26 April 2005 | mentalcritic
I hope you like your musicals extra-cheesy
Xanadu, which has received some scathing one-sentence reviews, flopped in a big way at the box office, and even helped inspire the creation of the Razzies, is underrated. Not as underrated as that statement would normally imply, but enough. The reason why it is underrated is similar to the reason why it stinks. Xanadu consists of two parts, each of which can be divided into two parts depending on how successful each scene making up those two parts are.
The first part is all dialogue, in which Michael Beck, Gene Kelly, Olivia Newton-John, or combinations thereof, spend a lot of screen time talking about the importance of following one's dreams. The success of this part of the film depends largely on how tightly integrated it is with the musical part. When the male leads discuss music in particular, it starts to fall flat as the artistic sentiment of a bygone era tries unsuccessfully to gel with the lowest-common-denominator mentality of what was then the present. The music sequences that fit in with this rule tend to suffer a lot, too. The attempt to blend a 1940s jazz band with Electric Light Orchestra, who were never really that representative of any culture, even those of the 1980s, is especially embarrassing. It dates the whole film beyond return.
On the other hand, when the musical and dialogue sequences are not connected to one another, they work so well. Michael Beck's dialogues with the supporting cast about how his dreams of artistic freedom failed are brilliantly executed. The dialogue between Beck and Kelly in which the latter basically tells the former that quitting now will leave him with a lifetime of regret is pure gold. The conversation in which Beck's and Newton-John's characters argue with the voices of the gods, performed by Wilfrid Hyde-White and Coral Browne, works wonderfully in spite of the ludicrous costume on Beck. But the real gem in this flick is the climactic rollerdisco scene. I don't know how long it took them to coordinate and stage this myriad of sequences, but the result was worth every bit of effort.
Unfortunately, the film is not without its problems. Many sequences are either boring or outright ludicrous. The animated part in particular fails to fit in with the rest of the film. Major rewrites began close to production as the producers tried to distinguish the production from other rollerskating-themed films of the time. According to Olivia Newton-John, the film was literally being written as it was shot, and nowhere does this show more than in the final musical sequences of the aforementioned rollerdisco scene. It was as if the makers decided to put in as many shots of Olivia singing and dancing in as many costumes as they could. Perhaps the problem was in the editing, as the aforementioned on-the-spot writing would have caused a problem with knowing exactly when to call it over. Truth be told, it does stretch a little past its welcome, if only by a few minutes. But then, show me a film that is not guilty of the same offense, and I will show you a masterpiece.
Truth be told, this film is nowhere near as bad as the IMDb rating would have you believe. It is not all that good, either, but it gets a little bit more right than wrong. Compared to excruciatingly bad musicals that take themselves far too seriously, such as the recent Chicago adaptation, this is pure gold. Hence, in spite of a lot of problems, I rated Xanadu a seven out of ten. It is a real guilty pleasure of a film, and really needed more time in pre-production, but it is entertaining for more than half of its running time, which is more than I can say for a lot of other films. Especially of this genre.