In an Unprecedented Move, Universal Is Sending Theaters a Patched Version of Cats

Some of the CGI isn’t... awful.
Some of the CGI isn’t... awful.
Image: Universal

Cats, Tom Hooper’s memetic hazard of a musical, is receiving unprecedented treatment from its distributors at Universal. As shared by the Hollywood Reporter, the company is sending theaters an updated version of the Ozymandias-like monument to hubris and toxoplasmosis. This new version of the film, according to a memo sent to thousands of theaters on Friday—the film’s release day—will include “some improved visual effects.”

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Improved, there, probably being an understatement, considering what we know about the effects in the “finished” version of the film seen by critics. As explained by our own Alex Cranz, who called Cats a film that, if all were just in God’s heaven and man’s earth, “should not exist”:

I witnessed an entire man, knit cap and coat, just standing in a scene among a gathering of cats. I saw a terrifying gray statue looming over a character, only for it to blink and realize it’s a woman who is a cat, but they colored her and then forgot to add fur. In one scene, nearly all of Judi Dench’s hand is a fluffy blond like her the coat of her cat character, Deuteronomy. In another, it’s just her regular hand, replete with what appears to be a wedding ring. Most cats have human feet, but some cats wear shoes. Except for newcomer Francesca Hayward, a ballerina who does a long and gorgeous dance number on pointe. It’s a beautiful skill and the kind of thing you’d normally need to pay to see in a theater. Here you see it for the price of a single movie ticket! But they CGI’d out her ballet shoes and gave her digital toes that skitter weightlessly across the floor, engendering a powerful feeling as wrong as that Pixar baby 30 years ago.

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So, yeah, the effects had some problems, is the takeaway here, and appear to have been in a variety of states of unfinished when the film was initially released. And by unfinished, we mean less that the film has some rough patches and more that the whole social fabric of cinema is undone in the failures of Cat’s CGI, that the Satanic bargain of imagination is itself unfurled before us like a forbidden scroll, that we may see the cost of it and know man’s folly.

So it’s getting patched. Which is not something that films do. It’s something video games do, because finishing video games on time is impossible and video games are always lurching forward in a terminal state of unfinished chaos, one stray glance away from breaking entirely. Movies are not supposed to be like this. Movies are supposed to be one and done affairs, legitimately completed and then released and then placed on a shelf until such time as the director gets cranky and decides to re-edit the damn thing. But Cats isn’t like other movies. No movie is supposed to be like Cats.

If you want to see the mind-bending brokenness of Dame Judi Dench as a half-CGI furry/half-regular person chimera before it gets the Day One Patch treatment, you should probably get a move on, and maybe pick somewhere rural: THR says that the film’s update will be rolled out today via a satellite server, with theaters not able to access the online infrastructure receiving it via hard drive by Tuesday.

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While they’re at it, I hope Universal nerfs Idris Elba’s Macavity. He’s just too powerful.

Cats version, uh, let’s say 1.2, is in theaters now, or soon will be. You have been warned.

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io9 Weekend Editor. Videogame writer at other places. Queer nerd girl.

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DISCUSSION

This isn’t completely unprecedented. Some films have been re-edited after their initial previews or limited premieres before going into wider release, like 2001: A Space Odyssey (from which Kubrick cut 19 minutes after its initial limited release was poorly received), Sam Peckinpah’s Major Dundee, and the infamous flop Heaven’s Gate. In the case of 2001, some theaters had already begun showing the longer version by the time they received the edited-down version, so it’s pretty close to what’s happening here.

When Star Trek: The Motion Picture had to be released to theaters as a rough cut with unfinished FX due to a contractually inflexible release date, Robert Wise petitioned Paramount to let him finish the edit and send it out to theaters to replace the rough version. Paramount wouldn’t shell out the money, so it took 22 years for a Director’s Cut to be done to Wise’s specifications.