I witnessed Cats for you. You weak people with your finite resources and lack of desire to spend money or time on Cats. For you, I trekked half a mile—in the rain—to witness Tom Hooper’s hubris writ large on the screen. I witnessed and I wrote about it. And then those fuckers at Universal released a patch of the film, ostensibly fixing some of the least egregious CGI errors.
We review films with the understanding, usually, that they are complete. A change that comes after a film’s release is usually called a “director’s cut” or sometimes a “Donner’s Cut” or, if you live in the bowels of hell, a “Snyder Cut.” New versions of films alter the tapestry of the work and demand a new consideration. But Universal didn’t do that. Universal released a first of its kind: A software update to a movie.
This means I should have been expecting the below text from Gizmodo Editor in Chief, Kelly Bourdet, Sunday morning, and should have anticipated my natural response. Largely so I could fight it and avoid ever seeing Cats again.
But unfortunately, I’d just woken up because it was Sunday, I’m childless, and I purposely walk my dog at like 2 in the morning just so I can sleep in on Sundays as much as I’d like.
So she caught me groggy, enthusiastic, and unaware.
A state I was still in an hour later while deeply and profoundly bored at the dog park. The dog likes to play fetch for hours. I do not. So while I kicked a ball to him over and over again I pulled out my phone and tried to research where I could actually see the new and updated version of Cats.
Most films are delivered digitally to a media server at your local movie theater. They essentially just plug the file into the digital projector and it plays. But getting an updated version of a movie can be difficult. The projectionist still has to grab the updated copy and start running it, and if there’s no server (more common in older and more remote theaters) they have to wait for a hard copy to be delivered by mail from the distributor.
So while the film was technically being distributed to theaters on Sunday morning, it could be days—or even weeks before it actually made it into theaters. One intrepid Cats goer I know informed me that the theater they were going to had the updated version, but wasn’t switching over to it until yesterday, Monday.
I opted to go then because if my boss is making me bear witness to cat-man folly a second time I refuse to do it on my weekend. The woman running the box office was confused when I asked her which version of Cats I would be seeing. “It says 2019,” she told me, cautiously eyeing the growing line of customers behind me who all simply HAD to speak to her instead of using the huge bank of self serve kiosks.
I reiterated that I knew they get their films delivered digitally and would the newest version be playing? She shrugged and said sure and asked for me to pay for the ticket already. So confused, but hopeful, I entered the theater with my 44 ounces of soda and prepared to be bombarded by the obscene once more.
The first mistake is that unlike the critic’s screening I went to, Cats in theaters plays with trailers. So I got a glimpse of a very good musical, some distracting Jesus rock biopic with Shania Twain and the guy from Riverdale, and the Sonic trailer. Presumably, the last one was to remind me of other studios who have better taste. The Sonic people may have started out with as fiendish an experience to be delivered to audiences, but at least course-corrected. My parents definitely would have dropped me off at the dollar theater to watch the new version of Sonic in 1994.
I like to think they wouldn’t do the same with Cats. Which, again, seemed like a new film and an old one.
The first time I saw Cats the horror unfurled slowly, like a corpse flower at the botanic gardens. Like a corpse flower, it’s utterly awful but absolutely captivating. Even the long tedious scenes where you want nothing more than to claw your eyes out from boredom you’re still arrested by the film. Sometimes, in both screenings, I felt like I was strapped into a less heinous version of Clockwork Orange’s Ludovico chair. Only the straps were my own will to experience the movie in its entirety—to leave no shameful moment unexposed by my experience.
The filmmakers need to know that they’re worst efforts were witness.
This time I was prepared and made a game of it figure out if the film I was seeing was actually fixed. There—cats dancing, their fur standing on end and caught in an invisible wind as digital fur is wont to do. There—a man’s feet turning ENTIRELY BLACK as if they’d started digitally erasing them and forgot to refill them. There whiskers that appeared and reappeared at the whim of some harried digital artist who can never ever put this thing on their CV.
The man I saw in the first screen, just standing there in a knit cap, was gone. The woman they colored gray but forgot to cat was fully a cat. But the true north star guide invoked by Twitter, the ring on Judi Dench’s finger, was ever-present.
Only...it wasn’t. Sometimes it was gone! Sometimes there was a giant red gem on it. Sometimes it was on the other hand. The ring on her finger seemed to dance more than the professional ballerinas helming the catastrophe.
As the film wore on, the minute CGI flaws being shoveled into my eyes like shit out of the back of a fertilizer truck, I found myself not blinded—but somehow inoculated the feline-shaped terror. Twitching tails and unzipped fursuits didn’t rattle my soul as they had before.
You suffer through a second viewing of Cats and the movie itself doesn’t seem so bad. But maybe that’s just my brain trying to resolve the trauma its been submitted to. Whispering ‘its not so bad’ to keep me from a full descent into hysterical laugh screaming.
I ran to the bathroom after the final scene—that 44 ounces of soda having a pressing need to leave my body as quickly as I needed to leave the theater. And when I emerged from the bathroom, reborn by the lack of pressure on my bladder, I saw the few other people who suffered through Cats with me.
They were laughing, tears streaming down their faces. Was it from the ineptitude? The absurdity? Or did they simply crack—psyches splitting open like Rebel Wilson’s cat fur? I don’t know, but I don’t think any kind of software patch would have fixed the film for them.