In a most unusual turn, Universal Pictures has sent out a memo to theaters stating that the studio will provide a new and updated version of director Tom Hooper’s Andrew Lloyd Webber adaptation, “Cats.” According to The Hollywood Reporter, Universal sent out a memo indicating that the new version would have “some improved visual effects” — and according to THR, it’s being done at Hooper’s behest.
The move follows widespread criticism of the film’s uncanny-valley aesthetic, which, at one point, seems to involve human faces pasted onto the bodies of mice and dancing cockroaches. The movie is struggling at the box office, having earned $2.6 million on Friday and on a budget of nearly $100 million. The film’s Cinemascore was a C+ and its Rotten Tomatoes score is currently sitting at a painful 19%.
Tom Hooper, who won a Best Directing Academy Award in 2011 for “The King’s Speech,” has been vocal about the challenging visual effects featured in “Cats.” With regards to the trailer that released earlier over the year, he said, “We'd only finished shooting in March, so all the visual effects [in the trailer] were at quite an early stage. Possibly there were, in the extremity in some of the responses, some clues in how to keep evolving [the production]. When you watch the finished film, you'll see that some of the designs of the cats have moved on since then, and certainly our understanding of how to use the technology to make them work has gone up, too.”
Despite the divided reaction to the film’s visuals, “Cats” is already achieving a kind of cult status as indicated on Twitter. In his review, IndieWire Executive Editor and Chief Film Critic Eric Kohn called the movie an absurd and exuberant mess. “Everything ludicrous about the show has been cranked up to 11, with a restless artificial camera and actors so keen on upstaging one another with excessive song-and-dance numbers they may as well be competing for a Heaviside Layer of their own. It takes some ambitious swings and works on its own terms in fits and starts, all while not really working at all.”
The updated version of “Cats” will be made available to exhibitors on Sunday via a satellite server.
There’s one particularly telling and effective moment in The Skywalker Legacy, the feature-lenght documentary that’s included on the Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker home release that sums up much of the ambivalence and consternation that some had with J.J. Abrams’ return to the Star Wars universe. After showing the intricate construction of a giant, practical snake monster, the doc cuts back to footage of Jabba The Hutt, that old analogue beast that slithered its way into our hearts. The sentiment is clear – we’re making movies like we used to! A celebration of practical effects, the dripping of k-y jelly to give viscosity just like the old costume days, it’s all there. There’s excitement on set, everyone talking about how amazing it looks, how lifelike, how this is how you’re supposed to do movies like this.
Cut to Visual Effects Supervisor Roger Guyett who shatters the myth, letting us know the creature was replaced by a CGI version in post.
Guyett’s resume is mighty. Having made his bones on groundbreaking films like Twister and Casper, he helped Spielberg bring the events of D-Day to screen in Saving Private Ryan, helped bring to life the best looking film in the Harry Potter series, Alfonso Cuarón’s Prisoner of Azkaban, and even made the theatrical version of Rent feel more than a stage production. Guyett has had many collaborations with Abrams – from the Star Trek Reboots through The Force Awakens and The Rise of Skywalker he was even second unit director on the former, as well as working with George Lucas on Episode III to round off the prequels. He’s in a unique position to speak to these changing landscapes of epic filmmaking.
We spoke at length about the apparent contradictions and indulgences in making a Star Wars film, and he made the case for why nothing was wasted and all contributed to the final presentation. He was erudite and open to the discussion, making for a dream conversation with a man who quite literally has helped shape what amazes us on screen for decades.
The following has been edited for clarity and concision.
We see practical effects being championed as almost a marketing ploy with the “postquels” as a mix of nostalgia and an attempt to delineate from Lucas’ second trilogy. In some ways the love of the practically-realized snake undercuts the extraordinary CGI you and your team accomplished, and raises questions about why the need to fetishize the on-set inclusions when they’re replaced anyway. Could you talk about that ethos, that somehow doing stuff on a computer is a “cheat” while doing an effect practically is not?
I think at the end of the day we’re all trying to do the best that we can, trying to make the best, most dramatic or emotional movie we can visually. I’m coming from figuring out how do you get the most...
A rumor cropped up online recently that Cats, Tom Hooper‘s huge flop featuring horny cat people introducing themselves for 110 minutes, originally had CGI buttholes on all the feline behinds. And even though Cats is already a fever-dream to begin with, we weren’t entirely sure how much credence to lend that story. Now, an intrepid journalist has done the legwork, and turned up the true story of the Cats butthole cut.
It’s official: the Cats butthole cut did, indeed, exist. The Daily Beast has the scoop, and let’s just say the true story is even wilder than we could’ve predicted. Per their report, Cats was halfway complete when someone finally noticed the buttholes. “We paused it,” a source who worked on the film’s visual effects said. “We went to call our supervisor, and we’re like, ‘There’s a fucking asshole in there! There’s buttholes!’ It wasn’t prominent but you saw it… And you [were] just like, ‘What the hell is that?… There’s a fucking butthole in there.’ It wasn’t in your face—but at the same time, too, if you’re looking, you’ll see it.”
What the hell is that, indeed. The source goes on to state that no one flat-out ordered buttholes added to the digital cat people – it just sort of happened. They materialized organically – as buttholes do sometimes. Unfortunately, when the buttholes started to be noticed, it fell upon one visual effects artist to go through and erase every sphincter.
Beyond the story of the butthole cut, The Daily Beast story paints a portrait of a terrible behind-the-scenes process for the visual effects folks working on the film. One source even goes so far as to compare it to “slavery.” And director Tom Hooper only made things worse, primarily because he didn’t seem to understand how VFX even worked:
Before visual effects artists fully render sequences for animated films, they normally show directors playblasts—preview renderings that feature characters without color or texture. That allows the director to evaluate the motion before hours of work are done to flesh out things like color, texture, and lighting. Hooper, however, did not seem to grasp that process. Any time the visual effects team wanted to show the director any animatics, the source said, they had to fully render it. Otherwise, he’d say things like, “What’s this garbage?” and “I don’t understand— where’s the fur?”
Sources describe Hooper as “disrespectful,” “demeaning,” “condescending,” and “horrible,” and add that he talked to everyone like “garbage.” In short, the experience of working with Hooper does not seem like it was the cat’s pajamas. It wasn’t even the cat’s meow.