The vultures appear to already be circling over the new big-budget adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Cats, which, despite last-minute overtures, secured only a single Golden Globe nomination, for best song.
For months the film, backed by British production powerhouse Working Title, has been touted as a major awards magnet: its makers include heavyweight Oscar-winning talent including director Tom Hooper, performers Jennifer Hudson and Judi Dench, and executive producer Steven Spielberg, as well as a host of other major names such as Taylor Swift, Idris Elba and Ian McKellen.
However, with mere days to go before its UK release, Cats has still not been shown to the outside world. Bafta and Oscar voters have not seen it; it has not yet been cleared for certification by the British Board of Film Classification, and its only screening for the UK press is scheduled three days before release, on the same night as the first screening for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
According to entertainment industry magazine Variety, Cats did screen for the notoriously secretive Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which votes on the Golden Globes. In the event, despite the Globes’ focus on musicals, Cats failed to generate any significant awards-season momentum, with the only recognition going to Beautiful Ghosts, Swift and Lloyd Webber’s song written specifically for the film.
Cats’ absence from the buzz-generating screening circuit is not necessarily a Boris Johnson-style avoidance of scrutiny (normally, in the film industry, a harbinger of a critical disaster-in-waiting). Variety reported that the film-makers were working through the Thanksgiving holiday weekend at the end of November to try to complete the film’s complex visual effects in time for the Globes’ 4 December screening deadline. These involve adding CGI fur to the human-cat characters, and ensuring they appear cat-sized in their physical environment.
The production’s difficulties were compounded by a widely-ridiculed trailer launch in July, which saw a flood of mockery on social media comparable to that which greeted Sonic the Hedgehog’s launch weeks earlier. Working Title co-chairs Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner told Variety that the uproar may well work in the film’s favour. Fellner said: “The reality is that 100 million people or more saw the trailer, and, yes, there were some people that didn’t like it, and as is the world we live in, those who didn’t like it were the most vociferous.”
However, Fellner also implied that, as with Sonic, changes were being made to the film’s look, right up to the last minute. “You’re seeing subtle changes,” he says. “The characters have progressed and are progressing every day.”
Having secured a plum mid-December release spot – poised to reach holiday audiences as well as the awards-voting subset – Cats is pitching itself directly against The Rise of Skywalker, which is due for release on the same weekend. While industry experts predict the Star Wars film to take $175m-200m in its opening weekend in the US, prospects for Cats appear far more modest, with estimates of $15m-$17m in the same time frame. However, marketing strategists appear to be aiming for a Greatest Showman-style slow-build effect. The Hugh Jackman musical opened with a mere $8m in the US, before finishing on $174m.
Cats will be released on 20 December in the UK and US.