Note: The screencaps in this review are taken from the DVD edition of Little Shop of Horrors: The Director's Cut and are not indicative of the Blu-Ray's picture quality.
The original Little Shop of Horrors, made in 1960 and featuring Jack Nicholson's film debut, was a Hollywood joke; someone told producer Roger Corman it was impossible to shoot a whole movie in 2 days, and Corman decided to prove otherwise. In 1982, the film was adapted into an Off-Broadway play by Howard Ashman, with music by Alan Menken (lyrics by Ashman), and music mogul David Geffen producing. The success of the stage version got Geffen thinking about a film, which he hoped would be produced by Steven Spielberg and directed by Martin Scorsese. Instead, he got director Frank Oz, who created a big screen version that was faithful to Ashman's adaptation, until a spectacular ending featuring six months of incredible model and miniature work was trashed by test audiences and was lopped out in favor of a reshoot. In 1998, a black-and-white version of that ending with an incomplete sound mix appeared on the film's DVD debut, only for Geffen to yank it from stores a week later. That DVD was still fetching about $100 as recently as last year, but Warner and Geffen have finally given the ending a full restoration, presented here re-integrated into the feature film on this new "Director's Cut" Blu-Ray (along with the theatrical cut).
Rick Moranis plays Seymour, a wimpy assistant at a moldering plant shop run by Mr. Mushnik (Vincent Gardenia). In his free time, he collects strange and unusual plants, and his newest is the weirdest yet: a mysterious flytrap-like plant he names Audrey II, after his lovely but equally meek co-worker Audrey (Ellen Greene). Placing the plant in the window turns Mr. Mushnik's business around, and Audrey I is thrilled for Seymour's newfound success, but Seymour quickly discovers that Audrey II has a terrible diet...blood. For awhile, the plant is happy with the drops from poor Seymour's fingers, but by the time Audrey II is several feet tall and talks (with the voice of The Four Tops' Levi Stubbs), Seymour is forced to face that he's out of non-lethal feeding options.
Three things form the heart and soul of Little Shop of Horrors. First and foremost, obviously, is the music, and the music by Menken and Ashman is just the right blend of retro earnestness and wicked black comedy. The film opens with a '60s-flavored tune by the film's Greek chorus, Ronette (Michelle Weeks), Crystal (Tichina Arnold), and Chiffon (Tisha Campbell), before diving into the longing rat-race beat of "Skid Row (Downtown)." Later, the the duo infuse their comic notes with earnest emotion in "Somewhere That's Green" and the simple-yet-sweet duet "Suddenly Seymour." Of course, Audrey II gets a chance to shine as well, and Stubbs performs "Feed Me (Get It)" and "Mean Green Mother From Outer Space" with an infectious wild-man enthusiasm.
Then again, the quality of music coming out of the plant wouldn't mean much if the plant didn't work. To that end, Oz has assembled a team of crack model makers and puppeteers who bring Audrey II to life in such a natural way that the viewer hardly thinks about the gargantuan special effects effort that went into the picture at all. It's not that the "mean green mother from outer space" comes to life convincingly, exactly -- Audrey II's rubbery skin and distinctly puppet-like movement are a constant subconscious reminder that it's different than a real plant -- but it feels like it belongs in the intentionally artificial environment around it. Oz's set looks like a set, giving the film a hint of the original Off-Broadway flavor, and Audrey II fits right in with that aesthetic.
Oz's spectacular cast is the final piece of the puzzle. Rick Moranis is fine as Seymour, handling the singing fairly well, and the film's laundry list of guest stars and cameos, including Steve Martin as Audrey I's sadistic dentist boyfriend, John Candy as a goofy radio DJ, and Bill Murray as a creepy dental patient, are all fantastic. For me, though, it's Ellen Greene, who originated the role of Audrey on stage, who makes the film soar. She clearly loves the character, and when she sings, it's like a window opens into Audrey: it may be cheesy, but you understand her hopes and dreams, and you see why Seymour pines for her. It takes a special kind of comic touch to make a love for kitchen appliances tug at the hearstrings, but she's got it.
As a viewer seeing Little Shop of Horrors for the first time on this Blu-Ray, the Director's Cut ending is 100% the way to go. (Spoilers ahead.) The theatrical cut ending is a decent compromise on paper, but it's obvious that Oz's heart wasn't in it; the comic and musical timing is off ("Mean Green Mother From Outer Space" is shorter and arranged differently in the theatrical cut, much to its detriment), James Belushi is a weak replacement for Paul Dooley, and the "happily ever after" for Seymour and Audrey feels like an afterthought. Compared to Greene's heartbreaking reprise of "Somewhere That's Green", the complete edit of "Mean Green Mother", and that incredible, incredible modelwork, there's no comparison. Fans who have grown up with the original ending may end up preferring what they've known, but even if neither cut of the film is perfect ("Don't Feed the Plants" is not one of the film's better songs), the director's cut is a complete, invested vision, and anyone who likes Little Shop owes it to themselves to see it in finished form.
WB offers Little Shop of Horrors in a fine-looking digibook. I have read a few digibooks, and the content in them tends to be pretty surface-level stuff -- very short passages, heavy on "popular" quotes from the movie, usually placed over the pictures without much subtlety or grace. There are a couple of "movie quote" pages in this book, but this is a surprisingly good overview of the history behind the production, the people involved, and backstory on the new cut of the film. The glossy photographs are colorful and arranged nicely, even if the whole modern "minimalist" art movement feels like an excuse to be lazy. There is also a "personal note" from Frank Oz (separate from the book -- who knows why, as it just seems likely to get lost that way -- further explaining the DC and his thoughts on it. My only nitpick about the design is that the layout of the front cover seems very strange: the title is very small, the actors' names are at the bottom, and weirdest of all, they've randomly thrown on a picture of John Candy instead of Vincent Gardenia. Yeah, sure, Candy's more famous, but it's odd because the booklet frequently lists some of the movie's cameos but only mentions Candy once (not to mention, if they were gonna add one of the cameos to the cover, I'd think it'd be Murray).
The Video and Audio
Much like this Blu-Ray release is the tale of two cuts, I think Warner's 1080p 1.85:1 AVC presentation is a tale of two transfers. In 2010 and maybe 2011, Warner Bros. was releasing catalog titles with a noticeable push toward teal and orange, a habit that concerned some viewers. Maybe I'm crazy -- it's very, very faint -- but I see that push toward blue here, most visible on colors that aren't blue, like the red jacket Seymour wears to the radio station, whenever lightning strikes, and of course, on Audrey II's skin (occasionally looking more like a mean teal mother from outer space on this Blu-Ray). I'd venture a guess that the theatrical cut of Little Shop was prepped by Warner for Blu-Ray well before 2012, but the production of the disc was delayed as they tracked down elements for the new ending. Those 20 minutes make up the other "transfer": the blue push is gone, allowing primaries to pop like they're supposed to (the vivid, bright purple insides of Audrey's mouth leap off the screen). Viewers can even compare, since the "new ending" footage seems to start before the reprise of "Suppertime" and go all the way through to the end of the credits. All of that said, both transfers look very nice: filmic appearance, decent fine detail, no indication of ugly post-processing or compression anomalies. I wish the colors were consistent, but that's the only minor complaint I have here, and some people won't even notice.
Both versions of the movie get a fantastic DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track that treats Alan Menken and Howard Ashman's music just right. Each one of their jaunty compositions bursts out of the surround channels with a renewed vigor and liveliness that should make even the pickiest audiophile smile. Dialogue sounds natural, with that hint of echo from the spacious soundstages the film was shot on. There is also the new ending, which was newly mixed for this release, and sounds every bit as spectacular as it would have if it were finished for theaters. No complaints whatsoever about the sound. A French Dolby Digital 2.0 track and Castillian and Latin Dolby Digital 1.0 tracks are also included, along with English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing, and French and Spanish subtitles.
"Frank Oz and Little Shop of Horrors: The Director's Cut" (10:41, HD) is a nice featurette that goes in depth with Oz and model effects supervisor Richard Conway about what went into the original ending, why it was chopped, and their feelings on both versions. Although you'll hear these sentiments from Oz in a few places on the disc, this is the best way to hear these stories. The alternate ending (22:01, HD) is also presented separately from the feature, but, for some reason, only with commentary by Frank Oz running over it. This is doubly confusing, as the commentary in question is the track from the infamous recalled 1998 release of the DVD, so Oz frequently makes reference to the fact that the sound and effects are not finished or in color. It's bizarre because the main logic of including the alternate ending would seem to be so that fans who prefer the TC can still watch it if they want to without firing up the DC and skipping to it, but only the version with the redundant commentary is offered.
The disc also contains all of the key extras from the original release, including an audio commentary on the theatrical version by Frank Oz, the UK TV special "A Story of Little Shop of Horrors" (23:04, SD), a gallery of outtakes and deleted scenes (8:42, SD), with or without optional commentary by Frank Oz, and two theatrical trailers (1:09, 2:07, HD).
The one disappointment? The isolated score track from the DVD hasn't been retained. It would've also been great to hear from the cast and crew in some new interviews, but that's moving into wishful thinking territory.
This is a no-brainer. The cut of the film fans have wanted to see for more than 20 years, with fine A/V, a nice new featurette, and all of the original DVD-era extras, in a nice book? Little Shop of Horrors is an easy pick for the DVDTalk Collector's Series.
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