Oscar Snubs Woods - Really?
This entry is probably not going to be a popular one, but since it's topic is timely and relates to musicals, I feel compelled to address it: the alleged "snubbing" of Into the Woods for a "Best Picture" Oscar nomination.
I am a bit surprised at the number of people who are acting like it should have been a foregone conclusion that Into the Woods would receive one of these coveted slots. It is true that, had a film of Into the Woods added up to something spectacular that it could have received an Oscar nod. The ingredients were there, but the editing of important content, the caricature notions of would-be character development, and the lack of unique visual storytelling with the camera made it a good film, but not the great film that it should have been.
A few years back, it seems many people were in a similar frenzy over Sweeney Todd. In retrospect, we realize that Tim Burton's film adaptation of another Stephen Sondheim classic, though good in some ways, was not a game-changing interpretation we had wanted it to be. In truth, In parts, I find some of Burton's concepts more inventive and artistic than the overall of Rob Marshall's take on Into the Woods.
The musical on our head is always going to be better than the one we get on screen. We idealize what certain moments will look like, hear the most enticing rendition of songs, and imagine that the big screen will somehow illuminate a piece we love with a magnified glory. I argue that maybe musicals, due to their grand themes and larger-than-life presentation requirements, are better enjoyed at a distance and not helped by the up close akwardness of the camera (think snot running out of Ann Hathaway's nose a la Les Miserables). Very few Broadway musicals have been improved upon through film adaptation. Even the best of the bunch: The King and I, West Side Story, Oliver!, Cabaret, and Chicago lack the impact that their stage counterparts have.
Into the Woods is a fine film that, in fits and starts, can be quite enjoyable if you don't look too closely. I have a feeling that, in a few years, with some distance and perspective, that rabid fans of the film will settle into accepting it as a good film but not a great one. It's not "Best Picture" material, but it's success at the box office has certainly exposed the property to many people who would never have known Sondheim or Into the Woods in general. This is reward enough!