The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again Review
Musicals are risky business. I believe that out of all art forms, musicals are the hardest sell because so few attract an audience. I cannot even begin to tell you how many musicals opened and closed on Broadway over the past decade. Creating a musical that appeals to the masses is a true science and one that very few people have cracked the code to. This is why there are so few Hollywood musicals because even as films or televisions specials, they are either hits or misses with critics and audiences alike.
The backstory of Rocky Horror Picture Show is a fascinating one. The Rocky Horror Picture Show which was released by Fox in 1975 was not the commercial hit despite how popular the film is today. The film was very poorly received by critics and was initially pulled from theaters due to so few in attendance. It was pulled and re-released several times, and it wasn’t until it became a midnight movie that it started to gain a following. I won’t spend much more time explaining the history, but if you are someone who loves the history of cinema, you should research this film because it is certainly an anomaly.
Today, The Rocky Horror Picture Show is one of the most well-known musicals. A few years ago, the Ryan Murphy show Glee even did their own rendition of the film. Given the popularity of this musical, it was only a matter of time before a remake or television special would happen. This brings us to the made for television film, The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again which premiered on Fox on October 20, 2016, after a special screening at San Diego Comic-Con back in July.
This re-telling of the cult classic musical features a pretty diverse cast which includes Victoria Justice, Ryan McCartan, Adam Lambert, Laverne Cox, and Tim Curry, just to name a few. This adaptation is an interesting mixture of the original film while also incorporating aspects of audience interaction which occur during the midnight screenings of the film all across the world. Things like the audience yelling back to the screen as well as throwing toilet paper are all captured in this made for tv adaptation.
I think it’s fair to say that without even watching the film that there are several critics and audience members who believe that this is an unnecessary and pointless attempt to capture a classic. While those who grew up loving the original may not fall as head over heels about this modern day retelling, I would like to say that compared to the endless amount of big budget sequels, I am more than happy to see a musical being remade for a new audience. The musical is one of the most underappreciated genres and the riskiest, so I am ok with Hollywood redoing it as long as it remains somewhat loyal to the original material.
I found The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again to be 90 minutes of pure entertainment. Director Kenny Ortega essentially follows the story of the original while attempting to reach a new generation by adding in actors and actresses that are relevant to today. Whoever came up with the idea of bringing Tim Curry back to narrate the film was a great touch and one that I am sure will delight even the harshest of critics.
I would think that trying to cast a remake like this is no easy task, however, I have to admit that I was overall impressed with the performances and choices. There are essentially four standout roles in the original; Janet Wiess, Brad Majors, Dr. Frank-N-Furter, and Rocky Horror. The casting of three out of the four in this 2016 version I feel worked great. Victoria Justice as Janet was a fantastic choice. While there is no denying that Victoria Justice is no Susan Sarandon, I think Justice gave it her all and had fun with it. You also have to admit that Justice has a pretty great voice, so that worked out nicely as well.
Ryan McCartan as Brad Majors did a great job. He really embraced the dorkiness of the character as well as remaining very prim and proper. He had good chemistry with Justice as well. However, out of the three, I would have to say that Laverne Cox stole the show as Dr. Frank-N-Furter. There is just this undeniable level of energy that Cox brings to the role and character. Her facial mannerisms along with her bold confidence allow her to truly make this role her own. She gets the best out of all the cast in her scenes especially the seduction scenes with Brad and Janet. Those two scenes were two of my favorite from this entire production.
You probably noticed that I haven’t brought up Staz Nair who stars as the film’s title character, Rocky Horror. While Nair does have the look of Peter Hinwood, there is no hiding that he isn’t Hinwood. I can’t be too hard on Nair because this character is probably the most difficult to cast since his main role is to look sexy. I just didn’t buy into here. I felt like they needed to get a better known and hotter actor to play this role. Again, don’t get me wrong, I thought Nair was fine but compared to the other three stars; he didn’t stand out.
The supporting cast was pretty strong as well. I think everyone embraced how campy and out there the original film was and tried to capture that within their performance. I know that Eddie isn’t a huge character in the original film, but I really liked Adam Lambert as that character. Again, like Justice, he has that incredible voice so adds to the performance. Annaleigh Ashford who played Columbia is also noteworthy. I enjoyed her performance and thought the quality of her performance stood out among a lot of the supporting cast members. As for Tim Curry, he adds that splash of nostalgia. He works great as the narrator and reminds audiences why we love Tim Curry. It was nice to see that even though his role was nothing major that he approved the project enough to be part of it.
The music is still great in this version as it was in the original. My favorite numbers include “Touch Me,” “The Time Warp,” and “Sweet Transvestite.” The costumes and wardrobes are impressive for a television production while the sets are somewhat confusing since they range from what looks like the Pantages theater to more elaborate television sets. I think Ortega was trying to mix the idea of stage and film, but it sort of took me out of the film. While I watched the film without any commercial interruption, I did find the pauses for commercials to be distracting and weren’t incorporated at the right moments. It made certain scenes come off as somewhat disjointed.
It also needs to be pointed out that if the original Rocky Horror Picture Show were released today, no one would like it. In 1975, it was something of its time. It was unique, campy, weird, and just all around different. We very rarely see a cult classic remake that engages an audience in the same way that the original did. Those that do try doing something new and different with the source material. To me, this film plays as an homage to the original and its history rather than making it a completely new thing. As a fan of the original, I appreciated and value that.
I think many outlets are unfairly criticizing this film. Is it the best television musical of all time? No way, but compared to several big studio musicals as well as other television musical productions, I think everyone involved did a pretty great job of capturing the original and bringing it up to date for a younger modern day audience. There are always going to be naysayers when it comes to projects like this, but if you take it for what it is, I think there is a lot of enjoyment to be found.
In closing, I will say that I do believe that instead of doing this as a television special, FOX should have created some sort of limited live stage production at the Hollywood Bowl or a venue like that. I couldn’t help but think for the entire 90 minutes, “Wow, this would have been great to see live on stage.” I would love for future musical remakes to be taken around to venues across the United States and recorded for later broadcast. I think seeing this cast do a live show would have been something truly special and memorable.
Scott “Movie Man” Menzel’s final rating for The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again is a B+. A good retelling that can be easily be enjoyed by fans of the original as well as the new generation.