Der Nussknacker (1993)

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Der Nussknacker: Directed by Emile Ardolino. With Darci Kistler, Damian Woetzel, Kyra Nichols, Wendy Whelan. On Christmas Eve, a little girl named Marie (Cohen) falls asleep after a party at her home and dreams herself (or does she?) into a fantastic world where toys become larger than life. Her beloved Nutcracker (Culkin) comes to life and defends her from the Mouse King, then is turned into a Prince after Marie saves his life.

“Those who have given this production such a low rating probably have never seen the celebrated George Balanchine production live onstage, or are letting their disdain for the star casting of Macaulay Culkin influence their judgement. The Atlanta Ballet was fortunate enough, from the 1960u0026#39;s to the 1980u0026#39;s, to be the first ballet company authorized to stage this production other than the New York City Ballet, and I have seen it live onstage several times. I can assure readers that the film is a quite accurate rendering of this production, and that the use of a child with limited dancing abilities in the title role is not a cheap stunt dreamed up to showcase Culkin; it was Balanchineu0026#39;s idea to use a child in this role, just as it was his idea to use a child for the role of Marie. The u0026quot;heavyu0026quot; dancing is left to the adults in the story.u003cbr/u003eu003cbr/u003eThis is deliberately a stagebound film; in a way, it resembles Laurence Olivieru0026#39;s u0026quot;Othellou0026quot;. Exactly as in that film, the sets of the stage production have been enlarged to the size of a movie soundstage, but not made any less artificial, and the ballet is straightforwardly photographed with discreet closeups, and without the distracting u0026quot;music videou0026quot; quick cuts featured in the 1986 overrated Maurice Sendak-Carroll Ballard version. There are only two false steps in this 1993 film. One is the addition of distracting and completely unnecessary sound effects (mouse squeaks, the children whispering u0026quot;Ma-gic!u0026quot; to Drosselmeyer,etc.). Those sound effects are never heard in any stage production of any u0026quot;Nutcrackeru0026quot;, and they have been put in as a cheap concession simply to appease unsophisticated audiences who may not relish the idea of watching a ballet on film.u003cbr/u003eu003cbr/u003eThe other false step is Macaulay Culkinu0026#39;s nutcracker make-up, which looks absolutely ridiculous. When he is on screen as the Nutcracker, rather than wearing a huge mask (as is always done when the Balanchine production is performed onstage), Culkin is actually made up as the toy – he wears what looks like a bald cap, as well as a white wig, whiskers, and a beard. He also has his face rouged up somewhat, and the worst aspect of his make-up is that it is still recognizably his face, amateurishly transformed in a manner similar to Ray Bolger, Jack Haley and Bert Lahru0026#39;s makeups in u0026quot;The Wizard of Ozu0026quot; (that filmu0026#39;s makeup results though, worked spectacularly, as this oneu0026#39;s does not). And a comparison with Baryshnikovu0026#39;s nutcracker in *his* production shows how wonderfully creative Baryshnikovu0026#39;s nutcracker mask was – the u0026quot;jawsu0026quot; actually seemed to move whenever Baryshnikov tilted his head back.u003cbr/u003eu003cbr/u003eThe dancing itself in the Macaulay Culkin version is excellent, of course, except for Culkin himself, whose dancing, as I said, isnu0026#39;t meant to even be spectacular. (The Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier are the prominent dancing roles in Balanchineu0026#39;s production of u0026quot;The Nutcrackeru0026quot;.) The filmu0026#39;s colors, though, could be a bit brighter since this IS a fantasy. The choreography is also brilliant, and the adaptation of it is so faithful as to include the sequence that features additional music from Tchaikovskyu0026#39;s ballet u0026quot;The Sleeping Beautyu0026quot; – as Marie sneaks downstairs, falls asleep on the sofa, and dreams that Drosselmeyer is u0026quot;repairingu0026quot; the broken Nutcracker (this sequence was, of course, never included in Tchaikovskyu0026#39;s original ballet—it is the only sequence in this production which features music from a work other than u0026quot;The Nutcrackeru0026quot;).u003cbr/u003eu003cbr/u003eThose who have missed out on this film, or those who despise (or loathe it) should give it a chance, despite its two big drawbacks. It is far better than it seems when one first hears that Culkin is in it.”


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