TV Review: Hamilton

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Put down your pitchforks. I know Hamilton isn’t technically a TV review, it’s a musical theater review. Unlike a lot of people, I never had the chance to see it in a real theater. Watching it on Disney plus is the next best thing I could get my hands on. Did I miss out on the full experience, yes. Absolutely. Watching a recording of a stage production means that you miss the energy and vibrancy of a live performance. That, and it’s all too easy to watch the three plus hours in small chunks over the course of a week. Some of the experience is lost there as well.

But, now I can join the ranks of those who have seen the show. For that alone, it’s worth it.

About Hamilton

For those of you who have lived under a rock for the majority of the 2010s, Hamilton is a musical about the life of Alexander Hamilton, a impressive figure when it comes to the founding of the United States of America. Because it is history, I’m not going to worry about giving away spoilers at this point. I figured you had over 200 years, it’s fair.

We start the story with a young Hamilton trying his hardest to be the best he can be with his limited means. He’s ambitious and willing to do the work it takes to make a difference as the United States is taking shape and shaking off its ties to Britain. He meets Eliza, the woman who becomes his wife, and we see the conflict that causes in her older sister who is attracted to his drive and intelligence, not to mention his passion for the causes he chooses to support. We also see the beginning friction of his relationship with Aaron Burr as Hamilton is a man of action, and Burr prefers to wait.

The Revolutionary War is in full swing and America is doing poorly. They don’t have the supplies they need and enlist the help of France through the help of Lafayette. This leads directly to the victory at Georgetown and the end of the war.

King George isn’t amused.

The end of the war means nothing but work for Hamilton who puts his every waking hour into writing up documents and creating systems to enable the United States to finance her government and govern her people. Eliza goes upstate to be with family leaving Hamilton the time and space he needs. This leads him down the path into temptation and he finds himself in the arms of another woman who ends up blackmailing him to keep his infidelity secret.

Meanwhile, Burr is causing more friction by switching parties to defeat Eliza’s father, Philip Schuyler. France is experiencing its own revolution, and Jefferson champions the cause of America going to its aid. Hamilton advises neutrality and his argument wins which puts him under intense scrutiny. Jefferson, Madison, and Burr want to discredit him before Washington.

All of this leads to the publication of the Reynold’s document, written by Hamilton himself and detailing his affair and subsequent blackmail. He chose to come clean publicly to prove he didn’t misuse government money. This destroys him, his family, and leads to the death of his son in a duel gone wrong defending his father’s honor.

The last straw between Hamilton and Burr occurs after the election of 1800 when Hamilton endorses Jefferson over Burr. Burr demands a duel and the rest, well, is history.

My Review

I went into Hamilton not knowing what to expect. It is a musical that defies all expectations in so many aspects. When it comes to an American historical my first reaction is that it’s going to be just as exciting at the Hall of the Presidents exhibit at Disneyland, meaning not exciting at all. To counteract this, Hamilton was written for today’s young people. The music is fast and clever, lots of rap and hip hop music, lots of very contemporary humor.

That said, after watching the first 45 minutes I wasn’t sure what all the fuss was about. Sure it was interesting, but at that point it wasn’t that interesting. Most of the music up to that point wasn’t memorable with perhaps the exception of Hamilton’s own iconic song that defines his character, “I’m not giving away my shot.”

What caught my attention was the use of choreography and dancers. In many musicals the dancers feel like a nice layer of frosting, coming in and out only when a point needs to be made. However, in Hamilton, they are actively used to not only add interest and dimension to what’s happening in the spotlight, but to also illustrate concepts that are hard to catch on stage, such as the path of a single bullet.

In contrast to the first 45 minutes, the last 45 minutes nearly ripped my heart out. We are confronted with tragedy after tragedy. Hamilton admits to is indiscretions and nearly loses the love of his life as a consequence as we watch her take all of his letters and burns them. His son dies after being shot in a duel to defend his honor. And the culminating blow, Hamilton himself knowing he is going to die and confronting each of his decisions and wonders if he made any difference.

It’s at times like these that I’m glad I watched this in the dark comfort of my own home. Lots of tears shed.

Considering everything, Hamilton is every bit of the success it has gained. There is a huge emotional payout, a mother load of talent, and in the end several catchy songs that stick in your head.

Recommendations

While this is intended for today’s audience and has plenty of pop culture influences to make it fun to watch, it does have a few mature elements that I’d blush to share with my kids. They don’t shy back from relating the tale of Hamilton’s infidelity, in song no less. That, and the subject matter itself is complicated enough that even I struggled to keep track of who was doing what and why.

However, I think that all high school students should watch it so they have a better understanding of what the Revolutionary war and our cry for independence meant for the people who lived it.


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Maleficent: Mistress of Evil — Potential Gone Wrong

Hi dearest readers! I’m trying something new for a few weeks, if it works how I hope it might then it might end up a permanent change. I’ve recently started posting to Medium and am feeling my way around how to best share my articles with even more wonderful people like you. If it works well, it will also help me meet my business goals.

Enjoy.

To read the article – click here!

Added later – it appears that Medium and WordPress don’t like each other which makes it impossible to share a post preview here. Sigh.

Does The Lion King 2019 flirt with the Uncanny Valley?

Let me start out by saying that as a teen, I was obsessed with the 1994 Lion King. Everything thing about it was amazing. In fact, one of the very first CDs I ever bought was the Lion King soundtrack. It’s one of those movies I watched enough times that I can still quote the whole thing.

That said, I was not thrilled that they chose to do a live action version. The 1994 Lion King became a huge part of 90s pop culture. There is so much to live up to that if they fell short anywhere, they would disappoint millions. Including me. I’m a pretty tough customer.

Simba and Zazu (voiced by none other than the ever-amusing John Oliver)

Why we might have an uncanny valley problem

The uncanny valley is a phenomenon found when we try to recreate realistic humans artificially. We usually see this in CGI movies and robots. The idea is that the closer you get to recreating a lifelike human, the creepier it is until you nail it perfectly.

I’ve blogged about this before when I talked about the train wreck that is the live action Grinch movie (which is a super amusing post, if I say so myself) and again when I discuss the concept of the uncanny valley over on my writing blog. That post is far more academic and has graphs. Fascinating stuff.

With animals, the creepiness factor is different, but there is still a general unease when something is off. Finding Nemo cartoonized the characters to be cute and expressive and it totally worked. This new Lion King made the animals photo perfect. In fact, they used live action shots with real animals as much as possible, only adding in the mouth movements when they needed to talk.

For me, this flirted with the uncanny valley. Real animals don’t talk and it’s weird to see them do so in a way that’s super realistic.

Don’t get me wrong, the execution is flawless. The 2019 movie is still a beautiful story of loss and redemption. The music is still the breathtaking tracks from the original movie and has only been adapted slightly to fit this film. And because I loved the first one so much, I started disliking the new one because of the differences and limitations of using live action with CGI.

The Lion King is an emotional story. The characters need to be able to express those feelings. In a cartoon, the animator can exaggerate the facial expressions so that it’s clear what the characters are feeling. In live action using animals we lose all of that and have to infer what they might be feeling using context and body language only. This took away from the experience.

Scrawny Scar and his band of hyenas, ready to drop a hit single

Other significant changes

There were also a few updates to make the movie more politically correct, like removing the Nazi-like imagery from Scar’s big musical number “Be Prepared” and actually having Rafiki speak in Xhosa instead of whatever nonsense words he uses in the 1994 version. I agree with these changes as it shows sensitivity to today’s audience.

But there were also a few script adaptations where key scenes were either shortened, lengthened, or removed. That insightful part where Rafiki smacks Simba in the head and then says he shouldn’t worry about it because it’s in the past – gone. The funny bit where Timon is confused about how Nala wants to eat Pumba while still being friends with Simba – gone.

That lovely five-second bit where Simba flops down and sends a swirl of seeds into the air which Rafiki then finds? They turned that into a three-minute montage where we follow a tuft of lion hair that at one point gets eaten by a giraffe, gets pooped out, and then is transported by dung beetle. Really guys?

Also, the casting. While they kept James Earl Jones as Mufasa, which was an essential choice, they didn’t keep my personal favorite casting, Jeremy Irons as Scar. I get that this might have been a move to make the cast more appropriate for a story set in Africa – but Jeremy Irons performance was amazing and I missed it.

Mufasa! Oooh, that gives me chills. Say it again.

Summing up

I wanted to love the new Lion King like I loved the old one. The story was there, the magnitude of the African landscape was stunning, the voice performances were on point. But, it didn’t hold up to the original. Instead of enjoying it, I kept trying to figure out what they changed and why it felt different. For new audiences, like my kids, this will be their Lion King and they might come to love it like I loved the original.

What are your thoughts? Have you seen it?


Thank you dear reader for stopping by! If you’d like to be notified of future posts here at JodiLMilner.com, be sure to ‘subscribe’ using the handy links. Or, even better, sign up to be part of my mailing list.

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