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Recent home release merely ‘Rent’-able

Tim Masterton | Tuesday, March 7, 2006

“Rent” hit Broadway in 1996, and ten years later, it came to movie theatres with a faithful, but stagnant movie adaptation from director Chris Columbus (“Home Alone,” “Harry Potter”). Though it translated somewhat poorly to the silver screen, this is a movie perfectly-suited for DVD.

“Rent,” a modern, loosely-based version of the Puccini opera, “La Boheme,” was released into movie theatres in November 2005, and after about two months there, it made less than $30 million. Now it quickly heads to DVD where its biggest fans, or “Rentheads,” as they are called, will likely eat it up. Old and new fans alike will enjoy what is essentially a 135-minute music video as DVD makes it possible to jump from scene to scene and skip to favorite songs.

All through the film production process, there was much ado about being loyal to the vision of Rent’s late composer, Jonathon Larson, as there had been when making the big move to the Broadway stage. Though this was a good idea in 1996, the film craved a new direction. Six of the eight original Broadway cast members reprised their roles, but they are now a little too old for the parts they play, thus further limiting what could have been a wonderfully fresh interpretation of a great story.

That’s not to say that the cast isn’t talented – it is phenomenal. Jesse L. Martin as “Collins” steals the movie in the role he was born to play on stage and on screen. The chemistry between him and Wilson Jermaine Heredia’s “Angel” is beautiful and contagious. Tracie Thoms as uptight yuppie “Joanne” is a pleasantly surprising, smart addition to the group.

But “Rent” is stuck somewhere between the musicals-turned-films “Chicago” and “The Producers.” Whereas “Chicago” is a fresh, exuberant, Oscar-winning adaptation of that musical, “The Producers” is very much a bland filmed version of what is done nightly on stages in New York and London.

In “Rent,” Columbus rarely tries anything brave or different. One successful attempt is a delightful extended dance break during “Tango: Maureen” successfully creating something not found in the stage version. Columbus also has created a barely-gritty-enough early-’90s New York City as the film’s setting, but the camerawork is seemingly always moving and all too often merely functions to observe inactive acting and boring staging.

All that being said, the music and story of “Rent” are as strong and relevant as ever. The two-disc DVD set showcases the many strong musical numbers, especially the aforementioned “Tango: Maureen” and the frantic “La Vie Boheme.” Also included are several deleted scenes, including an alternate ending that would have better ended the film. Rentheads will also take pleasure in the full-length documentary “No Day But Today” telling the story of the show’s creation, composer and its trip from paper to stage to screen.

“Rent” is a faithful adaptation of the ten-year-old staging of an endearing musical that might leave fans wondering “what if…?” What if a director had been brave enough to go in a new direction, with a new creative approach and new cast?

But in the end, “Rent” is still an enjoyable film that would make a good addition to any musical theatre fan’s DVD collection.