You don't want to see what Judge Eric Profancik produced after watching this disc.
"I wanna be a producer with a hit show on Broadway."
Does everyone know the story of this movie? Of course we do. We already know that in 1968 Mel Brooks wrote and directed The Producers, which starred Gene Wilder (Young Frankenstein) and Zero Mostel. In a perfect fit that took thirty years to realize, in 2001 the movie became a Broadway musical starring Nathan Lane (The Birdcage) and Matthew Broderick (Ferris Bueller's Day Off). It opened to rave reviews, sold out shows, and long lines. Four years later, the Broadway show turned back into a movie, still starring Lane and Broderick. Knowing that you already know that, we don't need to talk about it.
I do want you to know that I saw the musical on Broadway in 2005. Sadly, by that point, Lane and Broderick had moved on and were no longer doing the performances. Quite amusingly that Sunday afternoon, it was "understudy day" at the theater, for an understudy (or second understudy) performed almost every part! We had enough paper in our Playbill for a ticker tape parade. I loved the musical, so I of course bought the soundtrack, watched the original movie, and eagerly awaited this version of the story. I should have skipped that last one.
Facts of the Case
Max Bialystock (Nathan Lane) used to be the king of Broadway. He always had the biggest hits, but lately his shows have been in the pits. Recent reviews have been horrid, with shows closing the same day. Max is now a very sad, desperate man, resorting to shtooping old widows in New York to raise cash for his productions. Leo Bloom (Matthew Broderick) is an accountant sent to review Max's ledger. Upon examination, Leo discovers a small error where Max's latest show "Funny Boy" cost $98,000 to make yet Max raised $100,000. Speaking off the cuff, Leo says that under the right circumstances, a producer could make more from a flop than a hit. Instantly intrigued, Max says that he and Leo should do just that, create a flop. Leo, who has always wanted to be a producer, eventually agrees.
Max and Leo go off to hunt and find the worst script, the worst director, and the worst actors to make the worst flop Broadway has ever seen. When they find the script for "Springtime for Hitler," everything falls into place. Keeping it gay, director Roger DeBris makes not only the Nazis winners of World War II but also makes Hitler live up to his middle name. Seen by critics as a biting satire, "Springtime for Hitler" becomes a smash hit, and Max and Leo can only wonder where did they go right. What will happen to the producers?
I have seen only two shows on Broadway, "Chicago" and "The Producers." Interestingly, they both turned into big Hollywood movies soon after my sojourns to New York. And not by pure coincidence, I am the Verdict reviewer for both of the productions. In my review of Chicago, one of my main points was how I detailed the huge differences between the play and the movie. I called the movie the antithesis of the play, as the lavish movie was so at odds with the stark stage setting.
With The Producers, it's a totally different game, but it isn't. It's different because it's the same. Unlike Chicago, where the movie expanded and explored the world of murderesses, The Producers is simply a play that has been captured on film. There are no significant differences between the two. I found this woefully disappointing, with the movie bringing absolutely nothing new to the story. It truly feels like someone taped one of the many stage performances of Lane and Broderick. It's stale, unoriginal, and boring. Even the camera moves are dull, with most shots being straight-on of the actors, tracking them in center frame as they move around the sets. There's no energy, no vitality, no attempt to broaden the musical's palette. With a story set on Broadway and actually filmed in a new Broadway studio, why is almost everything a set? Where are all the wonderful and readily available New York locations? Why is there but one scene filmed outdoors in and around Central Park? By using exact set duplications from the play (in most situations), The Producers lacks any originality. Further, it lacks any reason for anyone who has seen the play to need to see the movie.
Why was it done like this? Was it deliberate, or was first-time movie director Susan Stroman just so new and inexperienced that she didn't know any better? Luckily for Stroman, we learn that it isn't entirely her fault. Mel Brooks decided early on that this new movie version would be a recreation of the Broadway experience, so those who couldn't see it on Broadway would know exactly what they had missed. And that's why you get exactly that. It was a noble idea but not a good one. Movies afford the opportunity to do everything you can't do on stage, but that opportunity was not grabbed and the movie is all the weaker because of that choice.
The one thing done right in putting the movie together was hiring the genius cast of actors who have delighted hundred of thousands of people on Broadway. When "The Producers" premiered on Broadway in 2001, people raved about how great Lane and Broderick were in their roles. And I agree. But I found that several of the supporting characters deserved far more praise then they received. Top of that list would go to Angie L. Schworer who portrays the Swedish bombshell Ulla. She is magnificent in the role, exuding a sweet and sexy naiveté that only further accentuates her innate sultriness. Also worthy of more mention are Gary Beach and Roger Bart. Beach plays the flamboyant Roger DeBris while Bart plays his common-law assistant Carmen Ghia. The two are so gloriously gay that you can't help but smile with their over-the-top performances.
Imagine my dismay to discover that my favorite actor from the play would not be in the film? Further imagine she is only one of two people booted from his or her role! Schworer was not allowed to portray Ulla in the movie, for it was felt another big name was needed on the marquee; hence, Uma Thurman (Kill Bill). Uma has her fans, but Angie was much better in the part, deserving to play the role she perfected. (Of note: Angie has a small role as a showgirl in the film.) As for the second role that was replaced, in comes Will Ferrell (Elf) to portray the playwright of "Springtime for Hitler," Franz Liebkind. I don't find this as insulting as Angie's "dismissal," but aside from the being another big name, Will doesn't do anything special with his role.
While I have my concerns about the movie, I don't have any for the DVD. Sporting a delightful 2.40:1 anamorphic print, The Producers has bright, rich, accurate colors, thick blacks, and plenty of sharpness and contrast to help you read all those faux posters in Bialystock's office. I did not notice any significant errors in the presentation, and there are some challenging scenes to reproduce. As I am akin to say when discussing a musical, I believe the audio presentation to be a notch more important than the video. Though I would have welcomed a DTS mix, the Dolby Digital 5.1 track does do the songs justice. Every word is crystal clear, and when the music kicks in, the surrounds and subwoofer come alive and envelope you without the slightest whiff of distortion.
Where the DVD misses a beat is with its bonus material. Starting things off is the oddest audio commentary I've ever heard. Read by Susan Stroman, her commentary is clearly pre-prepared and, as such, she is definitely reading from a script. While I like the idea of having something specific to say at all times, the lack of spontaneity is awful. If listening to someone read a script for two hours isn't bad enough, some of her insightful gags have already been discussed on the original The Producers DVD and some of her new anecdotes aren't all that interesting. Next up are 8 deleted scenes (19.5 minutes) with the highlight of the group being the cut song "King of Broadway." Following that are some outtakes (15 minutes), which are mildly humorous but end on a perfect low note. The last item is one of those analyses of a scene featurettes, and this one discusses the big number "I Wanna Be a Producer" (16 minutes). This is your best bet in the special features as it offers a nice variety of information about the scene and how it was crafted. In here, you'll also discover that Stroman is a far better choreographer than a director.
If you consider previews bonus material, there's an odd assortment at startup: Munich, a montage of films from Focus Features, NBC's Thursday night comedy lineup, The Producers' soundtrack, and Over the Hedge.
The disc does have one massive flaw: the chapter stops. Where is there not a chapter stop included for each musical number? I think only three or four have their own stops, and why is that? Fans of the musical would want easy access to their favorite songs, but that isn't available on this disc.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The Producers is a fantastic recreation of the sublime Broadway musical starring Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick. If you loved the show you'll love the movie as you can watch again and again the perfect performances by these brilliant thespians. Every scene explodes from the screen, captivating you in the malfeasance of these two sad souls. The witty musical numbers will bring a smile to your face every time, and you'll delight in Mel Brooks' irreverent brand of humor.
Let me start with the recommendation and go backwards:
• If you have not seen "The Producers" on stage, then
give The Producers on DVD a
On stage, "The Producers" was a fantastic, fun, and fabulous show. I laughed from start to finish and had a wonderful time. A few months later, sitting in a movie theater, watching an almost carbon copy of the play, I barely chuckled. That has absolutely nothing to do with the material or the actors. Mel Brooks' script is filled with humor, great moments, and memorable songs, all of which is brought to life by wonderfully talented actors. But it all comes down to the fact that the film feels claustrophobic and amateurish. It does not offer a new, fresh experience. When I paid $50 to see the play, I definitely felt like I got my money's worth. Paying $7.50 to see the movie, I felt I overpaid. I can't imagine paying again for the DVD.
The Producers is hereby found guilty of impersonating an independent film of a high school musical.
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Scales of Justice
• Audio Commentary by Director Susan Stroman
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