Cats Gets Unprecedented CGI Upgrade During Opening Weekend, But It Won't Be Enough to Avoid Disaster
Universal Pictures
The Cast of Cats Was Feline Good at the Film's New York Premiere

The big-budget adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber's iconic musical has been horrifying fans since its first trailer, but it's box office haul might be even scarier.

Just one day into its deplorable theatrical release, Universal was advising theaters that a new version of "Cats" would be coming their way with improved visual effects, at the request of director Tom Hooper, who has indicated he was rushing to finish the film in time for its release.

Clearly, he didn't make it.

It's an unprecedented move for the film industry, which speaks to the convenience of the switch to digital, but it also is unlikely to do much to change the fate of the film. While "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker" dominated, it had a smaller ticket count than any of its predecessors in the sequel trilogy. But all those missing moviegoers were definitely not going to see the CGI debacle that is "Cats."

Adapted from Andrew Lloyd Weber's incredibly successful and equally nonsensical Broadway music of the same name, "Cats" has been met largely with horror since the release of its first nightmarish trailer. And that was the first time Universal promised improved CGI and visual effects, assuring fans that the film would look much better in its final edition.

Clearly, they think it doesn't look "better" enough, and maybe that's the problem with their box office. With a cost of over $100 million, "Cats" is looking at an opening weekend haul of less than $7 million.

That's a far cry from the project's heyday on Broadway where it held the title for longest running musical in history in both London and New York. Dominant in the '80s and '90s, some might say they simply waited too long to bring it to the big screen, two decades after it initially closed (though there have been revivals and traveling iterations).

But the biggest problem has to do with their highly-touted "digital fur technology" and the overall design aesthetics they chose for the characters themselves. No one quite knew what a "Cats" cat should look like on the big screen, with nobody expecting them to mimic the stage looks.

Perhaps anthropomorphic cats would have been better than the cat-human hybrid they settled on, because initial reactions to the film's first trailer were abject horror. But unlike "Sonic the Hedgehog," which simply pulled the film and did a complete redesign of the titular character, "Cats" was already all in.

Sure, they can tweak the film's special effects, but the overall look of the creatures is pretty much set in stone, unless they want to start over. Those early reactions predicted a bomb and it hasn't gotten better for the film since.

Subsequent trailers did feature cleaned-up CGI, but further proved that the problem wasn't so much in the execution of the vision but in the vision itself. They were too feline, but not feline enough. Too human, but not human enough. Whatever they were, they were terrifying when they should't have been and absolutely dominated conversations about the film.

Hardly anyone is talking about the music, which includes some of the most iconic songs to come out of Broadway, and no one is really talking about the star-studded cast anymore. So on the one hand, it makes sense that Universal would want to do what they could to make these cats look as good as possible.

On the other hand, though, if this film was not ready to be released as is -- and an announcement during opening weekend would seem to indicate that was the case -- why didn't it get pushed back? Are we to believe that "Cats" really, really, really wanted to open wide against what was largely determined to be the biggest movie of the season?

Even an under-performing "Star Wars" blasted off to a $175.5 million opening weekend in the United States. "Cats" wound up in fourth place at $6.5 million, coming in well below any and all estimates. And it's only downhill from here, based on how movies trend downward throughout their theatrical runs.

So what is Universal hoping to accomplish? They're spending more money to tweak the CGI and clean the film up even more. Do they think they'll get good word of mouth? Critics have savaged the film -- though they trounced "Star Wars" too -- and it looks like audiences aren't much more impressed.

Rotten Tomatoes has it at a 62 percent audience score, with an abysmal 19 percent from critics. And none of them are saying that improved CGI would fix all of the film's problems.

The updated film should be in theaters now, having been made available to theater owners on Sunday, so any of the dozens who saw it on Friday and Saturday have an excuse to go back and see it again. We're sure Hooper and Universal wouldn't mind.

The new-and-as-improved-as-it's-gonna-get "Cats" is in theaters now. But hurry, it might not be for long!

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