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Horrible -- And I Mean That In The Best Way Possible!!
Little Shop of Horrors
Rick Moranis, Ellen Greene
Anyone who's gotten this far probably has a pretty good idea of the plot of this movie; boy-gets-plant, boy-gets-girl, plant-gets-people, etc., adapted from the classic Roger Corman* Incredibly Cheap horror film of the same name.

But the difference between the stage and film versions of this musical gives me a chance to talk about the difference between stage and film musicals and why i hardly ever really like the latter. (With the exceptions of Guys & Dolls and The Music Man...)

As Frank Oz remarks in his (excellent) Director's Commentary, the original ending of the stage version is acceptable and funny... because we know the actors will be taking curtain calls in short order. That's the point; a stage musical is, obviously, Not Reality. The sets are basically flat (sometimes exaggeratedly so, for effect), costumes, makeup, action and voice performances are exaggerated to carry past the proscenium, and lighting and other technical aspects constantly remind us that It's Just A Play.

Conversely, we have been taught, by cultural factors and simple assimilation, that a movie is, in some way, Reality. Look -- it's out in the street, moving around! We can go from one building to another and see that they (apparently)have Real Interiors. Makeup, costume and so on are more subtle. (For an example of what this is like, see if you can find photos of the Rocky Horror cast in the stage versions of their costumes and makeup and in the film versions; see how differently the same person/character is done for the different media) It just plain Looks Real.

And so -- for me, anyway, when all of the villagers working in the fields in their Quaint Native Costumes not only know all the words but sing perfect five part harmonies on the spur of the moment, i can't deal with it in the movie, but have no problem with it on stage.

And the original ending of this film -- on film -- was much more final and much more of a downer than it would be live, where, as i said, we know that the cast are gonna be taking curtain calls as soon as the last number ("Don't Feed the Plants", i believe) is over. And test audiences told them so, emphatically.

And so, with reluctance, they went back and reshot the end of the film, giving it a happy ending (though even then they couldn't help slipping a little foreboding/foreshadowing...), and re-edited a couple of other places where the audience had been a bit grossed out.

As Oz says, he didn't like to, but this is a business, and if you don't please the audience...

A Few Notes On Production Values: The Skid Row exterior set is about the largest interior studio set i have ever seen (it compares favourably with the set Hitchcock built for Rear Window); several stories high, a couple of blocks long, lovingly detailed. If i ever raise enough money to make a film based on Will Eisner's "Spirit" comic, i want that set to film on. It has that air of deep urban realism, almost hyper-realism, that so much of Eisner's work has.

Oz's commentary on some of the technical decisions made in getting the best possible result are interesting:

I am particularly impressed by the crane shot that begins at Audrey's apartment window and in one continuous movement ends on Crystal, Chiffon and Ronette (the film's girl-group-style "Greek Chorus") on a building roof half-a-block away; Oz reveals that they rigged a camera crane *on* a camera crane to get the necessary moves and range of action.

In order to make the plant's movements seem quicker and more fluid (the final version weighed something like half a ton and required the services of fifty-plus puppeteers to animate), they were undercranked -- shot at slower-then-normal speeds (12 frames per second and/or 16 fps versus the normal 24 fps) to cause them to appear faster when projected at mormal speeds. Unfortunately, several of these scenes require on-screen interaction beween the plant and Rick Moranis... which meant that Moranis had to act at half or three-quarters speed to look as if he were acting normally in the final result. He even had to lip-synch to a track slowed down to 3/4 of its original speed. He did it beautifully.

'S'a great fillum. Great stuff on the DVD. Buy it. You won't regret it.
For other books about Roger Corman, click [here] and [here].