Saturday, 10 January 2015


What may be magical and mysterious on the stage is far less so on the screen; Rob Marshall makes of Into the Woods merely an energetic production, and that is more of a curse than a blessing. The excellence on show in this gaudy, entertaining spectacle comes mostly from game acting and solid scoring; the film itself is never unconditionally good until the end, when it finally calms down a bit. It's often just a mess, with that mess on infernal repeat, a collection of indistinguishable songs drilling the same message that the last one did, and the next one will - the dangers of an overloaded cast of characters, each with individual narratives, realised. There are such hangovers from the stage musical that one understands Marshall could hardly avoid, though others that he ought to have developed the cinematic knowledge to - basic details, like actually showing the action that's so pertinent to the story (or to one of them) on the screen. Into the Woods is a frenetic bluster through thick swamps of exposition, so Marshall's leanness and his reluctance to pause make sense for the film's pacing, but this produces a distancing effect, which is a terrible blow to a film that already suffers from a lack of character development. It's light and cute, though, and quite convincingly so, when it's not caught up wrestling with the darkness in its nature. In basic terms, for all its aggravations, Into the Woods is disposable fun, with some attractive displays of artistry and dedication to apply some meat to its skinny bones. Acting and singing are both strong throughout, and Stephen Sondheim's score makes up for its repetitiveness with lyrical and melodic ingenuity, and typically boisterous orchestration. Alas, a film so full of material, so bountiful in so many regards that it's already been significantly trimmed from its stage origins and could still do with further trimming, is destined to prove as satisfying as it proves dissatisfying. As lamentable as it is that Into the Woods isn't a lot better, it's laudable that it isn't a lot worse too.