Sondheim for dead).

Of course, at the centre of it all is a nasty witch, played with tiresome affectation by Meryl Streep.

To be fair, it’s okay in parts – a highlight was the ‘Agony’ duet performed by the two princes, and the technique applied to the filming of the widowed giant was unsettling and, perhaps to a child, frightening – but overall it’s monotonous.

A star-studded cast pull out all the stops, with Johnny Depp as the Wolf making it a double with his equally tone-deaf ‘Sweeney Todd’.

Marshall’s film falls in no-man’s land insofar as it seems too grown-up for kids and too silly for adults, and, though already dripping with awards and citations, for mine it’s a grind.

~ John Campbell.

 


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1 COMMENT

  1. Mr. Campbell is right that his ear is unsophisticated. While he’s certainly entitled to his opinion, he’s wrong. One of the reasons listeners often describe music as un-melodic is because our ears are accustomed to many musical cliches, and when someone doesn’t hear those cliches, their initial reaction is to reject it. Unique music takes time and repeated listenings for the ear to adapt. However, I defy Mr. Campbell to listen to the scores of “Follies” and “A Little Night Music” and describe them as un-melodic. As a fan of Gilbert & Sullivan, I particularly suggest “A Weekend in the Country” (and there’s a brilliant G&S pastiche in the song “Please Hello” from “Pacific Overtures” (a number that includes at least five wonderful melodies).

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