Monday, October 1, 2012

LITTLE SHOP: The Director's Cut at Lincoln Center

UPDATE!  Today is the day!  The legendary long-lost original ending of Little Shop of Horrors finally sees the light of day on Blu-Ray and DVD!  And here's a great interview with Ellen Greene about the film.

ORIGINAL POST:  Wow!  After 26 years of waiting, dreaming, imagining, and hoping to see the radically different Little Shop of Horrors "original ending," and carping for years about the folks at who gave the 1986 test screenings a big thumbs-down, I was so privileged to see the movie finally get its well deserved enthusiastic reception when the original version finally screened at the New York Film Festival on Saturday, September 29.  "Heartfelt tongue-in-cheek" was how Frank Oz described the movie in his introduction, and heartfelt indeed was the appreciation for the audience, all of whom were just bubbling over with anticipation.  You can see it for yourself when the "Director's Cut" edition arrives on Blu-Ray October 9.

The Walter Reade theater is a gorgeous house, with an excellent sound system and all 268 seats filled.  Frank Oz, Alan Menken and Ellen Greene were all in attendance, and Frank Oz welcomed us warmly to the first screening in 26 years for this legendary lost ending (newly edited from the color negatives by film restorer Kurt Galvao).  Then they rolled the film (in gorgeous digital projection), and it was just like watching a play - the audience was so into it - all the jokes got laughs and each song got a round of applause, as did the characters as they appeared on-screen.  And why not? Just like a play, we knew that the creators where there to hear and appreciate our feedback!

Afterwards there was a half-hour discussion with Frank Oz, Alan Menken and Ellen Greene, plus one of the program directors from the NY Film Festival, and the film restorer, Kurt Galvao.  After the talk, Alan Menken sang a Little Shop medley, and Ellen Greene gave a heartbreaking rendition of "Somewhere That's Green."  Then we got to hear the late author Howard Ashman singing the demo for "Crystal, Ronette & Chiffon" which was meant to play over the end credits, but was dropped.

Video of the panel discussion:  Part One.  Part Two.  Part Three.

And the film itself?  First, the movie looks gorgeous. The colors are lush and rich, the shadows painterly, and the details are very fine. I noticed little speckles and details on Audrey II's skin that were never quite visible before, and little things like being able to read some of the labels on the cans in Seymour's basement, etc.  If the movie looks that great digitally projected onto a full-sized screen, it should look even better compressed into home HD dimensions.

The 5.1 remix sounds excellent, and the sound system at Walter Reade really showed it off to great advantage.  I'm glad they didn't change the very well-done soundscapes and room-tone ambiances - one of the best things about Little Shop is that the songs generally sound as if they are being sung in the environments they were shot in, and they still do.  One hopes a remastered & expanded soundtrack CD is in the works.

As for the finale's insane.  I can honestly see why a family audience wouldn't like it - it's very dark and grim, and heartwrenching to see such endearing characters come to such terrible ends (though again, the whole idea of selling this as a feel-good family film for Christmas was misguided).  At the panel Frank Oz reiterated his point about the characters not coming back for a curtain call, and that the "end of the world" threat is very abstract in the theater - just the puppet surrounded by dry ice - whereas on screen it's explicit and a little scary.  (Here's a thought - what if the cast credits had played over behind-the-scenes blooper footage? Wouldn't that have given a similar reassuring feeling of "it's just a movie"?)  It's going to take a couple of viewings for me to really appreciate just how radically the film feels, overall, with the new ending. But it is powerful, and I thought it was quite funny in a very black way.

The film plays Audrey's death scene beautifully, and Seymour's confrontation with Patrick Martin on the roof is very well done.  Paul Dooley is great in the role of the marketing man peddling little Audrey IIs - he gives it the perfect combination of avuncular and sinister, with a fixed grin and a gleam in his eye.  Seymour working up the nerve to jump off the building still has no music under it, which makes it play a bit flat for me, but the "chop it up" music underlines the "every household in America" dialog, and is very effective.  "Mean Green Mother" now feels very dangerous in context, and unlike in the theatrical cut, Seymour finds that bullets just bounce off Audrey's hide (but he doesn't gasp "Outer space!").

The scenes of people flocking to buy little Audrey IIs (what happened to all those props, I wonder?) look great, and the scene of the couple in bed being attacked is actually pretty creepy.  I love the news flash from Cleveland, with the frantic reporter and firefighters facing down a rampaging "Mean Green" sized plant.  The discotheque scene has really bright, vibrant colors - and white brick behind the bar.  Galvao said they had to scour film archives all over the country to find the original color negatives of the ending, and very nearly had to release the film with the discotheque sequence in B&W, until the negative turned up just a week before the deadline.

Then the film cuts to the famous scenes of New York being destroyed, and boy, do they live up to the hype.  It is incredible footage. The model work is fantastic - the Brooklyn Bridge shot got a round of applause!  The new composite shots (like the mix of miniatures and live action when the plant smashes through the movie theater) are excellent. It's also wonderful to finally see the Statue of Liberty scene finished, with night sky and helicopters circling. The colors are vibrant, and you'll be amazed at how much detail the model cityscapes have. The sequence on Blu-Ray will definitely reward frame-by-frame appreciation.

The destruction is there in full - they have cut very little from the B&W version we saw.  Personally I feel like it goes on a bit, and they'd have been better served by condensing the action down more (to, say, a 36 bar instrumental, about 45 seconds, in the middle). But it looks amazing, and at this point, they might as well put everything they have out there for us to see.  As Frank Oz noted in his interview, it's a wonderful tribute to the months of work by Richard Conway and his team that this footage is finally seeing the light of day.

Nitpicks - the baby pods don't laugh as Seymour is being eaten, which they were obviously meant to do.  The final laugh from Audrey II after he spits out Seymour's glasses is by an anonymous voice over artist - and that same laughter is heard for the rest of the film. That's disappointing - did they not have any clean tracks of Levi Stubbs laughing they could re-use? Why not just keep the awesome Frank Oz laugh from the rough cut?  Also, there is no dissolve from Seymour's glasses to the American flag - it's just a cut. The work print definitely indicates a long dissolve - that is what the black line going from left to right means.  Also, though this is being marketed as "The Director's Cut," the end credits still call it "The Intended Cut."

"The Meek Shall Inherit" dream sequence is still missing, and it was not mentioned by the panelists. Taco Wiz buttonholed Frank Oz to ask about it, but he said he didn't know if it was going to be in the deleted scenes or not. Warner Home Video film restorer Kurt Galvao was on hand, but since there was no formal Q&A, the question was not asked of him to my knowledge.  I suppose we'll find out next week, but I suspect the sequence is lost forever.

UPDATE: Having seen the Blu-Ray, I am glad to report that the two missing sound effects are present, though the "Da Doo" has less reverb than previously.  However, the dissolve from the feeding scene to Seymour's bedspread is sadly fouled up. I am also told that the DVD version of the film IS missing those two sound effects.  In the Lincoln Center screening copy of the film there were some odd errors which I really hope don't show up on the Blu-Ray.  The single "Da Doo!" heard when Seymour tells Wink Wilkinson about the total eclipse was gone, and the little wheeze Orin's gas mask makes as he dies was also MIA.  Worse for me, the long slow dissolve from Audrey II's mouth to Seymour's bedspread (after Seymour feeds him the chopped-up dentist) was instead a very fast transition and not nearly as effective. Those are all disappointing, and kept this from feeling like a "definitive" cut to me, but I can live with it if they are, indeed, on the discs.

My video of Ellen Greene singing "Somewhere That's Green" didn't record properly, so do enjoy this version by YouTube user Joshheartstheater.


Anonymous said...

This sounds incredible. I can't wait to get it on Blu-Ray. By the way, I think it was actually intended as a cut from Seymour's glasses to the flag. I think the work print is just so rough that it may appear as a dissolve. And as for the Audrey-pocolypse being to long, Oz said had they used it, they would have shortened it. But i assume they probably kept as much as they could in this case so as not to let down fans who had been waiting to see the whole thing. That is very disappointing to hear about the Da-Doo and wheeze after Orin's death though :( Thanks so much for posting :)

Teak Wood Gallows said...

Just picked up my copy on DVD (they were out of the Blu Ray at Wal-Mart by the time I got there) and the deleted scenes on the Director's Cut are the same as those released on DVD years ago, the meek shall inherit is still missing : ( as well as the sound FX you mentioned in your post. I'm pretty disappointed with this release !

Anonymous said...

Other than the original ending and a new interview with Frank Oz and Lyle Conway, everything, right down to the opening menu sounds, and with the notable exception of the black and white workprint ending, is carried over from the previous DVD release. It's kind of sad because I'd like to see some of the things in your "weird and exotic cuttings" post in motion!

Anonymous said...

SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO Aggrivated that the meek shall inherit wasn't on the disc. I hate to think that we'll never see it, but it could well be. If only I could go through film archives like they did for the ending. Still, the restored ending is incredible. The digibook is very nice as well. I'd probably appreciate it a little bit more if I didn't already know most of the content in it haha. Let's just pray that the meek shall inherit turns up eventually :(

T. Hartwell said...

"At the panel Frank Oz reiterated his point about the characters not coming back for a curtain call, and that the "end of the world" threat is very abstract in the theater"

I've always thought that former excuse is just BS (just shows a misunderstanding , but the latter one is actually quite true and I think a major reason as to why the actual ending doesn't work on film (though it's less that it's too dark and more that it obfuscates the morals quite drastically).