If I were doing one-sentence reviews, I would simply write, "What the fuck?" and that would be that. Since I feel the need to write more substantive reviews - what the actual fuck? This film is nuts. The plot is weird and non-sensical, the cinematography is an LSD trip, and the acting is over-blown. That said, Tommy is also a hell of a ride. Consistently engaging, it kept me guessing, and some of the musical numbers are well-choreographed.
Overall ... what the actual fuck?
The film is nothing if not ultrastylized filmmaking experimentation, boasting a bare-bones and underused plot that primarily serves as a vehicle for interpretive musical numbers and thematic messaging, so of course the story isn't terribly well thought-out, and I'm not asking for it to be, though this film, with all of its surrealism, exaggerations, forced events and, of course, [b][u]"pinball aspects"[/u][/b], gets to be too corny and is all but consistent in being unsubtle about its paying little mind to crafting a compelling stand-alone story, thus diluting emotional resonance considerably. This profound lack of subtlety and considerable blow to resonance certainly taints the film's real intentions, because with all of this plot taking a backseat to thematic messaging and interpretive musical numbers, - which are specifically designed to serve as extra emphatic exposition - all of the themes that should be undertones become glaring overtones, and sometimes, the sole focus of the film, to where the film damages the effectiveness of its themes by overbearingly overemphasizing them to a preachy extent, and it doesn't help that, by 1975 alone, these themes of "it's the world that's truly blind" were discussed to death, and primarily through more than enough music. Of course, with all of the non-plot and profound lack - nay - absence of subtlety, one of the biggest blows to the film's effectiveness is, of course, the fact that it is gimmicky as all get-out, being entirely without traditional dialogue or exposition and being told entirely through surrealistic music video imagery and often corny musical numbers. It's certainly a uniquely nifty novelty, and one that isn't too terribly hard to mind, yet the problem is that it is nothing more than just novelty, serving no real advantageous purpose to the film's concepts and being nothing more than gimmick. It's gimmick that works more often than you'd think, to be sure, yet it is gimmick nevertheless, and after a while of watching all of this trippy imagery and ceaseless singery, while you'll surprisingly never completely fall out of the film, the gimmick is bound to where thin here and there, and your attention and investment with it for a moment. The film isn't so much overstylized as much as it's entirely built upon overstylizing, and with all of its good intentions, the film just ends up executing its interesting yet flawed concepts with a bit too much faithfulness to overbearingness and makes for an underwhelming overall final product. Still, it's not like the film fails entirely at its ambitions, for although the film is about as flawed as you would expect it to be when looking at its premise, the film hits enough high notes to keep you going through and through, particularly because it makes quite the "sight for soar eyes" (Get it?).
Though dated now, Dick Bush's and Ronnie Taylor's cinematography was striking for its time and remains reasonably impressive to this day with its bouncing of color and just plain bouncing the camera around in an eye-catchingly trippy fashion, which pays quite the compliment to the often too weird, yet more often neat imagery, which is further complimented stylistic choices of a more audible nature. I always felt like The Who could compose a pretty neat score, and sure enough, they do, for although their score work gets to be a bit too cheesily lively, it is nevertheless lively, as well as unique and soulfully grand in a fashion that defines and sparks some life into this film, or if nothing else, helps in making some neat musical numbers. As I said, the film is interpreted entirely through musical numbers, and that concept, while neatly inventive, is bound to get pretty corny and rarely, if ever not be gimmicky, and is most certainly just those two things with this film, yet on the whole, it's hard to really mind all that much, as you'd be hard pressed to not be charmed and entertained quite a considerable bit by all of these classic musical talents' delivering on one colorful number after another, whether it be Tina Turner's "The Acid Queen", or Paul Nicholas' "Cousin Kevin", or Elton John's cover of "Pinball Wizard", or any other number of lively tunes, brought to life by just as lively visuals that create more than a few memorable moments throughout this colorful film, which also provides quite a few memorably colorful characters, though not entirely with the help of the acting performances behind the characters. Though asked to do nothing but stand there and be blind, deaf and dumb, leading man and The Who frontman Roger Daltrey does a better job than you'd expect at conveying the anguish and ambition of the titular Tommy Walker character through what expressions he's asked to don, though Daltrey's still not terribly impressive, and yet he's still the best acting performance of the film, as these musicians and even such skilled performers as the here-and-gone Robert Powell and Jack Nicholsonare asked to do nothing more than keep things lively and lip sync, and a few people can't even do the latter all that terribly convincingly, particularly Ann-Margret, who not only often has trouble lip syncing all that well, but, regardless of what the Golden Globes say, just plain can't act to save her life and overplays all of the hammy expressions and actions with an almost offensive ineptitude and lack of acting presence that, when at its worst, makes watching Olsson (Yeah, that's her real last name, what of it?) something of a challenge. Still, outside of Olsson, even with their having little, if anything to do, the performers have a certain charm about them that compliments the film's colorful characterization, which establishes one memorable character after another, whether it be Tina Turner's The Acid Queen, or Paul Nicholas' Cousin Kevin, or Elton John's Pinball Wizard, or such characters whose names aren't in the titles of the songs I already mentioned as Jack Nicholson's nameless doctor character (or as I prefer to call him, Dr. Eyebrow), Oliver Reed's Uncle Frank character and, of course, Roger Daltrey's titular Tommy Walker character. The film is built around its music and characters, as well as a transparently thin "story", and when you tackle a structure like that, you're film doesn't stand that much of a chance of being especially impressive, so of course this final product isn't, yet the musical and character aspects around which this film is built, while a bit overbearing at times, remain colorful and memorable enough to make the film itself colorful and memorable, or at least about as much as it can be with its immensely flawed intentions. Of course, what carries this film the most is simply the final product's just plain being so entertaining, with color, uniqueness and inspiration that may not be enough to drown out the many fatal flaws found within the film from as far back as its concept development stages, yet is enough for you to stick with the film through thick and thin, have a good time and walk away charmed.
After the curtains fall, the film is left about as flawed as you would expect it to be, given its problematic intentions of painting an overbearingly cheesy and profoundly unsubtle "story and plot", which leaves both resonance and the effectiveness of the film's preachy themes to go heavily diluted, while the overall gimmicky novelty of the film gets to be disengagingly overwhelming and ultimately the key culprit behind the film's being underwhelming, yet never leaves the final product to come close to descending to mediocrity, let alone beneath contempt, as the memorably colorful cinematography and imagery, score work - which comes into particularly fine play during the lively musical numbers - and characters define this film and form the immense entertainment value that ultimately leaves Ken Russell's and The Who's "Tommy" to stand as a consistently enjoyable piece of stylish fluff, even if it isn't much more than a piece of stylish fluff.
2.5/5 - Fair
Pink Floyd's The Wall was an example of how to do concept properly. Through different styles of sequences and montage It invited us into Pink's (Bob Geldoff's character) world by exploring the different facets of who he is; his memories, his hopes his fears, etc. Tommy is a meaningless figure in a sea of circus-like absurdity. Perhaps that's part of the point, but it certainly doesn't prop up prolonged interest in his ultimate fate.
This opera also has other elements in it such as religion (cult), murder, trauma, spiritual awakening, super stardom, and many other element...oh yeah and Pinball! But perhaps it begins as Captain Walker comes home to find Mrs. Walker with another man. Tommy is the only witness to a murder and is so traumatized that he can no longer see, hear, or speak. The people he should be able to trust are totally untrustworthy. But nevertheless his parents desperate for a cure go to extreme lengths to find him that.
Then there's the whole deal of the miracle cure, the attention, and the families exploitation of Tommy's followers.
The movie version is a little out of order in comparison to the LP. First off, Tommy's father get's killed, which was the lover in the album. Given the suggestion of the album, this version is a little too PG, than R. While Eric Clapton playing the preacher, and Tina Turner playing the Acid Queen was amusing, it seemed like this was a test to see how many rock-stars we can put in a feature-film, that could sing but can't act. if David Lynch, Francis Ford Coppola or Martin Scorsese directed this, it would be R rated, and hopefully true to the story continuum. But my suggestion is that before you see the movie or the play or any other format, to hear the album first. If you see this movie first, you will have no idea what is going on. Also Keith Moon's drumming is so much better that his acting, but I will forgive Roger Daltrey as Tommy. The face he makes as Tommy bind, deaf and mute is fun to do at parties!