Running time: 525,600 minutes

Friday, 21 May 2004 — 1:39pm | Adaptations, Film

This story broke two weeks ago, but my intention was to put it off until after I had seen the touring production of Rent at the Jubilee Auditorium, for reasons that will become immediately clear. Before long, E3 and Waterloo DDT got in the way as far as coverage goes, but I digress. The story is that Chris Columbus, whose name will be conveniently lost in history because of a) that fifteenth-century explorer guy and b) Bicentennial Man, is planning to adapt and direct Jonathan Larson’s Pulitzer-winning musical.

Even without the supposition that the film adaptation of any seminal work from another medium should immediately raise eyebrows, this is one of those things that you hope turns out way better than it looks on paper. Rent is a mature, contemporary and dynamic work of theatre that deals with the less fortunate denziens of Lower Manhattan – and by “less fortunate” I mean homeless and dying of AIDS, for starters. Then we have Chris Columbus, who has directed exactly two films worth watching, both on the merit of J.K. Rowling (who, by the way, has a brand-spanking-new website that everyone should check out).

Now, not to be an armchair director or anything, but as good as Columbus is at drawing quality performances out of child performers – please ignore Macaulay Culkin for a second – the last thing that any film audience would associate him with is dynamism. Columbus needs to get a top-notch cinematographer on board and work with him to shoot the movie with a tone that matches the rest of the source material, and do what he started doing on The Chamber of Secrets, which is breaking the habit of visualizing scenes with stationary cameras sitting around and watching the soundstage.

The central character of Rent, Mark, is a video artist who documents everything with a handheld he takes everywhere. It would be kind of sad if a director couldn’t live up to the work of one of his characters, no? That in itself proposes an interesting concept: shoot the entire film in handheld, giving it the feel of an urban documentary. As far as I know, it has never been done in an A-list movie musical, though it would not fit anywhere else, whilst for Rent, it’s so perfect that somebody out there should hire me for even mentioning the idea.

Speaking as optimistically as possible, though, this could prove to be a breakout project for Chris Columbus’ skills and reputation as a filmmaker. It’s good to see that he is taking on something challenging that may, in fact, finally provide an opportunity for him to develop.

In any case, I should be far more concerned about Joel Schumacher marching into sacred territory with The Phantom of the Opera, but casting Emmy Rossum as Christine indicates that he’s doing something right. I say that solely on the basis of Rossum’s brief role in Mystic River, and it would be best if next week’s The Day After Tomorrow does not shatter that perception.

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