In 1975, The Rocky Horror Picture Show was unleashed onto the world. Adapted from the stage musical of the same name, the genre defining cult phenomenon has been playing midnight screenings every weekend since its initial release, to loving, cheering audiences of die-hard fans around the world. Last night, Fox aired their take on the property with The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do The Time Warp Again. I am honestly struggling to find something nice to say about it.
Rocky Horror focuses on Brad and Janet, a straight-laced and up-tight couple who drive off into the woods to tell their old friend and former professor the good news of their engagement. After a flat tire leaves them stranded in a storm, the couple seeks assistance at an old spooky castle nearby. Little do they know that this is the home of the villainous Dr. Frank N Furter, a self-proclaimed “sweet transvestite from Transsexual Transylvania.” With the help of creepy lab-assistants Riff-Raff, Magenta, and Columbia, Frank exposes Brad and Janet to the sexually adventurous and boundary free world of their evil plan.
At times a near shot-for-shot remake of the original movie, 2016’s Rocky Horror follows the exact same script as its 70’s counterpart. The TV-movie makes mostly cosmetic changes to the presentation of the material, which is one of its biggest flaws. The original film is enjoyed in a “so bad it’s good” context, with its campy dialogue, plot holes, and inconsistencies being embraced and lovingly mocked by its adoring fan base. Keeping this problematic script as is, without making any changes to clarify the plot or characters, suggests that the filmmakers understand that the messiness of the story is part of its charm. Of course, attempting to recapture this beautiful madness is a fool’s errand, making me wonder exactly what the intention was behind Let’s Do The Time Warp Again.
I'll give credit where credit is due. Director Kenny Ortega the man behind the High School Musical franchise, is a very good choreographer, and has staged some interesting dance numbers for this remake. While he has great vision for the action on screen, he offers very little in terms of the overall look of the film. Most of the action is captured in awkward wide angle shots of the actors’ full bodies, and cuts to other (nearly identical) shots are made seemingly at random. It seemed as if Mr. Ortega had created a vison for a stage production rather than a feature film. Considering the way it turned out he would have been better off working on a production of the play instead.
The actors all try their best. If there was a participation EMMY, these guys would totally get one. No one in the cast drops the ball entirely, but very few performances are consistently good. Annaleigh Ashford as Columbia stands out as really the only person in the movie who had a firm grasp of her character. Everyone had moments to shine, nailing some aspects of their iconic roles, while entirely missing others. This just furthered how awkward and messy the new Rocky Horror feels for most of its run time.
Overall, I found Fox’s experiment last night to be a misfire on just about every level. Not only did they show a fundamental misunderstanding of what makes audience love Rocky Horror, but they just made a crappy movie in its own right. The auto-tuned music didn’t sound like much of anything, the humor was sanitized and awkward, and the plot somehow made even less sense this time around than it did in the 70’s.
What’s interesting to me is the question of what lessons will be learned from this mess of a TV special. Television musicals are just starting to make a comeback, and I would hope that this demonstrates a need to be more careful. Careful in picking the material, careful in the way its presented (this probably should have been live), and careful in choosing the creative team.
Ultimately, what I discovered in watching The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do The Time Warp Again is that the magic of Rocky Horror lies in its strangeness. The original is a messy, clumsily made movie that stumbles backwards into being campy fun. That’s a type of chaos that can’t be recaptured, and the attempts to do so in this remake are awkward, unfunny, and distracting.
Fox’s Rocky Horror is truly no good at all.
1 out of 5 Guttenbergs