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The Fantasticks is one of the most successful musicals ever made in theater history with a stunning run of 17,162 performances. The musical broke records and made an important historical mark in theater. The film adapts the musical and transitions the small setting the theatrical production had to a decidedly larger production canvas.
The film was met with poor test audience responses and indifference. The studio support halted. The film was ultimately shelved for five years and then it received only a small theatrical run in 2000. Today, The Fantasticks (1995) has some fans and has finally received a release containing both the original cut and the theatrical version.
The story of the musical focuses on the plan of fathers Amos Babcock Bellamy (Joel Grey) and Ben Hucklebee (Brad Sullivan) to get their children to fall in love. For Luisa Bellamy (Jean Louisa Kelly) and Matt Hucklebee (Joey McIntyre) they plan a fake series of complications staged with the help of the visiting carnival troupe leader El Gallo (Jonathon Morris), who handles the proceedings (for a high price). However, their plans fail and things begin to be complicated between Luisa ad Matt. El Gallo shows the world of the carnival to Luisa and everything spirals into different directions.
The performances are actually underwhelming. The lead performance by Jean Louisa Kelly is actually one of the better ones. Her performance does a good job of presenting the character effectively. Her co-star Joey McIntyre (from New Kids on the Block) made his acting debut. McIntyre is unconvincing in the role. Both were mismatched and there isn't much at all in the way of chemistry. The father characters performed by Joel Grey and Brad Sullivan are too over-the-top in style. Some might fancy these performances but I disliked the approach given and the overall vibe seemed to not fit the story well.
The script for the film adaptation was done by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt (I Do! I Do!, 110 in the Shade). Jones and Schmidt were the lyricists of the songs and the team had done the show originally in its remarkably long-running off-Broadway theatrical incarnation. Unfortunately, it seems as though something got lost in the translation to the world of cinema. The script seems haphazardly pieced together in terms of transitioning one song to another and it often doesn't succeed in the way it should. The dialogue itself is also rather uninteresting and lackluster.
Audiences will be generally pleased with the music in The Fantasticks more than probably any other aspect of the production. While the songs might not be brilliant, the work is undoubtedly pleasant enough for the film. The good natured charm of many of the songs will leave a nice impression for audiences who enjoy the work of the songwriters. The lyrics often impress.
The music performances are decidedly different compared to most musicals in that the singing was done live instead of in post. This was something which certainly helped to differentiate the film production. With musical songs like Try to Remember, Much More, Soon It's Gonna Rain, and They Were You the film has a nice selection of songs. The performance quality varies and some might enjoy the approach taken (which gives it a more theatrical flair) while others will find it dissatisfactory. The film has clear musical drawbacks, too: Try to Remember was not included in the opening of the film and some selections were cut from the theatrical release.
The production of The Fantasticks was a special project for director Michael Ritchie (Fletch, The Bad News Bears). Ritchie did a generally decent job of keeping the film moving along at a nice pace. There are some interesting elements to the way the production was handled (especially throughout the musical pieces done in the beautiful outdoor landscape).
However, I wasn't overly fond of the style utilized. Some of the set-pieces, costumes, and props underwhelmed significantly. The style didn't mix well with the music. I wasn't particularly enamored with the way the production handled the layout or presentation of the traveling carnival troupe. These elements were often lackluster and less imaginative than what the songwriting needed.
The Fantasticks is a highly flawed musical extravaganza (at least in its film form). Some audiences responded well to it upon its much-delayed release but the film is certainly a disheveled one which had studio-interference editing. Without having seen the theater production, which was well received, it's hard to say what exactly went wrong with the adaptation. For a story largely about the magic of carnival, the film seems to be lacking something truly magical.
The 1080p MPEG-4 AVC encoded 2.35:1 widescreen presentation for The Fantasticks is a bit more complicated to rate than some releases. The age of the source material is questionable and the print is clearly one which offers viewers an imperfect presentation. There are clear instances of issues with grain resolve, specks of dirt across the screen, minor print damage, white specks, and other such deficiencies. These minor print drawbacks don't make this a bad presentation... merely a flawed one.
There are strengths as well. The encoding quality is generally excellent and there hasn't been any DNR applied to the image at all. This presentation does look naturally filmic for much of the experience. Color reproduction is excellent. Bright sequences look splendid but dark scenes demonstrate weak black levels. Overall, the image has clear sharpness, clarity, and depth for much of the presentation. Fans will certainly consider it to be an upgrade and the best option on home media for viewing the film. Yet it could have looked a bit better given a better scan or print source.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound presentation is quite lovely throughout. Though the audio sounds pretty much like a stereo audio presentation for the most part as it is not too dynamic and the surrounds are not heavily emphasized. (Interestingly, a 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio presentation is also available on the release.) The dialogue is crisp and the score clarity impresses with 24 bit depth encoding. The songs sound nice on this release and fans of the film should feel satisfied.
Optional English SDH subtitles (for the deaf and hard of hearing) are provided.
This Twilight Time Limited Edition Blu-ray release includes a booklet featuring essay by film critic Julie Kirgo.
Audio Commentary with Director Michael Ritchie
Audio Commentary with Actress Jean Louisa Kelly and Broadway authority Bruce Kimmel
Audio Commentary with Journalist Chris Willman and Film Historian Nick Redman
The biggest extra of all is the new inclusion of the original cut of the film. It is the director's preferred version of The Fantasticks and it was the cut of the film done prior to studio edits overseen by Francis Ford Coppola.
This cut includes approximately 25 minutes of footage removed from the theatrical version. Fans will be pleased to have this material available on this release. Unfortunately, no high-definition master exists with MGM studios for the original cut. It means that this version is presented in standard definition only.
Lastly, the release includes an isolated score track in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and the original theatrical trailer.
The Fantasticks is a flawed adaptation of a hit musical sensation. The film doesn't ultimately work anywhere near as well as it should. Fans will be pleased that this release is available now with the original cut and improved PQ/AQ. There are a lot of supplements. Fans should consider it a reasonable release while newcomers might want to rent it first.
Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema. He aspires to make movies and has written two screenplays on spec. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.