It’s been more than two weeks since I first saw Tom Hooper’s big-screen adaptation of Cats, and still I’m wondering at what point those responsible for its existence realized they had a turkey on their hands. How far did they all get before they realized, “Yikes, we really fucked up”? Intensely hyped, ostensibly anticipated flicks that end up losing a shit ton of money come around once or so a year, if we’re lucky. For those of us who revel in pop culture’s back alleys, devouring the contents of its trashcans, Cats is momentous. Its fallout and the ensuing bafflement from critics and moviegoers has been way more entertaining than the movie itself.
I love going back and watching/reading press for notorious box-office bombs. The way the actors and filmmakers seriously discuss and wax ecstatic about movies that are as objectively terrible as art gets is thrilling. (Elizabeth Berkley saying on the set of Showgirls that she’d been preparing for the role of Nomi Malone her entire life immediately springs to mind.) Sometimes, I suspect, these testimonials are the great performances that the films they’re discussing were missing. Sometimes those who made the film seem to have no idea what they’ve actually made. It’s quite conceivable that until Cats got such a lashing from critics and the cold shoulder from audiences, those involved still thought they were part of a burgeoning classic that would be cherished for generations. Before the movie was released (but after the reviews embargo lifted), Jason Derulo and his giant dick responded to the negative critiques of the film calling it, “an incredible, braaaaave piece of art.” Did he really think so? The fun thing is: He really might have.
And so, watching Cats and the Movie Musical, a special that aired on the UK’s Sky TV before Christmas, now that we know the movie stands to lose $50 to $75 million, is a special treat. It’s a little salami for the senses. The show attempted to position Cats in the legacy of great movie musicals—from The Wizard of Oz to The Greatest Showman—and now comes off as misguided as Cats itself. Rebel Wilson gushes about the beauty of the source material. Derulo thinks it’s “iconic.” Host Alex Zane describes the movie as “blockbusting” and claims that it “already has an in-built audience waiting to lap it up.” Instead, of course, it was spit up like a hairball.
Maybe the most astonishing quote in the reel of clips from the special above comes from director Tom Hooper, who recounts seeing Cats on stage as a child and says, “If I could go back in a time machine and meet my 8-year-old self coming out of the theater and go, ‘Do you know what? In a few years time, you’re going to direct the movie,’ my mind would have been blown.” I wonder what Tom Hooper would say to his 47-year-old self if he could go back in time two weeks, before his disaster was confirmed. I have little doubt that what went wrong with the Cats movie could fill a book, and I hope that one day it will.